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 untrue. So, where did these stereotypes come from, and why are they still going strong?

A recent study published in Psychological Science may help explain how these kinds of stereotypes get started and spread. A team of psychological scientists led by Doug Martin, of the Person Perception Laboratory at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, examined what happens as social information is passed down a chain comprising multiple “generations” of individuals.

As people share information, the researchers hypothesized, they tend to break it down into categories that are simpler and thus easier to understand. Cultural stereotypes may then arise as the unintended but inevitable consequence of these shortcuts for sharing social information.

“It seems that people possess numerous cognitive limitations and biases that are likely to lead them to store social information in a simplified, categorically structured, stereotype-like manner,” says Martin. “As information is passed down a chain of individuals, it begins to change in predictable ways: It becomes simpler, more structured, and more easily learnable—and, as a consequence, more easily transmittable.”

For the study, the researchers created different types of space alien creatures that combined unique sets of features and personality traits. For example, blue aliens with a square shape that bounced might tend to be curious, arrogant, and excitable, while a creature with a triangular shape might tend to be private, tidy, and serious.

Groups of students tried to learn 13 of the 27 possible alien creatures and their attributes. The students were then asked to identify the traits of all 27 creatures, including the 14 they’d never seen before. The attributes these participants selected were then used as the training materials for the next participant in the chain through seven “generations.”

Like a game of “Telephone,” the information that people remembered about the alien characters changed as it travelled down the chain.

Participants overestimated the likelihood that aliens who shared features also shared the same personality attributes. Over multiple generations, certain features became so strongly associated with specific attributes that they could be used to accurately infer information about previously unseen aliens. By the end of one chain, blue aliens were seen as “sensible” and “successful,” whereas green aliens were seen as being “vulgar.”

The findings suggest that, as information continues to be simplified and organized categorically, it can become a stereotype.

“In this way, cumulative cultural evolution can provide a mechanism to explain not only those aspects of stereotypes based on underlying realities but also those that are seemingly arbitrary or of no obvious origin,” writes Martin and colleagues.



Martin D., Hutchison J., Slessor G., Urquhart J., Cunningham S.J., & Smith K. (2014). The spontaneous formation of stereotypes via cumulative cultural evolution. Psychological Science, 25(9), 1777 – 1786. doi: 10.1177/0956797614541129


a lot of Asians are bad drivers but not all

It’s not a question of ALL.

Obviously not “ALL” Asians are bad drivers and not “ALL” women are bad drivers. But the percentage of these two groups being bad drivers are much higher than other groups.

The evidence the article uses, and most articles use, to defend against the stereotype is the number of collisions the people are involved in. What about the collisions they CAUSE and are not involved in? I’m not suggesting the stereotype is true or false, but I do know there are plenty of bad drivers who pull moves causing other drivers to make emergency, unnecessary moves to avoid collisions with those bad drivers.

Causing an accident would in fact make you involved in said accident. So… yeah that would be covered on the study.

Or do you mean they should assume the race, gender, etc of hit and run drivers, those that flee an accident scene… you know the only ones involved who wouldn’t have detailed information on the person?

Actually,many of the people that cause the accident wouldn’t be in the study because they were never reported to have been in the accident. The car that cut you off on the freeway and made you swerve and ram the truck next to you, is long gone. The only two people involved and reported are you and the truck driver you hit. Most times the people we label as bad drivers are the ones driving slower than the rest of traffic or not looking before turning or dismissing the right of way, has nothing to do with collisions. These drivers make bad moves on the road and upset others, and therefore are usually avoided and that avoidance keeps them clear of collisions. Instead, people will drive around to the side of that “bad driver” and give a dirty look or exchange a vulgar comment… And at that moment will notice who is behind the wheel. Often times for me I see an old person or a foreigner. Being Asian by blood means nothing to driving, but if you grew up in another country of course drivig instincts will be different. My grandma is from Japan and she’s pretty bad with road courtesy, I was born and raised here, and although mixed with Asian, I still tend to notice most of the people I label as bad drivers are asian, if not elderly. A different style of driving makes a foreigner seemingly in the wrong…also maybe a patience we lack here in America makes us feel they are going to slow and it causes congestion. I mean who knows really each case may be slightly different.

The art of driving is about making quick decisions in the moment. Alot of informations to take in and process at any given second while you drive.

Bad drivers are people who are less capable of processing multiple information and making the “CORRECT” decision to response to the given situation.

So you obviously don’t read.
By that standard, and by the one put forth in this article I guess it’s reasonable to generalize that white folks feel so superior they will stubbornly spew their nonsense as gospel without doing their research even when that research is in fact what they are responding to.

Either that or you embody the stereotype of the arogoant hateful American ( more than likely ” Christian” a term that no longer holds any credibility since very few of its claimants act anything remotely CLOSE to Christ like)

It’s hard enough to teach your kids with all the nonsense demanded of underpaid teachers maybe you could do the slightest part of your job and either not breed or at least not interfere with them being more intelligent and capable of productive social interaction by keeping your ignorance to your self.

Or in your vocabulary level…

Some of the people write comments without even reading the articles

We might not have more accidents, but we certainly leave trail of destruction and carnage behind us.

Being in an accident and causing one are two different things. Driving the speed limit doesn’t mean your a good driver when your driving in the left lane. My mom doesn’t have very many accidents but she’s had so many close calls on a weekly if not daily bases. People born in many Asian countries I believe are bad drivers bc our parents beat confidence out of their kids and they are always being second guessed by their parents they second guess themselves. If they had cameras with gps in every car I wonder how many close calls and accident numbers they would have recorded. I know many of my Asian friends who do not file claims on fender benders and pay for it themselves bc it’s cheaper than having insurance raised or dropped.

Matthew Foley seems to be the only person in this room that has half a brain. Did any of you read the article? I love how your own little personal experiences somehow trump hard data and research. The comment section actually proves the point in the article, that’s the irony.

I just saw a white guy jump on his motorcycle drunk at the bar. He throttled right into a brick wall 200 feet away. All white people are bad drivers following the logic here.

Here’s my personal experience from my family and friends (Mostly Chinese with a few Vietnamese and Koreans.

Our parents immigrated to the US as adult. Most of them never had a car in the mother country. Some got a license but never drove or had a car because public transportation is readily available in the densely populated location and tax on car are insanely high to curb the sales. Anyway most of our parent didn’t drive until their 30’s and 40’s. It was a new location in a different language so majority of the time they are driving like they were lost. With enough of these drivers on the road, it’s not surprising that that stereotype would take hold.

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