How many people are rude?
May 16, 2020 8:09 PM   Subscribe

I know this presents many difficulties... but have there been any studies done on what percentage of the population is unpleasant in public situations? Like, rude to customer service people, cutting people off in traffic, unpleasant on public transport, etc. etc. I'm not talking about acts rising to the level of criminal abuse and harassment of others (although I'm sure many of those people would be captured in the stats). But how many people are just rude? (Goes without saying but I am NOT looking for anecdotes. Just sources of research.)

I realise that this is so subjective, and that someone might be rude one day because they are having a terrible time, but then polite and considerate every other day. Or what one person might consider rude may not bother other people too much.

So anyway, my question is... Do you know of a study where somebody has come up with their own way to determine and control the variables, and measure the overall percentage of rudeness (for a certain definition of rudeness) in society?

Even if were just a survey of customer service staff in a supermarket, to find out, say, how many customers didn't bother to say hello/please/thank you, and how many were actively rude.

I've tried googling this and the results all seemed to be looking at how many customer service staff are rude. I want to know about the general public, not just the microcosm of customer service staff.
posted by reshet to Society & Culture (8 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Incivility is the sociological term. Unfortunately I'm having trouble finding sources that aren't either published books or journal articles.

This google search is a good place to start if you want to poke around.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:43 PM on May 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

I think there's a cognitive bias where when we see someone behaving poorly or making a mistake, we assume it's because of their character rather than their circumstances (ie. that it's a stable trait). I don't remember the name of this specific bias, but maybe some Mefite can help me out.

So when we see people in public behaving badly, there's a good chance it's because of circumstances we don't know about, and we jump to the idea that it's a character flaw. It would be really hard to study how many people are rude because it would be hard to differentiate between state and trait rudeness. It would be easier to find out how many people hold an attitude where they think it's okay to be rude, but even if you looked up that type of research, which probably does exist, it wouldn't really give you your answer because of group of people who are rude but don't know they're rude, and don't hold the attitude that it's okay to be rude.

Then there's the problem of what civility and politeness are and how important they are differing from culture to culture. Even if you sampled one geographic location, some people will think it's terribly rude to speak directly, and others will think it's annoying to be indirect, and it'll be a matter of upbringing more than anything.

Entitlement might be useful correlate, though.
posted by unstrungharp at 9:04 PM on May 16, 2020 [12 favorites]

> I think there's a cognitive bias where when we see someone behaving poorly or making a mistake, we assume it's because of their character rather than their circumstances (ie. that it's a stable trait).

The fundamental attribution error.
posted by mbrubeck at 9:25 PM on May 16, 2020 [9 favorites]

Rudeness has a lot of definitions that vary substantially by place, time and culture sometimes in finely grained ways. (Ask vs Guess is obvious, search Mefi for old threads on how to split a bill or what to wear on your feet indoors.) What's rude on the subway isn't rude at a punk rock show, and what's rude 50 feet from the stage at a punk rock show isn't 10 feet from the stage.

That said, one of my favourite all time studies is described and linked here - it looked at the natural experiment of bringing people from all over the world together, and offering them something valuable that required transgression of social norms, but no additional cost.

Specifically, every country in the world sends diplomats to the UN in New York, and cars with diplomatic licence plates didn't have to pay for parking tickets, via diplomatic immunity. So diplomats could park illegally (a huge advantage in Manhattan where legal parking is hard to find and expensive) with no consequence. Turns out that parking violations broadly correlated with corruption levels - that is, diplomats from countries with a higher level of corruption were more likely to park illegally than those from countries with less corruption.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 9:56 PM on May 16, 2020 [14 favorites]

There was a study looking at yielding patterns of drivers in intersections that comes to mind.
Flashing crosswalk lights are no match for flashy cars, according to a new UNLV study which found that drivers of expensive cars are least likely to stop for crossing pedestrians.

