GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. -- Why is it that some people will wait 12 hours outside, in the cold, for a deal but complain when they have to wait 12 minutes at a checkout lane?

Experts in the psychology of waiting (that area of study exists) say it’s not the time of waiting that really matters, but why one is waiting and what one is doing while waiting that makes it painful or pleasurable.

It’s pretty simple to list the lines we hate: DMV, zipper merges, clogged checkout lanes.
Now try and think of some of the lines we don’t mind waiting in: waiting to walk down the aisle in a wedding, waiting to be introduced on a starting line-up of a team, waiting to meet a loved one at the airport.

So why are these experiences so different?

“It's a hugely powerful thing called a reference point or a status quo effect,” explains George John, marketing professor at the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management. “What that means is not all lines are created equal.”

John says the difference is in gains vs losses.

Think about the 2,500 people waiting outside the Mall of America Friday morning.

Those people shared a ritualistic glee, exclusivity, anticipation and excitement leading up to the sprint to the coveted sale item they came for. There were waiting for a gain.

Flip to the checkout line where people are waiting for the hard truth of what this item will mean to their bank account or credit card. The fun factor tends to die down here. There, they are waiting for a loss.

“The reality of gains and the reality of losses—whichever one is in our mind at a given point in time will color our emotional reaction to it,” said John.

John says sharing this Black Friday line waiting tends to make it more of a social event with shared experience, hence boosting the ‘gain’ being considered by a shopper’s brain.

Also, those doorbusters and limited quantity items, those mobile coupons and any phrase including the word ‘free’ are all marketing tools designed to create gain in your mind.
And that—your mind—is where the whole game is being played.

“It's in our head. So we have to ask ourselves, what's my reference point? What's my status quo, and then the reality sets in,” said John.