Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Say 'Aaah' | Booster Shots

Thinking Too Much Can Be Hazardous to Your Driving

March 27, 2000|ROSIE MESTEL

You knew you weren't supposed to drink and drive, but did you know there are hazards if you think and drive? Think too much, that is. That's what some psychologists from Spain conclude after getting 12 people to drive around and act as guinea pigs for an array of cognitive tests.

Nobody crashed, as far as we can tell from the paper just published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied (the "applied" indicating "useful," we take it). But certain things did change as the drivers roared down the highways and byways of Madrid in the scientists' jaunty Citroen rigged out with cameras and microphones. The drivers' pupils dilated. They checked their rearview and side-view mirrors less often. Their gaze got stuck in one position for longer.

And no wonder. The drivers, explain the authors, had to imagine letters of the alphabet in turn and then say which letters remained unchanged when rotated vertically, which letters remained unaltered when rotated horizontally, which letters were "closed," in other words had a closed area of space in them like the numbers 6 or 0, and which were "open," like the numbers 3 and 5. I can see myself careening toward that oak tree right now.

The authors, of Madrid's Universidad Complutense, suggest that what they're measuring translates to road hazard. They counsel against a lot of mental calculation while driving, such as attempts to solve differential equations or lively discussions about which way the map actually indicates one should go.

Studies like theirs, they further conclude, will "help people decide how much they want to use their minds while driving."

Study: Violent Programs, Marketing a Poor Mix

They're fun, these American Psychological Assn. journals. In another article posted at the Applied journal's Web site (http://www.apa.org/journals/xap.html), a psychologist at Iowa State University in Ames reports that people watching violent film clips have a harder time remembering the details of an ensuing commercial than they do if the film clip lacks violence.

"These results suggest that sponsoring violent programs might not be a profitable venture for advertisers," he concludes. (Ad guys? Are you out there?)

In Health Psychology, we learn that psychologists are busy trying to figure out how to encourage people to wear sunscreen at the beach.

What works best? A negative campaign about the risk of dying young if one doesn't wear sunscreen? Or a positive message about how using sunscreen helps skin stay healthy?

A positive message, report the authors (from a variety of universities), worked much better than a negative one on 217 people headed toward the sand. Those shown positive brochures were much more likely to cash in a coupon for some sunscreen--and even to wear it and reapply it.

Finally, from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, we learn that when it comes to public performance, a smiling, supportive audience isn't always best. People in the experiment at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland were asked to perform tricky math problems and flight simulations in the presence of a supportive, encouraging friend or someone who was either neutral or hostile.

They felt better with the supportive friend--but performed less well in the tasks, which finally explains a deep mystery: why I flubbed that rendition of Barry Manilow's "Copacabana" so embarrassingly in a karaoke bar a while back. If only my two smiling friends hadn't been there to egg me on.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|