Study links computer games with real life crashesVirtual motor race fans more likely to take risks

19 March 2007

Computer games featuring the thrills and spills of car racing could be contributing to the cause of real-life road accidents, a study suggests.

Psychologists found that motor race game fans were more likely to drive aggressively when they got behind a real wheel, and be involved in crashes.

Less frequent virtual racing was associated with more cautious driving.

Researchers also showed that after playing just one virtual racing game men took greater risks in critical traffic situations on a computer simulator.

The findings are evidence that playing racing games can result in riskier motoring, say the German scientists.

More competitive driving

The team, led by Dr Peter Fischer, from Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich, questioned 198 randomly chosen men and 92 women aged 16 to 45 about their driving behaviour, accident record and the extent to which they played racing games.

After adjusting for factors that could affect the results, such as age, the researchers found that frequent virtual race playing was associated with more aggressive and competitive driving behaviour, and a higher number of reported accidents. The association was stronger for men than it was for women.

Sixty-eight men and women took part in the second study which involved simulated traffic situation tests.

Volunteers were confronted with 15 videos of risky situations from the driver's perspective, such as starting to overtake or approaching railway tracks with the barriers coming down.

They were given the opportunity to abandon the risky manoeuvre by pressing a key. The time that elapsed before they did this was recorded, and seen as an indicator of their willingness to take risks.

Men, but not women, were found to take more risks when they had previously played a racing game.

Risk-taking

Finally, the researchers assigned 83 men and women to play either typical racing or neutral games on a Sony PlayStation.

To win the racing games, participants had to "massively violate" traffic rules. Those who engaged in the racing games were subsequently more likely to report thoughts and feelings linked to risk-taking.

The findings were reported in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, published by the American Psychological Association.

The researchers wrote: "Our results pose the question of whether playing racing games leads to accidents in real-life road traffic.

"Playing racing games could provoke unsafe driving. Practitioners in the field of road safety should bear in mind the possibility that racing games indeed make road traffic less safe, not least because game players are mostly young adults, acknowledged as the highest accident-rate group."

The scientists said they were especially concerned by the fact that children often started playing these games as young as 10.

By the time they were old enough to get behind the wheel of a real motor vehicle, they could be programmed for risk-taking on the road, they said.

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