Movies May Rev Up Teens’ Reckless Behavior Behind the Wheel

PAFF_121814_MoviesTeenDrivers_newsfeatureResearch has long shown that children’s behavior can be influenced by what they see in movies, TV, and video games. In light of this, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) considers factors such as violence, sex, foul language, smoking, and drug use when assigning ratings for movies so that parents can make informed decisions about what their children watch.

A newly published study provides evidence indicating another on-screen behavior that could be added to this list: reckless driving. The study shows that children exposed to reckless driving in movies may end up emulating that behavior once they’re old enough to borrow the keys.

In fact, car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in America, costing 2,650 lives in 2011 and leading to over 292,000 injuries according to the CDC.

A team of researchers led by psychological scientist Evelien…


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Bad Drivers? No, Just Bad Stereotypes

PAFF_121014_StereotypesBehindtheWheel_newsfeatureUgly stereotypes about “bad drivers” creep into pop culture, jokes, and slurs on a regular basis. The pernicious stereotype of “bad Asian drivers” has made its way into popular TV shows like Family Guy and websites like Urban Dictionary. In August of 2014, an Australian politician publicly apologized for stating that Asian drivers had “no comprehension” of the road rules, according to The Guardian.

However, research on traffic accidents actually shows that many of the groups who are often stereotyped as “bad drivers” — women, Asians, and the elderly — are actually less likely to get into accidents or break traffic laws than are people from other demographic groups. For example, a recent Australian traffic study found that Asian-born drivers had about half the risk of an accident as their Australian-born peers.

Data show that negative stereotypes about “bad drivers” are simply…


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Distracted Driving May Become More Dangerous as We Age

PAFF_120314_olderdriversdistractionsMOTR_newsfeatureOlder drivers have actually been found to be safer drivers in many respects when compared to younger people. They’re more likely to wear seatbelts and less likely to engage in risky behavior, like speeding and driving under the influence, according to the CDC. However, a study published in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention finds that older drivers should be especially cautious about multitasking behind the wheel.

The research team, led by psychological scientist Kelsey R. Thompson of Northwestern University, found that distracting tasks – like talking on a cell phone or fiddling with the radio – may be particularly dangerous for older drivers.

To drive safely we rely on the complex coordination of several executive functions, like selective attention and working memory, which tend to decline with age. This cognitive decline can reduce a driver’s ability to safely switch their attention…


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Tough Thanksgiving Traffic May Turn Some Drivers into Turkeys

PAFF_112514_ThanksgivingDriving_newsfeatureThis year is projected to be the biggest Thanksgiving holiday travel weekend since 2007. A holiday travel forecast from AAA estimates that 46.3 million Americans will be traveling at least 50 miles from home this weekend; nearly 90% of them by car. According to estimates from traffic congestion tracking firm INRIX, drivers hitting the road this Thanksgiving should expect their drive to take at least 25% longer than normal.

Epic traffic jams and major delays on the road may tempt some drivers to make risky decisions on the way to grandma’s house, whether it’s speeding, weaving in and out of lanes, or driving aggressively.

Psychological scientists Kenneth H. Beck, Stacey B. Daughters, and Bina Ali of the University of Maryland found evidence that these kinds of tough traffic conditions may bring out the worst in drivers who are typically in a hurry.


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Making Self-Driving Cars More Human May Gain Drivers’ Trust

Frogeye's chromium smileThe most recent iteration of Google’s self-driving car has no gas pedal, brake, or even a steering wheel. All that’s left for the so-called driver to control are two buttons: one to start the car and one for emergency stops. Autonomous vehicles – cars that can control their own steering and speed — are expected by some engineering groups to account for up to 75% of vehicles on the road by 2040. But do people trust robot cars enough to let them take over at the wheel?

Psychological scientists Adam Waytz (Northwestern University), Joy Heafner (University of Connecticut), and Nicholas Epley (University of Chicago) found that one way to potentially improve the self-driving car experience is to make autonomous cars seem more human.

Simply giving self-driving cars in a driving simulator human-like qualities, such as simple as a name and…


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