Not to get all George Costanza about it, but there’s nothing like a great parking spot.
Trouble is, we really don’t know how to find one. Enter Andrew Velkey, an associate professor of psychology at Christopher Newport University in Virginia. Velkey logged many hours in crowded parking lots observing drivers' strategies.
He learned that many common practices, such as circling to find a space closest to the entrance, waste time and detract from your original mission: Getting to and from the store quickly and efficiently.
What does pay off?
- Decisively entering the first space you see, no matter where it is.
- On extra-crowded days like Black Friday, simply sitting and waiting for someone to leave, rather than driving around or switching to a different section.
- Expanding your horizons: Instead of gunning for the row right by the store's entrance, shift your focus to the sides. You'll probably get a space closer to the door.
- Staying calm: Don't honk or appear impatient while you're waiting — people who feel pressured may go more slowly.
Citing a 1997 study called "Territorial Defense in Parking Lots," Velkey compared drivers hunkering down in their parking spots to animals guarding their domain in the wild. "People will respond to perceived loss of freedom with an aggressive response, like 'You can honk all you want buddy, but you aren't making me leave,'" he tells NBC News BETTER.
But that Seinfeld episode resonated with so many people because it's true: Why are we so obsessed with parking?
Velkey has some theories. "Less-common but more valuable 'wins', like getting a great spot right out front, result in a greater release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in regions of the brain associated with reward and pleasure — the same pathway that is likely involved in behavioral addictions such as gambling and many drug addictions."
These "high-value events," which happen infrequently, are, as Dewey says, "more rewarding and thus more likely to be remembered" than lower-value events. "So we tend to only remember the few really good spots and the occasional really bad spot while we forget all the mediocre spots in-between," he says.
As a result, people overestimate both the availability of good spaces as well as the probability that they will acquire one of those spots, and the reverse is also true: They underestimate how likely it is that they will fail to find a primo space, not to mention how much time it takes to hunt for one.
"Ultimately, we are not very good at making rational cost-benefit analyses without expending a lot of time and effort at doing so," says Velkey, adding he also thinks the parking-spot fixation is tied to "a deeper reflection of our general obsession with the automobile in our culture."
Next time you're struck by parking rage, keep this in mind: Experts estimate that walking to and from the far end of a lot can burn an additional 50 calories. Check out the video explaining Velkey's smartest tips.