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What Kind of Person Is More Likely to Use a Cell Phone Dangerously While Driving?

·515 words·3 mins
Psyched for the Weekend

I’m sure you’ve been there.

You’re driving down the highway, just trying to get where you’re trying to go. Staying in your own lane. Driving as safely as you can with both hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road…

When you come upon someone that’s driving like they’re a zombie who stole a car.

Drifting in and out of lanes. Driving a completely nonsensical speed. Completely out of sync with how traffic is flowing around them.

In essence, creating a moving accident waiting to happen.

Lovely. Freaking lovely.

And it’s gotten so I know instinctively, without ever seeing them, that they’re texting on their phone. Or doing something else with it that is diverting their attention from actually driving safely or reasonably.

There’s just a way that they drive.

And as I try to get past them without getting hit (to put them behind me where I won’t come in contact with their erratic swerving), I’ll glance over and find that — yep, on their damn phone of course. Before quickly looking back at the road, lest I become too distracted of a driver myself.

“What kind of a person does that?” I’ve asked myself, flabbergasted that people who risk not only their own lives but that of everyone else on the road just because they can’t be bothered to wait until a safe time (and/or set up an alternative safer hands free method for things like GPS navigation, etc.).

It turns out that researchers have asked the same exact question. Here’s a surprising thing that they found.

Implicit Self-Esteem and Dangerous Cell Phone Use

A recent study found that people who engage in dangerous cell phone use while driving are much more likely to have higher implicit self-esteem.


Okay, so that takes a little bit of explanation. A lot of people are familiar with self-esteem — defined as confidence and satisfaction in oneself and/or self-respect.

It’s the implicit piece that maybe is a little more complicated and even more interesting.

Essentially, explicit self-esteem leans on a conscious evaluation of oneself. You have high self-esteem and you know it and recognize it. People with high implicit self-esteem have the same attitudes but don’t necessarily recognize that they do (if their explicit self-esteem is not high).

You might be asking, “Wait a second, if a person doesn’t know that they have high implicit self-esteem, how are researchers supposed to figure that out?” It’s an excellent question. The answer is that researchers have developed a reliable measure of implicit beliefs called the Implicit Association Test (or IAT). It’s an instrument that has been adapted for use in investigating a number of different implicit attitudes.

The methodology the IAT uses get at the core issues on an instinctive level, in reflex time and pairings, rather than asking the participant to evaluate themselves.


This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.


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