Annabelle Roberts, University of Texas at Austin – Why We Hate to Wait

We’re all tired of waiting.

Annabelle Roberts, assistant professor of marketing at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin, says we’re most impatient right before we get what we want.

Annabelle Roberts is an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Texas at Austin, McCombs School of Business. Prior to joining McCombs, she received her PhD in behavioral science from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Annabelle studies judgment and decision making in the context of consumer behavior, with a focus on motivation and self-control. In her research, she explores what leads people to make more patient decisions and feel more patient while waiting.

Why We Hate to Wait

Waiting is a common experience. Commuters wait in traffic, bored employees wait for the weekend, and if you’re like most Americans, you’re probably waiting for package delivery right now. Despite (or possibly because of) its frequency, waiting is an unpleasant experience. You hate to wait.  

But not all waits are the same. Our research finds that the desire for closure is key to feeling impatient. It’s not that you need the paper towels that are arriving in the mail, you want to cross the wait off your list.

So, when is the hardest time to wait? It’s just when you’re about to reach your goal. This is when you REALLY want closure. Impatience increases as the end of the wait approaches. 

In our studies, we measured feelings of impatience throughout the duration of a wait. We found that both Trump supporters and Biden supporters became more impatient to learn the results of the 2020 US presidential elections when closer to election day. And we found that people felt more impatient when they were closer to being able to receive the first COVID-19 vaccine.

We document an increase in impatience at the end of the wait even when everyone had waited the same amount of time already. It’s the increasing desire for closure—when the bus gets nearer—that makes the additional 5 minutes intensely uncomfortable.

Our research can help to design more pleasant waiting periods. Stores can inform those waiting for delivery about a delay earlier in the wait and err on overestimating, but never underestimating, the wait time. This can improve people’s experience by reducing their impatience. 

As the end of a wait approaches, impatience will increase due to a heightened desire for closure. So, take a deep breath and stay patient as you get closer to the end of your wait.

[Sage Journals] – Impatience Over Time