Google “distracted driving” and you’ll find pages of Top Ten lists enumerating the ways that drivers get distracted behind the wheel. Reaching for things, personal grooming, eating, smoking, fiddling with the stereo…isn’t there one that we’re missing?
Oh yes. Texting.
We’re all guilty of these things, and we all seem to agree that we should stop doing them. We’re continually warned by statistics and tragic anecdotes how dangerous these behind-the-wheel distractions are. (A recent study showed that twice as many highway deaths take place because of texting as from drunk drivers.)
Nevertheless, even though 94% of drivers support a texting while driving ban, 75% text while driving.
So why do we continue to indulge in distracted driving?
Scientists have been investigating this question from a brain science perspective, and uncovered some revealing explanations.
A recent article from Scientific American presents research that the majority of people are chronically overconfident. While we may not think ourselves the “best” at something, or admit to feeling insecure, most of us do in fact believe our intelligence and physical ability to be greater than it actually is.
Furthermore, the worse we are at something, the more likely we may be to judge ourselves as competent at it.
This article focused on how this overconfidence plays out in people’s driving habits. Test subjects were asked to rate their abilities with regard to multitasking and to describe their driving habits. They were then tested on those abilities.
The results were dismal. Those who rated their multitasking ability highest had the worst performance results on the test. The conclusion: thinking highly of your ability in this area is a good sign of your poor ability.
The study also revealed the people who admitted to multitasking while driving scored high in the areas of impulsivity and thrill-seeking.
It seems that for the people likeliest to indulge in distractions, scare tactics simply won’t deter them. If anything, fear is a reason to give it a try.
Texting: Almost Like a Drug
Dr. Paul Atchley, a psychologist with the University of Kansas, says that the act of texting sends off a dopamine boost within the brain. This is in fact the same brain reaction that happens when a person experiences a romantic thrill or feels the effects of a drug—both things known to impair human judgment.
The effect of this dopamine boost in the brain overrides our memory of the dangers of texting while driving. Even people who have experienced “narrow misses” because of texting while driving are likely to have those memories suppressed by the pleasurable effect supplied by texting.
So Are We Doomed?
Not only does brain science explain the cause behind these behaviors, but it also offers the solution. Thanks to the brain’s innate plasticity (ability to change), the compulsion toward distracted driving can be overcome through consistent applied effort.
April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, which means there’s no better time to start transforming your brain to be part of the solution.