The Psychology Of Parking

I’m reading a fascinating book titled Traffic:  Why We Drive The Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) by Tom Vanderbilt.  It’s essentially the psychology/sociology of traffic, and offers the most in-depth look at interactions expressed through driving I’ve ever read.

An interesting bit from the book explains something you’ve probably experienced.  Andrew Velkey, a psychology professor at Virginia’s Christopher Newport University uncovered the following conclusion after he studied the behavior of parkers at a Wal-Mart in Mississippi (paraphrased):

Something curious happens in parking lots.  It seems that the people who actively look for the “best” parking space inevitably spend more total time getting to the store than those people who simply grab the first spot they see.

Two distinct strategies were observed:  “cycling” and “pick a row, closest space.”  Although the individuals cycling were spending more time driving looking for a parking space, on average they were no closer to the door, time-wise or distance-wise, than people using “pick a row, closest space.”

I enjoy walking, so I’m not a part of the traffic dance you see in your local parking lot – however this is a great insight into the decision making processes of people in relatively unstructured settings.

My personal view of this situation is I don’t necessarily think it is the laziness factor causing this, rather it may be social conditioning of how “great” it is to get the perfect parking space.  You often hear people talk about finding the perfect parking space as if it is some sort of trophy.  And yet, the reality is they are doing themselves a disservice because it takes more time to find the parking space than it would have to simply pick a row, closest space and then walk to the destination.

What are your thoughts – do you think people are lazy, unable to judge distance or is there something else going on here?