Psychology of hitchhiking

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The wide range of personal contact while hitchhiking makes this an interesting topic to psychological issues. From the motivations of hitchhikers and drivers to apply theories to reduce waiting times as many modern hitchhikers want to be fast and efficient. The large amount of hitchhikers that keep records, note the amount of lifts and waiting times. Especially, in Western Europe many people hitchhike on petrol stations by approaching potential drivers. Therefore, it is important to approach people in an efficient way. Nevertheless, even while thumbing next to the road, a driver has to decide in a fraction of a second if s/he is going to stop or not.

Motivation of Hitchhiker to hitch

  • Adventure
  • Ecological means of transport
  • Free means of transportation
  • Encounter a wide variation of social contact
  • No other option

Motivation of Driver to pick up a hitchhiker

  • Friendliness
  • Generosity
  • Entertainment, company for the ride, curiosity
  • Has been hitchhiking in the past. Already a couple of times of hitchhiking (or unsuccessful attempts to hitchhike) are enough to pick up other people.
  • "Oh, what the hell?"

Ways to be picked up faster

  • 'Mark Snyder and his co-workers (1974) found that hitchhikers doubled the number of ride offers by looking drivers straight in the eye. A personal approach, as my panhandler knew, makes one feel less anonymous, more responsible.' (Source: Social Psychology, Myers. p.503 Social Relations)
  • The decision by a drive is made in a fraction of a moment: it is easier for people when you can be categorized easily (e.g. as student that does not have money or as traveller with a big backpacks that hast interesting stories). For this reason many hitchhikers use signs, even they would not be necessary, to be clearly identified as a hitchhiker (and not as somebody that just comes out of the bushes). Show both hands openly and do not hide them in your pockets. Be open and honest. People in the same group as you are will ‘judge’ you more as they have more reference points.
  • It might be worth to ask people first a question they clearly agree on or make them compliments in another way (car, jacket and other tastes) before asking them for a lift (self-affirmation theory, Steele, 1988). To make people laugh first should work as well.
  • Bake pancakes and offer them to your potentially future driver. Make them laugh.
  • Be sure you'll get a lift and actually look at the driver in a way that shows you know he'll stop. It can seem paradoxal at first, but it works.
  • Speed Hitchhiking builds on the idea of priming. Thereby two hitchhikers place themselves with about 50m distance from each other next to the road.

Variables of influence might be

  • gender
  • sex
  • race
  • company
  • dress (and also color: avoid red or orange)
  • eye contact
  • location
  • gesture
  • time of day, dependency
  • secondary gendered characteristics
  • socio-economic environment
  • type of roadway
  • laws
  • mood (looking happy is usually better, than looking tired or sad)

Literature on this topic

See scientific research on hitchhiking. A lot of studies deal with the psychological aspects of hitchhiking or use hitchhiking as a test case for psychological theories.