'Fear' Adverts May Make Young Males Drive Faster

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

NUI Galway Student Psychological Research Yields Interesting Findings
New research suggests that reminding young male drivers of their own mortality through 'fear appeals', such as those used in many road safety campaigns, may actually increase their intentions to take driving risks. The research was carried out by Psychology student Ms Rachel Carey and Dr Kiran Sarma at the School of Psychology, NUI Galway. The study investigated how awareness of death among young male drivers, together with personality factors, can influence intentions to take driving risks. Findings suggest that many young males perceive 'fast driving' as central to who they are and when told that they should not drive fast because of the carnage that can ensue, they rebel against the message with intent to take more driving risks. The research also showed that high impulsivity was linked to risky driving. The research has implications for road safety campaigns that target young males through messages that portray the consequences of fast or dangerous driving. The NUI Galway study suggests that young drivers exposed to dangerous driving facts report a greater intention to drive fast after exposure than had they been presented with neutral facts. 80 male university students (aged between 17 and 24, all of whom were in possession of a full driver's license) were recruited on the campus at NUI Galway and asked to complete a questionnaire. This questionnaire first assessed the relevance of driving for participants' self-esteem. Half of the participants were then exposed to images of car crashes and facts about the potential death-related consequences of driving, such as "17 to 24 year old males account for over 1 in 5 driver deaths". The other half of the participants were presented with neutral driving facts. Participants then completed a personality inventory which measured impulsivity. Finally, they reported their intentions to take driving risks in real-life scenarios. "It would appear that young Irish males can view fast driving as part of their personal identity – who they are", says Rachel Carey who is currently completing her final year of a BA in Psychology at NUI Galway. "Driving is tied up in their self-concept and telling them not to drive fast because they might die, or they may kill others, is perceived as being an assault on their self-esteem. They react defensively by reporting a more marked intention to drive fast because, for many, doing so bolsters their self-esteem", she says. Rachel, from Headford, Co. Galway, recently received the highest undergraduate award for research at the annual Congress of Psychology Students of Ireland. The congress is supported by the Psychological Society of Ireland and the Northern Irish branch of the British Psychological Society. Ms Carey will now present her research to both professional bodies. Dr Kiran Sarma of the School of Psychology at NUI Galway who supervised the research said: "The research was designed in consultation with international experts and supports findings reported aboard. While conducted within the limitations of undergraduate research of this nature, its unique value is that it looks beyond the concept of self-esteem to personality factors and suggests that impulsivity may interact with self-esteem in predicting greater intention to take driving risks. Further research can explore these relationships with greater specificity and inform the design and content of deterrence information campaigns". The BA in Psychology at NUI Galway is a three or four-year accredited undergraduate degree that provides graduate basis for registration as a psychologist. The School of Psychology educates more than 1000 students in both undergraduate courses and post-graduate professional training in clinical psychology, health psychology and applied behaviour analysis. More information on the School can be accessed at www.nuigalway.ie/psychology.
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