Promoting traffic safety among young male drivers - the role of mental elaboration

University dissertation from Stockholm : Psykologiska institutionen

Abstract: This thesis explores the potential of mental elaboration as a means of decreasing risky driving among young male drivers. Around 600 young male drivers participated in the three studies. First, in order to clarify the mental background of risky driving behaviour and to construct a framework for interventions, speeding drivers were interviewed in-depth to explore mental representations of crashes and their consequences (Study I). In Study II, two interventions based on imagining personal consequences of causing a serious traffic crash were developed and tested experimentally. One was based on stimulating the participant himself to generate a crash scenario, while the other used a video in which a little girl was knocked down at a pedestrian crossing by a young male speeding driver as a stimulus for imagining. In Study 3, effects of simply responding to a questionnaire on personal risky driving behaviour were examined. Results indicate that young male drivers do not spontaneously think of serious negative personal consequences as a potential aftermath of crash involvement, but no long-term effects of the interventions tested could be demonstrated. Answering a questionnaire regarding driving behaviour resulted in a decrease in self-reported risky driving behaviour some five weeks later. This result was replicated three times and indicates that answering questions on personal risky driving behaviour may elicit an elaborative process in respondents' minds, leading to a more cautious driving style. The conclusion is that methods based on mental elaboration on personal driving behaviour may have a role to play in persuading young male drivers to adopt a safer driving style and should be explored further as a means of increasing traffic safety. An advantage is that such methods may elicit “self-persuasion”, which does not evoke reactance. Self-persuasion works by making people discover their own motivation for change.

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