People with more adventurous personalities were more inclined to take risks, and more intense games led to greater risk taking, the authors write in the journal Injury Prevention. Other research has found a connection between racing games and inclination to risk-taking while driving, so the new results broaden that evidence base, said lead author of the new study Mingming Deng of the School of Management at Xi’an Jiaotong University in Xi’an, China.
The researchers included 40 students at the university, mostly men, in the study. The students took personality tests at the start and were divided randomly into two groups. Half of the students played a circuit-racing type driving game that included time trials on a racecourse similar to Formula 1 racing, for about 20 minutes while the other group played computer solitaire, a neutral game for comparison.
After a five minute break, all the students took the Vienna Risk-Taking Test, viewing 24 “risky” videotaped road traffic situations on a computer screen presented from the driver’s perspective, including driving up to a railroad crossing whose gate has already started lowering. How long the viewer waits to hit the “stop” key for the maneuver is considered a measure of their willingness to take risks on the road.
Students who had been playing the racing game waited an average of almost 12 seconds to hit the stop button compared to 10 seconds for the solitaire group. The participants’ experience playing these types of games outside of the study did not seem to make a difference.
“Games may affect a player’s behavior, but also, individuals who play these games may have characteristics that are different than those who do not game at all,” said Catherine C. McDonald, assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing in Philadelphia.
“The relationships are likely complex and do not go in just one direction,” McDonald, who was not part of the new study, told Reuters Health by email
Based on the personality tests, people who were more adventurous were inclined to take more risks than those who were less adventurous. Other personality aspects like extraversion and emotionality did not seem to make a difference.
In a second experiment, the researchers compared the effects of a calm racing game and a more violent one. They found that the more violent one resulted in more risk taking behavior on the Vienna Risk-Taking Test and a greater increase in skin conductance, a measure of physiological excitement.
“I think there is confounding here and I do not view this as clear evidence of a link between gaming and taking risks when actually driving on-road,” said Teresa Senserrick, associate professor of Transport and Road Safety (TARS) Research at The University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.
It’s not surprising that a game that encourages risk taking would result in risk-taking behavior on another computerized driving task five minutes later, but it’s not clear if this would translate to a real-world driving situation, she said.
“My major issue with the study is that no information was sought about the participants’ actual driving: if they even had a driver’s license, if so, how long they had been driving, or how much driving do they typically do,” Senserrick told Reuters Health by email.
Without accounting for these, nothing meaningful can really be derived from the study, she said.
Adults in China begin driving much later than those in other countries, so participants from a Chinese university could include many who have never actually driven a car, she said.
Including this and other research on racing games and violent media, the strongest predictors for risky driving are still younger age, less driving experience and male gender, Senserrick said.
“Keeping attention to the road at all times is a real challenge and there is no harm cautioning against anything that could have a negative impact,” including playing a racing game immediately beforehand, she said.
“I say the same, for example, in my work with young drivers – you don’t want to jump in a car immediately after a break up with your girlfriend/boyfriend or a fight with a best friend or parent, for example,” she said.
“A lot of things can impact on where our ‘headspace’ is when we are driving and we can’t always avoid this, but we can try to be mindful that we might not be in the best state to drive and purposefully draw our attention away from distracting thoughts and influences to concentrating on the immediate traffic environment,” Senserrick said.