Why the Drive Home Really Does Feel Shorter

PAFF_112415_ShortRouteHome_newsfeatureThe traffic snarls caused by holiday travel can keep people stuck on the road for hours. But if the trip home from the holidays feels shorter than the trip out, you’re not alone: People often experience the ride home as being a shorter duration than the ride out, even when the distances are exactly the same.

Psychological scientist Niels van de Ven (Tilburg University) and his colleagues noticed this as they were traveling to scientific conferences and wondered if there was anything to this “return trip effect.”

“Similar to our own experiences, participants felt that a return trip effect occurs frequently,” the researchers explain.

Over three experiments the researchers found that the return trip effect is quite large: Participants reported the return trip as being up to 22% shorter than the initial trip. Their experiments suggest that our negative expectations about a…


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How Stereotypes Can Threaten Your Driving


In 1995, Stanford University psychologists Claude Steele and Joshua Aronson completed a series of groundbreaking experiments showing that evoking negative stereotypes about a group can actually undermine the performance of people in that group — a phenomenon known as stereotype threat.

Steele and Aronson’s research demonstrated that even subtle reminders of negative stereotypes about race and intelligence could derail students’ performance on standardized tests. Similarly, new research published in Applied Cognitive Psychology shows that negative stereotypes about older drivers may hinder their performance behind the wheel.

Older drivers are often portrayed negatively in popular media and in the news as less safe and competent than their younger counterparts. However, research actually shows that drivers 65 and older are among the safest drivers on the road. For example, the Insurance Institute for Traffic Safety finds that seniors are far less likely than…


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Even Hands-Free Devices are Dangerously Distracting

PAFF_102815_StrayerDistractedDriving_newsfeaturesUsing a hands-free to device to update Facebook or make a call while driving may not seem so dangerous. After all, your eyes are on the road and your hands are on the wheel.

But a pair of new studies conducted by APS Fellow David Strayer for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that these voice-recognition systems do little to eliminate distracted driving.

The research shows that drivers can remain unwittingly distracted for up to 27 seconds after they disconnect from a call—even when they’re using the car’s own voice-command system. This means a driver driver traveling at a paltry 25 mph will cover the length of three football fields before their attention is fully restored.

“Most people think, ‘I hang up and I’m good to go,’” says Strayer, a psychology professor at the University of Utah. “But that’s just not…


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Safe Crossings: The Power of Eye Contact

This is a photo of a mother and son at a pedestrian crossing.It can be a dangerous world for pedestrians. Studies on French roads report that nearly 60% of drivers do not stop at all for pedestrians crossing the street at designated crosswalks.

New research suggests that pedestrians may have a better shot at crossing safely if they make direct eye contact with oncoming drivers.

Decades of research have shown that eye contact has a powerful effect in social interactions. People are far more likely to comply with requests — for example, donating money — when the person making the request looks them in the eye. Experiments on eye contact completed in the 1970s demonstrated that drivers stopped more than twice as often when hitchhikers looked them directly in the eye.

Psychological scientists Nicolas Guéguena (Université de Bretagne-Sud), Sébastien Meineri (Université de…


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Lengthy Commutes Take a Mental Toll

PAFF_093015_CommuteMentalToll_newsfeatureThe amount of time we spend commuting between work and home can have a serious impact on our physical and mental health.

Lengthy commuting times have been linked to a wide range of health ailments, including hypertension and obesity. New research from a team of behavioral scientists has now linked time behind the wheel to lower life satisfaction.

To examine the relationship between commute time and well-being, University of Waterloo researchers Margo Hilbrecht, Bryan Smale, and Steven E. Mock analyzed data from 3,409 Canadians who regularly commuted to work by car.

Long commutes were tied to an increased sense of stressful time pressure. Essentially, long chunks of time spent on the road took time away from other stress-relieving activities, like spending time with family, exercising, and even sleeping.

“Results suggest workplace practices aimed at increasing opportunities for physical activity and government-led efforts…


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