Mind & Body

There Are Mirrors Next to Elevators for a Specific Reason

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When was the last time you thought, "Oh rats, I wish this line at the grocery store was just a little longer." Never? Makes sense. It's a universal truth: Waiting for stuff sucks. And because elevators are something you almost always have to wait for, some clever folks came up with a solution to make the wait bearable: mirrors.

The Wait Is Over

You might not have noticed it (now you will!), but lots of elevators have mirrors near them. This is no coincidence, nor is it some sort of Feng Shui design tip. Mirrors usually hang near elevators so people have something to do while they wait for the doors to open. Yes, hotel lobbies have been fooling you into patiently waiting for years.

The New York Times explains where this idea originated: "The idea was born during the post-World War II boom, when the spread of high-rises led to complaints about elevator delays. The rationale behind the mirrors: give people something to occupy their time, and the wait will feel shorter. With the mirrors, people could check their hair or slyly ogle other passengers. And it worked: almost overnight, the complaints ceased."

Please Hold

The reason people hate to wait is that we think time spent waiting in line is time wasted, and we could have used that same time to be productive. And the pace of modern society is only making our impatience worse. As Nautilus explains, "The fast pace of society has thrown our internal timer out of balance. It creates expectations that can't be rewarded fast enough—or rewarded at all. When things move more slowly than we expect, our internal timer even plays tricks on us, stretching out the wait, summoning anger out of proportion to the delay." Could the instant gratification of Siri's answers to our questions and lightning-quick internet make us more impatient? Perhaps. Maybe mirrors can help.

Why Are You Always in the Slow Line?

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Key Facts In This Video

  1. Humans hate waiting in line because we view it as time spent wasted that could have been used productively. 00:54

  2. The science behind human hatred for waiting in lines includes: queuing theory, illusory correlation, and just world fallacy. 01:26

  3. One line feeding into multiple cashiers is more efficient than a line for every cashier. 02:56

Written by Joanie Faletto February 3, 2017