Melbourne: Every time you step into a lift, a massive power play is going down between the people in there. Older men stand at the back, younger men in front of them. Women of all ages keep to the front.

The blokes stare at the floor monitor or mirrors; women just the monitor. All eye contact is avoided. A study by Adelaide researcher Rebekah Rousi found that people decide where they stand based on a micro social hierarchy, established within seconds of entering the lift, media reported.

Rousi, a Ph.D. student in cognitive science, conducted an ethnographic study of elevator behaviour in two of the tallest office buildings in Adelaide.

As part of her research, she took a total of 30 lift rides in the two buildings, and discovered there was an established order to where people tended stand.

In a blog for Ethnography Matters, she writes that more senior men seemed to direct themselves towards the back of the lift cabins.

In front of them were younger men, and in front of them were women of all ages. She also noticed there was a difference in where people directed their gaze half way through the ride.

Men watched the monitors, looked in the side mirrors (in one building) to see themselves, and in the door mirrors (of the other building) to also watch others.

"Women would watch the monitors and avoid eye contact with other users (unless in conversation) and the mirrors," she wrote.

It was only when the women travelled with other women, and just a few at that, that women elevator users would look at the mirrors. She found that interviewees seemed somewhat aware of these dynamics.

Both men and women mentioned how they would either purposely stare at other elevator users to draw attention, or that one woman in particular would enter the elevator and stand facing the back, rather than the doors, which other users found disconcerting.

(Agencies)

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