Civil Inattention – it exists (in elevators and elsewhere)

The clip shows Peter Sellers and fellow actors attempting (and failing) to portray an extreme example of ‘Civil Inattention’ (C.I.) in an elevator [a ‘lift’ UK]. C.I. was first formally described by the late professor Erving Goffman in ‘Behavior in Public Places: Notes on the Social Organization of Gatherings‘ (The Free Press, New York, 1963.) and can be summed up as:

“A behavioral ritual enacted when two or more persons are mutually present but not involved in any form of interaction.”

Think: Hiding behind newspapers on public transport, or avoiding eye-contact in elevators. Twenty years after the phrase had been coined, its existence was experimentally confirmed by Professor Miron Zuckerman (University of Rochester) Professor Marianne Miserandino (now at Arcadia University) and Professor Frank Bernieri (now at Oregon State University) in their paper : ‘Civil Inattention Exists – in Elevators’ (Pers Soc Psychol Bull, December 1983, vol. 9 no. 4 pp. 578-586)

“The visual behavior of 320 elevator riders was observed by two experimenters, one male and one female.
Only single elevator riders were observed.
Only looks that were oriented towards the experimenters’ face or upper body were recoded: looks that were oriented towards the experimenters’ feet did not count.”

The experimental observers (or confederates) were armed with stopwatches (silent ones) so that they could log the duration-times of gazing (or not gazing).

“It was found that about half of all riders gave the confederate a brief visual notice at the beginning of the ride and then refrained from further eye contact. Of the riders, 35% added one or two glances to the initial look; perhaps these riders wanted to renew their acknowledgment of the confederates or perhaps they simply displayed more interest in their fellow passengers.”

Subsequent experimental studies have show that Civil Inattention not only exists in elevators, but also :

● in laundromats

on sidewalks

in public toilets (male)

in libraries

on Greyhound buses

in swimming pools

on trains

and in elevators (again)

Also see;

Ways of Staring