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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Real-Time Data May Be the Best Backseat Driver

PAFF_041515_PayAsYouDrive_newsfeatureNew technology is allowing auto insurers to offer insurance models that can use an individual’s real-time driving behavior rather than actuarial tables to help determine their insurance costs. Several major insurance companies now offer Pay-As-You-Drive insurance (PAYD), where insurance fees are directly linked to an individual driver’s real world behavior.

So, even if a driver is in a traditionally high-risk group, say teenage drivers, they can lower their insurance fees by demonstrating good behavior behind the wheel. Along with saving us money, new research from a team of psychological scientists at the University of Groningen shows that using PAYD devices also have the potential to make us safer drivers.

Decades of psychological research has shown that providing people with immediate feedback is one of the best ways to change behavior. But most PAYD systems don’t yet provide drivers with real-time feedback; instead,…


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Negative Emotional Cues Send Drivers to Distraction

PAFF_040815_EmotionallyDistractedDriving_newsfeatureDriver distraction is one of the leading causes of motor vehicle accidents. In 2013 alone, 3,154 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Obvious distractions, like talking on a cell phone, can contribute to accidents by physically diverting a driver’s attention away from the road. But scientists are finding that more subtle emotional cues in our environment can also have a potentially dangerous influence on attention and, ultimately, our driving behavior.

In one recent study, psychological scientists Michelle Chan and Anthony Singhal of the University of Alberta found that emotional content from billboards influenced driving behavior; after seeing billboard ads emblazoned with negative words, drivers’ speed and reaction times slowed down.

And in a new study, Chen and Singhal found that hearing emotional words while driving can also cause changes in a…


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Old (Commuting) Habits Die Hard

PAFF_040215_ChangingCommutingHabits_newsfeatureConvincing people to switch from driving their car to taking the bus to work isn’t easy. But when the environmental charity group WWF announced that it would be moving its United Kingdom headquarters to another town, psychological scientists Ian Walker, Gregory O. Thomas, and Bas Verplanken of the University of Bath saw a golden opportunity for studying the influence of habit on commuting behavior.

Commuting the same way day after day, people don’t typically weigh the particular pros and cons of different modes of transit. Rather, people tend to carefully weigh their options when they first start using a particular route. After a while, getting to work becomes automatic; instead of carefully considering different transit options, people simply fall into a habit—either automatically reaching for the car keys or the bike lock on their way out the door.

But when the day-to-day…


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Seeing Red on the Road: Can Car Color Impact Driver Behavior?

PAFF_032615_SeeingRedCars_newsfeatureIt’s a common belief that driving a red car leads to more speeding tickets and higher car insurance rates. However, research from a 2007 study by Monash University in Australia found that red cars are actually slightly less likely to be involved in accidents compared to other colors (black cars were actually most accident prone). The insurance industry also denies that car color comes into play when setting car insurance rates, though they do look at the vehicle make and model.

New research from an international team of psychological scientists puts the brakes on another common stereotype about red cars: they elicit more aggressive driving.

At least in Western culture, the color red has long been associated with emotions like anger and aggression. Since at least 1942, researchers have observed that red can lead to heightened physiological arousal and aggression whereas colors…


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