Monday, January 12, 2009

Inexplicable Behavior

When you walk in the door to our waiting room, my office is the closest one. My door is straight ahead. When you leave my office, the door out is, therefore, also straight ahead. It has an illuminated sign above it reading "EXIT".

Off to the left, leaving my office, there's also an open doorway, leading to a long hallway with more offices.

Strangely, an astounding percentage of my clients leave my office and immediately turn left down the dead-end hallway, instead of proceeding about three yards straight ahead to the very obvious door they came in through. Believe it or not, I would say 80% of people do this on their first visit. And a good 30-40% do it even after they've been here many times. People head down the wrong hall, stop, turn around, look startled and/or confused, then seem to question their senses. Quite routinely now I say to people, "Oh, don't worry about it-- almost everyone does that."

As a shrink, I can't help but wonder what this is about. My theories so far (none of them very plausible):

1) People are innately so lazy that, faced with the choice of a closed door going where they need to go, or an open door going where they don't, they will take the open door;
2) People in our culture are so indoctrinated towards clockwise motion that, faced with the choice of going straight or turning left, they turn left. (Possibly this is opposite in the southern hemisphere?)
3) There is a local magnetic disturbance in the vicinity of my office building which causes people to lose their sense of direction.

I am open to other explanations...

11 Comments:

Blogger Rach said...

No one looks up anymore, hence we get hit in the eye with bird shit. Thus your patients don't see the exit sign on top of your office door.

1/12/09, 1:31 PM  
Blogger Turboglacier said...

Yeah, but they came IN that door. Why do they go looking for a different way out?

1/12/09, 1:39 PM  
Blogger Novalis said...

Medical architecture is so labyrinthine, so accustoming us to tortuous detours, that a point-blank door is assumed to be too good to be true--perhaps to be the dreaded "Emergency Exit Only."

1/12/09, 1:56 PM  
Blogger The MSILF said...

How is the inside of the office set up? Do they do a weird turn to sit down? There are some places that just seems to happen...people walk out differently than they came in...I always get the feeling when it happens to me that it has to do with where it feels like is outside, if you get turned around in where you were facing during the time you were in, it happens.

Does that exit door look like a fire door or something?

1/13/09, 4:17 AM  
Blogger Heather said...

Wouldn't a left turn be counterclockwise?

1/13/09, 2:43 PM  
Blogger Turboglacier said...

Ah-- well, I didn't describe the layout very well. You turn left into the hallway, but then it curves around to the right. And eventually you'd come to another exit door, and if you took a couple more rights, you'd make it to the stairs out.

1/13/09, 2:46 PM  
Anonymous Michael J. said...

People want to 'escape' when they leave the therapist office. They were revealing inside, and now in the reentry to reality they don't want to be seen for a moment - perhaps to gather themselves before facing the world - even by the therapist with whom they were just revealing. So they turn a corner rather than walk even a few yards in sight of anyone.

1/14/09, 8:57 AM  
Blogger Claire Colvin said...

I'm guessing it's some version of "they think they should..." and so they act without thinking, only deciding to do what they're pretty sure everyone else is doing.

Years ago I worked at a theatre that had a symmetrical lobby leading into a symmetrical house. The was one door on the right and another to the left. Night after night we'd have a line up of 200 people standing at the right hand door and maybe 10 people waiting at the left. All events used numbered seats and once through the doors both sides were exactly the same. We would walk up to people in line and let them know that there was a shorter line on the left where we could seat them much faster but they wouldn't budge. They'd rather wait in the crowd than 'risk' a different behaviour even when it would accomplish their goal of being seating so much faster.

It didn't matter if we had the Symphony in the house, or a graduation ceremony or an Amway event [shudders] they all displayed this same, irrational behaviour.

1/18/09, 2:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For many clients therapy is a safe haven from the stressors of the outside world. It is 45 minutes of you, and it feels good. So my initial reaction was that subconsciously they do not want to "exit" directly into the outside-therapy world, but wish to linger about.

1/28/09, 11:19 AM  
Blogger Jennifer Riley said...

Therapy is emotionally disorienting, even during the ‘easy’ sessions. After leaving the office, patients are often still in their head. It’s possible that this inward perception doesn’t allow them to see the closed door as a door, but as a wall, so they unconsciously follow the open path.

2/26/09, 6:34 PM  
Blogger Bobba Lynx said...

Just lurking and reading, but I do have a thought on this one: experience ? Many therapists'/ shrinks' office arrangements have the patient enter one door and exit from another. This used to be common, so that patients did not re-enter the waiting room and come across the doctor's next patient. How many of your patients have had prior experience in therapy where this may have been the set up ?

3/29/09, 12:35 AM  

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