Driving Away From Death

Driving Away From Death

Dangerous drivers seem daringly oblivious of death as they swerve and careen down busy streets. But these speed demons may actually be the ones who are most painfully aware of their mortality.

That’s according to terror management theory, which suggests that people thinking about death are likely to engage in behaviors which boost their confidence, no matter how risky, explains Victor Florian, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Bar-Ilan University in Israel. One such activity? Driving. It requires skill and control, which can increase people’s belief in their own competence.

Florian tested 110 male soldiers to see how important driving was to their self-confidence, then told half the participants to write about death and the other half simply to ruminate on food. Finally, the men were asked to drive in a car simulator. Subjects who reported that driving boosted their self-esteem and were asked to think about death drove the fastest. Men who reflected on their mortality put the pedal to the metal because they derived reassurance from the act; fast-driving subjects who received positive feedback halfway during the trial were no longer compelled to speed and promptly drove more slowly.

For people dwelling on the finality of death, speeding isn’t an act of self-destruction. It’s a source of consolation, says Florian. Thus, media campaigns that highlight death as the ultimate consequence of risky activity may be misguided, he warns. In making people aware of their mortality, these ads may be driving people towards the dangerous acts they preach against.

COPYRIGHT 1999 Sussex Publishers, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group