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Investigating behavioural mimicry in the context of stair/escalator choice

journal contribution
posted on 12.10.2011 by Oliver J. Webb, Frank F. Eves, Lee Smith
Objectives. We investigated whether individuals mimic the stair/escalator choices of preceding pedestrians. Our methodology sought to separate cases where the ‘model’ and ‘follower’ were acquaintances or strangers. Design. Natural experiment. Methods. Infrared monitors provided a second-by-second log of when pedestrians ascended adjacent stairs/escalators in a mall. Manual timings established that stair climbers spent ≥ 7 s on ascent, during which time they could act as models to following pedestrians. Thus, individuals who mounted the stairs/escalator ≤ 7 s after the previous stair climber were assigned to a ‘stair model’ condition. A ‘no stair model’ condition comprised individuals with a gap to the previous stair climber of ≥ 60 s. The stair model condition was subdivided, depending if the gap between model and follower was 1–2 s or 3–7 s. It was hypothesized that the former cohort may know the model. Results. Percentage stair climbing was significantly higher in the ‘stair model’ versus ‘no stair model’ condition (odds ratio [OR]= 2.08). Subgroup analyses showed greater effects in the ‘1–2 s’ cohort (OR = 3.33) than the ‘3–7 s’ cohort (OR = 1.39). Conclusions. Individuals appear to mimic the stair/escalator choices of fellow pedestrians, with more modest effects between strangers. People exposed to message prompts at stair/escalator sites are known to take the stairs unprompted in subsequent situations. Our results suggest that these individuals could recruit a second generation of stair climbers via mimicry. Additionally, some of the immediate behavioural effects observed in interventions may be a product of mimicry, rather than a direct effect of the messages themselves.



  • Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences


WEBB, O.J., EVES, F.F. and SMITH, L., 2011. Investigating behavioural mimicry in the context of stair/escalator choice. British Journal of Health Psychology, 16 (2), pp. 373-385


Wiley © The British Psychological Society


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This article is closed access. It was published in the serial, British Journal of Health Psychology [Wiley © The British Psychological Society]. The definitive version is available at:






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