The Science Behind the Impatience for Slow Walkers

January 12, 2017 5:00 am
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)


Impatience can manifest itself in many different situations besides a crowded sidewalk in New York City. Whether it’s that feeling you get waiting for the response to come from the other side of a text message, or getting stuck behind a slow moving car on the highway, there’s a scientific explanation for that feeling.

If you’ve ever spent any time walking in Times Square, you’ll know exactly what tree we’re barking up here. Let’s say you’re on your way to meet a friend, and you’re running a fashionable 15 minutes late. You immediately get caught behind a throng of tourists, who stops every 30 seconds to marvel at the bright lights and check their Google Maps directions. You try to “pass” them, but it’s impossible. You feel like you’re going to explode. You want to part these tourists like the Red Sea, and get the hell where you need to go at your own, much faster pace, but it’s just impossible.

Did we get your heart racing a little bit? It’s OK. This is completely normal—and has roots in our evolution.

This Is Why You're Such an Impatient Walker
(Stephen J. Boitano/LightRocket via Getty Images)


“Why are we impatient? It’s a heritage from our evolution,” German psychologist Marc Wittmann told Nautilus. That leftover impatience was part of our “internal timer,” which told us to stop doing some rewards-based task at a specific time, lest we be in danger. Like, get out of that field after a specific amount of hunting, or a wooly mammoth herd might run us the hell over. 

Clearly, wooly mammoth herds don’t rumble through Times Square anymore, and so that impatience has transferred to other evolutionary scenarios. “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,” explains Nautilus‘ Chelsea Wald. And without that wooly mammoth herd scenario, we’re left only with “sidewalk rage.”

For more on how evolution has left us impatient wrecks (and how we can help curb that feeling), click here.

—RealClearLife Staff

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