“Great works are often born on the street-corner or in a restaurant’s revolving door,” said Albert Camus, and a recent study shows that he was on to something. The revolving door is not just the accidental setting for inspiration—it is the site of complex meanings all its own. The way you move through a revolving door with a friend might reveal something about your relationship.
First—the obvious challenges: the awkward business of figuring out who’s going first; the calibration of the door’s spaciousness—is it a one-at-a-time situation? Researchers caution that a miscalculation can result in “comic struggles.”
But what’s really at stake, according to this study, is the cohesiveness of social groups—the difficulty of staying together when a revolving door temporarily chops up a pair or a larger group. The researchers for this study (Alexandra Weilenmann, Associate Professor in Applied Information Technology at the University of Gothenburg; Daniel Normark, Researcher at the Center for Consumer Science at the University of Gothenburg; and Eric Laurier, Senior Lecturer in Geography and Interaction at the University of Edinburgh) outlined the various tools that people use to stay in step: shifts in gait and posture, body orientation, eye contact, changes in speed. On exiting a revolving door, you might slow your pace to wait for a friend following behind.
But what if you don’t? The researchers observed and filmed interactions at a series of revolving doors at the University of Gothenburg’s School of Business, Economics and Law in Sweden. And they concluded that if a group allows the doors to throw them apart, they undermine the strength of their connections. Their bonds become questionable—to themselves and to others. (This comes in handy, of course, when you’re trying to avoid intimacy with a stranger at a revolving door.)
There have been a few other examinations of similarly complex public spaces. Crowded sidewalks, escalators, and crosswalks all pose some of the same problems. And the way we walk through these areas is also affected by whom we’re walking with. Researchers at Seattle Pacific University, for instance, discovered that men tend to slow down their pace by an average of 7 percent when walking with female partners (the romantic variety).
Women walking together moved even more slowly than they do with their male partners. Researchers in the same study suggested that this might signal the intimacy of female friendships. Meanwhile, men walking with male friends moved at speeds faster than either individual’s preferred walking speed.