Speeding into Bad Behavior

by Kate Meyers

Many people do not think that speeding is a huge deal. Most try to justify breaking the speed limit because they are running late or they claim to know what they are doing on the road. In general, people know that speeding is dangerous and may cause a deadly accident, killing either yourself, the other driver, or both drivers. We decided to take a closer look at how people experience inconsistencies with what they believe and what they do. First, we asked our subjects if they speed while driving. Then, before watching a video of a deadly car accident due to speeding, the subjects were asked to rate their negative attitude towards speeding from 1-10 (1 meaning they do not have a negative attitude towards speeding at all and 10 meaning that they have a strong negative attitude towards speeding). An average of these pre-video ratings was calculated to find that in general, people rated their attitude towards speeding at about a 4 on the scale. After watching the fatal accident video (where the car was going 85 miles per hour in a 50 mile per hour speed limit area), the average skyrocketed up to 7.5 on the scale. This means that they had a much more negative attitude towards speeding after the video than before watching what could happen in cases where the driver was speeding.

The video of the fatal car accident made the subjects realize that what they do and what they believe are not consistent and do not make sense, this is an example of cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is whenever our actions and attitudes about a certain topic are conflicting, which in this case we are addressing speeding. We see from the research that in general these subjects rated themselves in the middle of having a negative attitude towards speeding and not having a negative attitude towards speeding. Most of our subjects admitted to speeding sometimes, though their attitude ratings from the beginning of the study showed that they had at least a somewhat negative attitude toward the act of speeding. These people experience two cognitions or thoughts on the topic. The first is “I speed while driving”, and the second is “I know that speeding is dangerous.” These two cognitions are conflicting, so they must use one of three ways to solve the internal conflict that they are experiencing. One option is that these people could change their behavior to make their cognitions match, which would mean that they would have to stop speeding. They could also try to justify their behavior by changing one of the cognitions, which would mean that they could replace the cognition that “I know speeding is dangerous” with “speeding isn’t that dangerous.” Finally, they could justify their behavior by adding a new cognition such as “I speed because I hate to be late to work/school/social events/etc.”. Many of our subjects admitted to doing this final option to try and justify their bad behavior of speeding on an occasional basis.

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