Is there any Proffitt in stair climbing? A headcount of studies testing for demographic differences in choice of stairs

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The apparent slope of a hill, termed geographical slant perception, is overestimated in explicit awareness. Proffitt (2006) argued that overestimation allows individuals to manage their locomotor resources. Increasing age, fatigue, and wearing a heavy back pack will reduce the available resources and result in steeper reports for a particular hill. In contrast, Durgin and colleagues have proposed an alternative explanation for these effects based on experimental design-particularly, the potential effects of experimental demand. Proffitt's resource-based model would predict that pedestrians with reduced resources should avoid climbing a hill that would further deplete their resources if the opportunity arose. Within the built environment, stairs are the man-made equivalent of relatively steep hills (20°-30°). In many public access settings, pedestrians can avoid climbing the stairs by opting for an adjacent escalator. Observations of pedestrian behavior in shopping malls reveal that 94.5 % do so. This article summarizes the effects of demographic grouping on avoidance of stairs in public health research. Observations in shopping malls (n = 355,069) and travel contexts (n = 711,867) provide data consistent with Proffitt's resource model. Women, the old, and those carrying excess body weight or large bags avoid the stairs more than do their comparison groups. Discussion focuses on differences in physiology that may underlie avoidance of stair climbing in order to highlight the pedestrian behavior that psychology needs to explain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71-7
Number of pages7
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin & Review
Issue number1
Early online date18 Jun 2013
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2014


  • Choice Behavior
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motor Activity
  • Travel
  • Walking


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