What Is the Hardest Part of Waiting? Scientists Have Discovered the Answer

Man Holding Clock Waiting

New research shows the last part of waiting is the most challenging, with people’s growing impatience for closure affecting their service perception.

New research investigates the varying levels of impatience experienced at different stages of a waiting period, offering valuable insights for both marketers and consumers.

New research answers a timely question: What is the hardest part of waiting? In our daily lives, we do a lot of it – be it online, in queues, in traffic, or for deliveries. Now, the study reveals that the most difficult part for people is the final phase of the wait.

In this season of joyful—and not-so-joyful—anticipation, the research has deep implications for marketers and psychological insights for us all, says Annabelle Roberts, coauthor and assistant professor of marketing at the University of Texas McCombs School of Business. The paper shows:

  • It’s better for companies to communicate possible delays early in the wait;
  • It’s better for them to overestimate the waiting period than to underestimate it;
  • A less negative experience of waiting can lead to a more positive evaluation of a service.

Across six studies by Roberts and colleagues found subjects felt the highest levels of impatience as the end of the waiting period approached — regardless of how long they had already been waiting. Each study measured consumer reactions to waiting on real-world events, from 2020 election results or a first shot of a COVID-19 vaccine to the arrival of a bus or a package.

The underlying cause, the studies found, was people’s desire for closure. As a wait is about to end, desire gets stronger, and so does impatience.

Reference: “Impatience Over Time” by Annabelle R. Roberts and Ayelet Fishbach, 13 December 2023, Social Psychological and Personality Science.
DOI: 10.1177/19485506231209002

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