Scientists Have A Theory About Those People Who Don't Return Shopping Carts

If you're the kind of person who doesn't return a shopping cart to the corral then, I'm sorry, but I just don't think we can be friends.

Abandoned carts littering grocery store parking lots just happen to be one of my biggest pet peeves. While definitely not the worst thing someone can do, I really feel like this kind of behavior is pretty high up on the "bad habits" list.

But why do so many opt to simply leave their cart out in the open, rather than walk a few steps to return it properly? Well, scientists have a theory about that.

In fact, anthropologist and human behavior expert Krystal D'Costa offered up a few possible reasons.

In an article she penned for Scientific American, D'Costa explained that there might be a few contributing factors leading to someone abandoning their cart in the lot.

These include the corral being too far from where they parked, poor weather conditions, or perhaps even having physical limitations that would make it harder for them to return it.

But D'Costa also took a closer look at those people who actually *do* send their carts to the proper location after they finish using them.

According to her, these kinds of people could have simply done so because they felt pressured by social norms — that is, fearing judgment from others if they happen to leave a cart where it shouldn't be.

They could also feel wary about being the first to leave a cart out in the open if no one else has done the same.

Non-cart returners, on the other hand, simply don't care about social order and aren't concerned by the same factors.

They're also likely more driven by personal need — like the need to leave the store and head home faster, for example. And that need, (or in some cases, needs), will override societal guidelines that the rest of us typically feel compelled to follow.

In her piece, D'Costa cited a research experiment that was conducted on this very topic back in 2008.

Unsplash | Clark Young

The Spread of Disorder, as the experiment was titled, took place in two alleys where people park their bikes. One had graffiti and the other didn't, but both had signs prohibiting graffiti, and both had unrelated flyers placed onto the handlebars of those bicyles.

In the graffiti alley, 69% of riders threw the papers onto the ground. But in the graffiti-free alley, only 33% littered, proving that people are more likely to forgo social order if they're already in an environment of similar neglect.

That same flyer experiment was then replicated in two different grocery store parking lots: one with carts strewn everywhere, and one without.

Unsplash | David Clarke

This time, flyers were placed on vehicle windshields. Just like in the alley experiment, 58% of drivers in the cart-littered parking lot littered, whereas only 30% did the same in the lot where the carts had all been returned to the receptacles.

After both experiments, it would certainly appear that social order plays a huge role in our decision to return a grocery cart or not.

Of course, there will always be outliers on both sides, and situational factors that may contribute to us leaning one way or the other.

But overall, it seems pretty clear that the behavior of others can dictate our own, especially if we care about what other people think of us.

But I think perhaps the most interesting thing to come out of all of this is the response the original story got.

In an update, D'Costa shared that her article actually inspired many readers to reach out and share that they don't return carts, but not because of some kind of social order.

Instead, they said they like to leave their carts in the parking lot to keep grocery store workers busy and gainfully employed.

But clearly those people don't realize that workers are meant to grab carts from *corrals*, not chase them all around the parking lot.

And while we're at it, grocery staff almost always have other jobs besides cart retrieval, which is something they're just tasked with doing periodically throughout the day.

Honestly, those readers should have just stuck with the whole "social order" thing as the reason for their actions because the truth is just so, so much worse.

h/t: Scientific American

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