A Matter Of Wait: The Science Of Standing In Line Next time you're stuck in line, take a second to observe. Is it straight? Does it curve? How long would it have to be before you'd give up? Turns out there's a whole army of scientists dedicated to pondering those sorts of questions. Guest host Mary Louise Kelly speaks with MIT professor Richard Larson.
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A Matter Of Wait: The Science Of Standing In Line

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A Matter Of Wait: The Science Of Standing In Line

A Matter Of Wait: The Science Of Standing In Line

A Matter Of Wait: The Science Of Standing In Line

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  • Transcript

Next time you're stuck in line, take a second to observe. Is it straight? Does it curve? How long would it have to be before you'd give up? Turns out there's a whole army of scientists dedicated to pondering those sorts of questions. Guest host Mary Louise Kelly speaks with MIT professor Richard Larson.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, Host:

Welcome.

RICHARD LARSON: Thank you, Mary Louise.

LOUISE KELLY: So tell us some of the secrets to this profession. How long does a line have to be before a customer will look at it and say, Uh-uh, no way, and turn around?

LARSON: If you're waiting for rock concert tickets and the line itself is a social event, you may camp out there overnight. You know, so it very much relies on the people involved and what pressures he or she has on their time. So that there's no one rule this way or that way.

LOUISE KELLY: I had read researchers in Taiwan, I think it was, this summer had tried to come up with some sort of equation that factored in (unintelligible) the line, mien arrival rate, all sorts of other things, and come up with a formula for it.

LARSON: Then there's always the stress that somebody who joins a parallel line next to you can get their burgers and fries before you, and that adds to the stress of the day. And so people would prefer not to experience that.

LOUISE KELLY: Ah, so it's all about if you think that the people waiting in line with you are waiting just as long, you don't mind it so much as if you think they might be sneaking up 17 seconds before you.

LARSON: And so the person who's the victim feels a lot more pain than the person who's the beneficiary. And so that's why you won't to avoid lines like that.

LOUISE KELLY: Richard Larson, thanks a lot.

LARSON: Thank you, Mary Louise.

LOUISE KELLY: And this is NPR News.

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