Drivers on a whole aren't all that great at stopping for pedestrians waiting at crosswalks: Of 461 cars that researchers examined, only 28 percent yielded. But the cost of the car was a significant predictor of driver yielding, with the odds that they'll stop decreasing by 3 percent per $1,000 increase in the car's value. Researchers estimated the cost of each car using pricing categories from Kelley Blue Book.
posted by amanda at 10:02 PM on May 16, 2020 [12 favorites]

So much of this seems tied not only to culture but also to highly individual personal perceptions and beliefs about acceptable behavioral norms. There are asks that spring up from time to time about conflicts in modes of social interaction and I am frequently baffled by some of the responses. People will suggest that it's perfectly okay to whip out a book or a smartphone at the table if you decide you're bored with a conversation. Or they will counsel a "take your turn/wait your turn" type having difficulties with a "hold the floor" type to visibly check out of the conversation and eventually say something along the lines of, "I stopped paying attention since you seemed to be talking with yourself." And so on. Strategies such as these strike me as incredibly rude. More rude, in fact, than the perceived rudenesses to which the strategies responded (a bit like pointedly saying "you're welcome" to someone who doesn't offer a "thank you" for some gesture). But clearly the people who offered these suggestions -- none of whom are "rude people" -- did not find their suggestions rude or inappropriate for the situation. All the foregoing is to say that these things can be so subjective and individual that I have a hard time thinking it would be possible to quantify it.

To make another example, Mrs. slkinsey was once on a gig and was invited to share lunch with one of her colleagues. This colleague spent most of the lunch on the phone sending texts and taking short phone calls, etc. Later that week the colleague invited her out again, and Mrs. slkinsey replied that she would be happy to go to lunch so long as they were going to interact and the colleague wouldn't spend most of the time on the phone. Which one was rude? Was it both? Or neither? Arguments could be made for all four possibilities depending one's perspective. How do you quantify that?
posted by slkinsey at 9:31 AM on May 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: a survey of customer service staff in a supermarket, to find out, say, how many customers didn't bother to say hello/please/thank you, and how many were actively rude.

This is a reasonable thing to wonder about and a measurable enough thing to study! I wish that folks here who are offering answers of "it's all so subjective" and "this is impossible to define" would read through the whole question you posed.

It might help to think of as many such easily measurable and objective data that sociologists might actually be able to study. If we can come up with a bunch of examples, not only does that lead to more things you might be able to google for, but we might also be able to come up with better search terms for this class of research.

- How many people in a certain area with heavy foot traffic over X number of hours threw their trash IN a trashcan vs. near it or around it or just settled for littering.

- How many people on a subway offered their seat to the pregnant scientist gathering data.

- How many people apologized for knocking into a conveniently (inconveniently) positioned scientist on the street who has a good excuse for being in their way --- say, they have fallen down? or they are on crutches?

As I type these out, it strikes me that

(a) Candid Camera or Gotcha! style TV shows might be your best bet for this kind of empirical research

(b) demographics are likely a HUGE factor in how rude or polite people are. I remember watching a Candid-Camera-like TV show where they got a black guy to fiddle around with a locked bike, vs. a young white woman. Passers-by were quick to call the police on the black guy even with him just standing near the bike, but there were several people who actively assisted the white girl steal it! Even when she TOLD them she was trying to steal it because she just likes the look of this bike! And then of course there's my most ARRRGGGGHHH example: that infamous Dave Chapelle skit where he [youtube link, trigger warning for sexual assault] sexually assaults random women on camera for laughs, and not a single one of them even so much as flips him off, let alone reports him.

-----> and now I can tell you for sure there is a whole class of sociological studies of how differently people are treated based on race, gender, disability, etc. I'm not on my desktop so I can't link you, but this should be quite googleable. It's not *precisely* the research you're looking for, but the raw data will probably give you some info. For example, if there was research conducted about how many times people were rude to waitstaff who are white vs. PoC, the raw data will often contain not just the comparative rudeness numbers but also the total number of customers who interacted with the waitstaff in any way, rude or otherwise. So that might give you some good answers.
posted by MiraK at 10:53 AM on May 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

This would be very hard to track; I’m a member of a racialized ethnicity in North America, so I’ll tell you that lots of people who self-define as “polite” actually display shockingly vile levels of incivility when dealing with people of races they deem “lesser”, particularly when nobody else is watching them. You would be amazed.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 11:52 AM on May 17, 2020 [4 favorites]

« Older Where to publicize Club meetings?   |   Are there high quality monitors that will fit on... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.