Fighting Crime, One License Plate at a Time?

PAFF_052015_MemoryLicensePlates_newsfeatureYou’re driving down the street when you witness a hit-and-run incident between two other cars. The offending driver speeds off before you have a chance to jot down their license plate number. You’ve only had a few seconds to memorize the plate but you know that the more you can remember, the more likely police are to nab the hit-and-run driver.

This is no small feat. Vanity plates aside, the seeming arbitrariness of the letters and numbers that grace most license plates makes them tricky to memorize on the spot.

Currently, the state of Massachusetts is considering calling for all state license plates to include a commonly recognizable symbol, such as a triangle or circle, in addition to the standard letters and numbers. The assumption behind the bill is that including symbols, in addition to numbers and letters, will make plates easier…

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The Seduction of a Sunny Day: How Weather Biases Car Buying Behavior

PAFF_051415_WeatherBuyingCar_newsfeatureYou may want to think twice before buying a convertible on a warm sunny day.

Standard economic models assume that people rationally weigh the long-term costs and benefits of a major purchase: the gas mileage, maintenance costs, and safety ratings. A consumer making a wholly rational decision about buying a new convertible should be just as likely to buy one on a rainy day as a sunny one.

“Evidence from psychology, however, suggests that individuals may make systematic errors when making intertemporal decisions,” Devin G. Pope, an associate professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago, and colleagues explain. In a new study, the researchers demonstrate how subtle psychological biases play a big role in economic behavior.

For example, people often fall victim to projection bias, assuming that what they’re feeling in the moment will stay the same over a long…

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Music in the Car Can Cause Teen Drivers to Tune Out

PAFF_050615_ListeningToMusicDriving_newsfeatureWhile it’s well known that using a cell phone while driving is a recipe for disaster, a study from psychological scientists Warren Brodsky and Zack Slor of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev found evidence that the music teens listen to may also have a hazardous influence on their driving.

And it’s not just fiddling with the volume or trying to skip a song that divert a person’s attention away from the road. The music itself can interfere with teens’ ability to stay focused on driving.

“Drivers underestimate in-car distraction from activities, which are widely acceptable but not necessarily safe, involving a range of mundane activities such as simply listening to music,” the researchers write in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention.

The researchers recruited 85 novice drivers between 17 and 18 years old. Just over half of the participants were male, and…

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Finding the Way to a Better Sense of Direction

PAFF_043015_SenseofDirection_newsfeatureSome people just seem to have an innate sense of direction; they never need to ask how to get somewhere or forget where they parked. Then there’s those of us who would be utterly lost in our own neighborhood without the help of GPS and turn-by-turn directions.

A team of psychological scientists from Tufts University and the U.S. Army may have found one way to improve a shaky sense of direction: applying an electric current to the brain.

The research team, led by Tad T. Brunyé, found that volunteers who started off the experiment with poor navigation skills showed a significant improvement after receiving a dose of low-current electricity delivered to the scalp, a technique known as transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS).

Previous studies using tDCS have found that it can temporarily cause varying effects in people that range from improvements in…

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Teen Brains Shift Gears on Risk with Mom Watching

PAFF_042315_MomsRiskTeenBrain_newsfeatureFrom dangerous driving to drug use, numerous studies have shown that teens are far more likely to engage in a slew of risky behaviors when they’re with peers than when they’re alone.

For example, studies conducted by Laurence Steinberg of Temple University demonstrated that teens—who are already among the most risk-prone drivers to begin with—are even more likely to take risks behind the wheel when peers are present.

However, new research from a team of psychological scientists from the University of Illinois demonstrates that parents, as well as peers, can also significantly influence a teen driver’s behavior.

“[Steinberg] found that peers significantly increase risk-taking among teens,” says lead author Eva Telzer. “I wanted to know whether we could reduce risk-taking by bringing a parent into the car.”

It might seem obvious that a teen wouldn’t want to show off their daredevil driving…

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