Understanding Impatience: Why We Hate Waiting Around – Neuroscience News

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Summary: A new study delves into the psychological dynamics of impatience, exploring why waiting feels so arduous. Through two comprehensive studies, researchers investigate how the need for closure exacerbates impatience, influencing decisions like completing tasks earlier or opting for immediate over future rewards.

The findings shed light on the counterintuitive choices people make to achieve closure, such as working more for the same outcome or paying extra to conclude transactions sooner. This research not only enhances our understanding of impatience but also provides practical implications for marketing strategies and personal decision-making.

Key Facts:

  1. Closure’s Influence on Choices: Roberts’ research highlights how a strong desire for closure leads individuals to prefer options that allow them to complete tasks sooner, even if it means working more or paying extra.
  2. Impatience Intensifies Near the End: The studies reveal that people’s frustration with waiting increases as they approach the anticipated end of the wait, a finding that has implications for managing customer expectations and marketing strategies.
  3. Applications in Marketing and Management: The insights from these papers can help marketers design less frustrating waiting experiences and managers motivate their teams more effectively by understanding the psychological underpinnings of impatience and the desire for closure.

Source: UT Austin

Back in 1981, Tom Petty sang that the waiting is the hardest part. New research from The University of Texas helps to explain why.

In two recent papers, Annabelle Roberts, Texas McCombs assistant marketing professor, explores the internal negotiations that happen when people feel impatient: whether they’re standing in a long queue or awaiting an important announcement.

Both papers examine how the desire for closure impacts impatience. The first paper looks at how it affects decision making — for example, choosing to complete a task now rather than later. The second explores people’s feelings as they wait and how the experience changes as the end of the wait draws closer.

The findings could interest managers who want to better motivate their teams, she notes, because people who desire closure are less likely to procrastinate. Credit: Neuroscience News

Roberts, who has a Ph.D. in behavioral science, is interested in how impatience influences the choices people make, such as whether to invest for the future or spend on something today.

Her work also offers lessons on what marketers can do to make waiting less annoying. She says, “Everyone has had this experience of getting overly frustrated while they’re waiting.”

The need for closure

In one paper, Roberts looks at what causes impatience. With Alex Imas and Ayelet Fishbach of the University of Chicago, she finds one answer: closure. A need for closure, she says, affects intertemporal choice — the relative values people assign to a payoff today versus a payoff at a future date.

In seven studies conducted online and in the lab, participants made choices between working more sooner or waiting to work less later for the same outcome. Participants were willing to pay more or work more when it allowed them to achieve closure sooner.

  • They would pay $1 more when it allowed them to pay sooner and get the payment off their minds.
  • They preferred to complete 15% more work for the same pay, when they could finish the work earlier and cross it off their lists of things to do.
  • To get a report off their minds before an upcoming vacation, they preferred to work one hour of unpaid overtime to finish it, rather than get paid to finish it after vacation.

“The need for goal closure helps explain the counterintuitive preference for working more sooner or paying more sooner,” Roberts says. “We find that impatience isn’t just about this myopic desire for the reward. It’s also about crossing goals off their list, not having the goal hanging over them.”

The findings could interest managers who want to better motivate their teams, she notes, because people who desire closure are less likely to procrastinate.

The study also suggests why marketing promotions, such as “buy now, pay later” deals, sometimes don’t work, she adds. Consumers may not want the stress of knowing a payment is due.

The end is near — but not near enough

Prior research has calculated that Americans spend 37 billion hours a year waiting in line, and the average commuter spends 42 hours a year stuck in traffic. For her second paper, also with Fishbach, Roberts tracked the emotional trajectory of those waits. They found that the distress of waiting intensifies as the wait nears an end.

“This paper was about people’s feelings, their experiences while they wait,” Roberts says. “When you expect the wait to be ending soon, you become more impatient closer to that expectation.”

In real-life situations, respondents rated their levels of impatience while waiting for the first COVID-19 vaccine or for their bus to arrive in downtown Chicago. Their frustration increased the closer they got to the end of the wait. They felt worse when they were closer to receiving the vaccine or when the bus was closer to arriving. 

One group of respondents reported their impatience for results in the 2020 presidential election. Levels rose for supporters of both Joe Biden and Donald Trump on Election Day.

The following day, impatience was even higher, as votes were still being counted. It rose for both sides, Roberts notes, even though Biden was pulling ahead.

“Even for those who expected their candidate wasn’t going to win, they just wanted to get this over with,” Roberts says. “This nicely demonstrates the desire for closure and how it plays out in the experience of waiting.”

She suggests this takeaway for companies: If there is uncertainty about when a package will be delivered, it’s better to prepare customers for a longer wait than a shorter one. That way, it may arrive before they become impatient.

It may also be better to inform customers about a delay earlier in the wait than later so they can adjust their expectations accordingly.

For a follow-up project, Roberts is researching useful interventions to help people feel more patient while they wait.

“I want my research to help people manage their waiting experiences,” she says. “A lot of people really want help with how they can be more patient while they wait, and how they can make better choices, like saving for the future.”

About this impatience and psychology research news

Author: Judie Kinonen
Source: UT Austin
Contact: Judie Kinonen – UT Austin
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: Closed access.
Can’t wait to pay: The desire for goal closure increases impatience for costs” by Annabelle Roberts et al. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

Open access.
Impatience Over Time” by Annabelle Roberts et al. Social Psychological and Personality Science


Can’t wait to pay: The desire for goal closure increases impatience for costs

We explore whether the desire to achieve psychological closure on a goal creates impatience. If so, people should choose an earlier (vs. later) option, even when it does not deliver a reward. For example, they may prefer to pay money or complete work earlier rather than later.

A choice to incur earlier costs seems to violate the preference for positive discounting (indeed, it may appear like negative time discounting), unless people value earlier goal closure.

Across seven studies, we consistently find that people preferred to pay more money sooner over less money later (Study 1) and complete more work sooner over less work later (Studies 2–5) more when they had a stronger desire for goal closure, such as when the sooner option allowed them to achieve goal closure and when the goal would otherwise linger on their minds (compared to when it would not).

The implications of goal closure extend to impatience for gains (Studies 6–7), as people preferred less money sooner (vs. more later) when it allowed them to achieve goal closure.

These findings suggest that the desire to achieve goal closure is an important aspect of time preferences. Taking this desire into account can explain marketplace anomalies and inform interventions to reduce impatience.


Impatience Over Time

Waiting is ubiquitous yet painful. We find that the discomfort of waiting intensifies as the wait draws closer to its end.

Using longitudinal studies that measured impatience for real-world events, we documented greater impatience closer to learning the results of the 2020 U.S. presidential election (Study 1), receiving the first COVID-19 vaccine (Study 2), and boarding a bus (Study 3).

Follow-up experiments found that a desire for closure underlies this effect, and that impatience increases at the end of the wait controlling for how long people have already been waiting (Supplemental Studies 1–4).

These findings suggest that the distress of waiting escalates when the wait is almost over.

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