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Every day in New York, people take 30 million elevator rides in 58,000 elevators, according to the trade group National Elevator Industry. It’s a weird nonmoment in which strangers share a tiny space. “We silently agree that the other people don’t exist,” says Tonya Reiman, author of The Power of Body Language. According to Dario Maestripieri, a University of Chicago behavioralist and author of the forthcoming The Biology of Everyday Life, this instinct is deeply rooted. “Being in a restricted space with strangers is tension-provoking,” he says. “So we do unconscious things to minimize the risk of conflict, like not making eye contact. If you put monkeys in a small cage, they avoid each other.”
How we behave in those seconds of entrapment says a lot about us. What follows is a survey of elevator-rider behavior based on research conducted in 10 Manhattan office buildings. Bloomberg Businessweek categorized the behaviors of more than 100 riders into 10 groups, which appear below along with explanations from a panel of experts: Reiman; Maestripieri; Patti Wood, author of Success Signals; and Marilyn Puder-York, author of The Office Survival Guide. Think twice the next time you fold your hands in front of your pelvis. We know what you’re thinking.