Anti Gravity: Space Invaders; August 1997; Scientific American Magazine; by Mirsky; 1 Page(s)
Discretion, rumor has it, is the better part of valor. When it comes to driving, however, discretion often goes out the window, usually the driver¿s. Normally mild-mannered, deferential individuals metamorphose into zealous defenders of territorial rights when behind the wheel. Two centuries ago one sure way to get a rise out of a guy was to backhand your glove across his face. One can achieve the same result today by cutting off another driver on the highway. A recent study shows, however, that even in stationary cars drivers cannot resist the urge to mark their territory.
The research took place at the epicenter of late 20th-century social interaction--the shopping mall. As any Saturday shopper can attest, nowhere are cars more stationary than at a mall parking lot. The inevitable game of musical chairs that occurs over parking spaces leads to what exosociologists might call close encounters of the third kind. "Primary territories are those that are central to our lives--our home or office," explains Pennsylvania State University researcher R. Barry Ruback, whose study appeared in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology. "Secondary territories are those that we occupy on a regular basis; Norm¿s bar stool at Cheerswould be one. It¿s sort of generally acknowledged that when you¿re there, it¿s your place. The third are public territories, the things that we own temporarily." Such as mall parking spaces.