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PAUL: Jaywalking is more like group think than an act of defiance

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caroline-paul-headshotYou do it whether you think about it or not. And no, it’s not blinking or breathing. It’s giving in to peer pressure for something you never even knew existed: jaywalking.

In the interest of writing this as honestly as possible, I did what I do best. I lurked. I sat on a bench outside the soon-to-be-defunct Jes Res and lurked on all the people legally crossing the street by the library, as well as those ducking into traffic without the right of way.

And the results are in. When it comes to jaywalking, we all have our own styles, but we all still fall in line with the group.

Just as there are a variety of ways individuals walk, there are a variety of ways individuals walk illegally. Some saunter. Others scurry. There are always a few bobbers and weavers.

Regardless of the way it is done, the deed goes down every day on crosswalks all over campus. Doesn’t that make it sound cooler than it really is? Real talk, jaywalking will get you no street cred unless you are doing parkour or a barrel roll across the street. But I digress. If we’re going to do it, I’m going to make it sound cool.

So Marquette students are doing a less-than-advisable thing every day. But jaywalking has its own social psychology that almost everyone seems to adhere to, if they know it or not.

As I lurked the other day, I saw things I never would have noticed had I been a part of group on the edge of the street. People really are looking for social cues as they decide to outrun an oncoming car.

In the period between classes, the intersection and sidewalks outside the library are packed with people. And they all want to get across the street as fast as possible. When there are cars whizzing along, it’s like a dog track right before they open the gates.

But if there is a less steady stream of cars, the social aspect of jaywalking is clear to those lurking in the background. Everyone is looking at everyone else to see if it is safe to get across the street. We’re socially normative even as we’re deciding to go play in traffic or not.

When there is a huge pack of people, sometimes all it takes is a single brave soul to dart into the street for all the others massed there to follow and cross the street like it’s the crossing of the Red Sea, even though it’s only 15 feet of pavement.

If there are less people, just a few clustered on the curb, the dynamics are a little stranger. A brave person might start to cross, and those behind will follow, only to realize they cannot keep up with the long-legged stranger. Then they backpedal as a car comes speeding along, with looks on their faces like they have been personally betrayed by this person.

After a person runs into the street and no one follows, because the group can sense that the oncoming car is too close, there is a measure of satisfaction and scorn on the faces of the group as the car slows down and honks at the jaywalking pariah.

So if you’re wondering what your jaywalking says about you, all it’s saying is that you aren’t really a rebel. Even doing something illegal, you’re doing it by following everybody else.

Next time you have a minute, lurk. And be amazed at the subliminal social norming that’s happening all around you.

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