Emotional modulation of urgent and evaluative behaviors in risky driving situations

  1. Alberto Megías Robles
Supervised by:
  1. Antonio Maldonado López Director
  2. Andrés Catena Martínez Director
  3. Antonio Cándido Ortiz Director

Defence university: Universidad de Granada

Fecha de defensa: 16 July 2014

  1. José Cañas Delgado Chair
  2. José César Perales López Secretary
  3. Francisco José López Gutiérrez Committee member
  4. Otto Lappi Committee member
  5. Encarnación Ramírez Fernández Committee member

Type: Thesis


Road traffic accidents are one of the most common causes of injury-related fatalities in the world (World Health Organization, 2013). There are multiple factors related to road accidents, but most research shows that the human factor is the main cause (Wierwille et al., 2002). Sometimes drivers can inadvertently engage in behaviors that involve some risk (e.g., distractions). However, it is shocking how many road accidents result from conscious risk taking (e.g., driving under the influence of alcohol or exceeding the speed limit). Investigating what factors influence risky behavior can help to develop techniques for prediction and control of risky driving. Emotional factors play a key role in decision-making and risk behavior. People evaluate risks and adapt their behavior in risk situations not only following rational thought but also following the emotions (Loewenstein, Weber, Hsee & Welch, 2001; Slovic, Finucane, Peters, & MacGregor, 2007). The conceptual framework of this thesis focused on the interaction between emotional and cognitive processing in decision-making in risky driving situations. The thesis consists of three broad foci: a) Chapter I and II review the most current literature on the impact of emotional factors on decision making processes and driving behavior. These two chapters serve as a background to the development of the experimental blocks of the thesis (Chapters III to VIII). We discuss the need to investigate emotional factors from different perspectives in order to achieve a better understanding of the behavior of drivers. Furthermore, we offer possible solutions to the dangers associated with emotional factors and discuss the benefits that these factors can have in the design of risk assessment and prevention programs. b) The first experimental block (Chapters III to V) focuses on how affect-laden stimuli presented during driving affect the driver's risk perception and risk-taking. We approach emotion from a classical perspective: as the driver's subjective reaction to affect-laden stimuli. In four experiments we investigated the influence of emotion as a function of the time at which the affect-laden stimulus is presented: emotional stimuli displayed incidentally while driving (Chapter III), negative emotional stimuli displayed as feedback after drivers have performed risk behaviors (Chapter IV), and emotion as an implicit factor in the driving task (Chapter V). Our findings show that the situation, time, and presentation format of the emotional stimuli influence driving behavior. In particular, negative emotional content leads to a response bias towards more cautious behavior; however, negative emotional content can also cause distractions while driving and its effect varies between individuals. We conclude that including emotional factors in road safety programs can lead to a driving style closer to the traffic agencies¿ recommendations; however, care should be taken that emotional factors are implemented under the right circumstances. c) The second experimental block (Chapters VI to VIII) investigates why drivers occasionally engage in risky behaviors that are incongruent with a rational analysis of the situation, resulting in a significant gap between the perceived risk and the behavior finally performed. We focused on two types of behaviors that fit the characteristics of this dissociation: urgent and evaluative behaviors. Our goal was to explore the features that differentiate between these behaviors, considering the dynamic interaction of cognitive and emotional processes in dual processing systems (Kahneman, 2011; Reyna, 2004). The results showed that urgent behaviors (risk taking) and evaluative behaviors (risk perception) can be distinguished both on the behavioral and on the neural level. Our findings showed a more automatic processing of risk situations in urgent tasks, guided by heuristics and affect appraisal. Drivers making urgent decisions mainly rely on the experiential processing system. In contrast, evaluative behaviors are primarily controlled by a more rational system, guided by normative rules. The nature of the relationship between risk perception and risk taking suggests that the features of the task and the extent to which they evoke more automatic or more controlled processing can help explain part of risky driving behavior. Taken together, this thesis demonstrates that emotion plays a crucial role in risky decision-making and risk perception in driving. Studying the interaction between emotion and cognition is essential for the advance of road safety research. The inclusion of emotional factors in transport policies should be a key tool in the design of programs aiming to evaluate and control risky behavior in driving and can thus help to improve road safety. References Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Loewenstein, G.F., Weber, E.U., Hsee, C.K., & Welch, N. (2001). Risk as feelings. Psychological Bulletin, 127(2), 267-286. Reyna, V.F. (2004). How people make decisions that involve risk. A dual-processes approach. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 13, 60-66. Slovic P., Finucane, M., Peters, E. & MacGregor, D. (2007). The affect heuristic. European Journal of Operational Research, 177, 1333¿1352. Wierwille, W. W., Hanowski, R. J., Hankey, M., Kieliszewski, C. A., Lee, S. E., Medina, A., Keisler, A. S. & Dingus, T. A. (2002). Identification and Evaluation of Driver Errors: Overview and Recommendations. Virginia, US: U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration. World Health Organization (2013). Global status report on road safety 2013: supporting a decade of action. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization (WHO).