Face off—Cyclists not human enough for drivers: study

Face off -- Cyclists not human enough for drivers: study
Cockroach to human scale developed for the study. Credit: Monash University

A new Australian study has found that more than half of car drivers think cyclists are not completely human, with a link between the dehumanisation of bike riders and acts of deliberate aggression towards them on the road.

The study by researchers at Monash University, QUT's Centre for Accident Research & Road Safety—Queensland (CARRS-Q) and the University of Melbourne's School of Psychological Sciences, is the first study to look at a road-user group with the problem of dehumanisation, which is typically studied in relation to attitudes towards racial or .

But if drivers can put a to cyclists, researchers say this could reduce aggression directed at cyclists and road trauma involving riders.

The research, Dehumanization of cyclists predicts self-reported toward them published in Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour, notes that cyclists have been conceptualised as a minority group and a target of negative attitudes and behaviour.

The study, involving 442 respondents in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, identified people's attitude to cyclists and whether they were cyclists or non-cyclists themselves.

Participants in the study were given either the iconic evolution of ape to man image, or an adaption of that image showing the stages of evolution from cockroach to human.

Lead author Dr. Alexa Delbosc, Senior Lecturer in the Institute of Transport Studies (Faculty of Civil Engineering) at Monash University, said the insect-human scale (below) was designed for the study because of the many informal slurs against cyclists comparing them to "cockroaches" or "mosquitoes".

On both ape-human and insect-human scales, 55 per cent of non-cyclists and 30 per cent of cyclists rated cyclists as not completely human.

Acts of aggression towards cyclists were not uncommon, with 17 per cent saying they had used their car to deliberately block a cyclist, 11 per cent had deliberately driven their car close to a cyclist and 9 per cent had used their car to cut off a cyclist.

"When you don't think someone is 'fully' human, it's easier to justify hatred or aggression towards them. This can set up an escalating cycle of resentment," Dr. Delbosc said.

"If cyclists feel dehumanised by other road users, they may be more likely to act out against motorists, feeding into a self-fulfilling prophecy that further fuels dehumanisation against them.

"Ultimately we want to understand this process so we can do a better job at putting a human face to people who ride bikes, so that hopefully we can help put a stop to the abuse."

Co-author of the paper CARRS-Q Centre Director Narelle Haworth said the study revealed that the problem of dehumanisation on the roads was not just a case of car driver versus cyclist.

"The bigger issue is that significant numbers of both groups rank cyclists as not 100 per cent human," Professor Haworth said.

"Amongst people who ride, amongst people who don't ride, there is still people who think that cyclists aren't fully human.

"The dehumanisation scale is associated with the self-reporting of direct aggression.

"Using your car to deliberately block a cyclist, using your car to deliberately cut off a cyclist, throwing an object at a cyclist—these acts of direct aggression are dangerous."

Professor Haworth said there was a growing push to avoid the word , which many viewed with negative connotations.

"Let's talk about people who ride bikes rather than cyclists because that's the first step towards getting rid of this dehumanisation," she said.

Explore further

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More information: Alexa Delbosc et al, Dehumanization of cyclists predicts self-reported aggressive behaviour toward them: A pilot study, Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour (2019). DOI: 10.1016/j.trf.2019.03.005
Citation: Face off—Cyclists not human enough for drivers: study (2019, March 26) retrieved 14 October 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-03-offcyclists-human-drivers.html
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Mar 26, 2019
An interesting study on the very wide field of human stupidity. Fortunately, one can step down from the bike, not so lucky stepping down from the brown skin, or the woman's body.

Mar 26, 2019
It seems as though the only people dehumanizing anyone are these angry motorists-- and they're dehumanizing themselves rather than the cyclists!

Mar 27, 2019
Very interesting, particularly the conflation of Culturism beyond cycling as a culture. The "stepping down" comment is apt. Is a non-male cyclist of color doomed?

Mar 27, 2019
I wonder what they think of pedestrians, motorcycle riders, and rollerbladers.

Dog recognizes Dog. Apparently, most Australian car drivers are less intelligent than a dog.

They should deport them to some far away island.

I blame the people in government and their dehumanizing education system.

Mar 27, 2019
This seems a country-specific issue. Where cyclists are more common I'm sure such behavior is much less prevalent.

In many first world countries it's as common to learn how to ride a bicycle as it is to learn how to swim.
If you have ridden a bicycle in your life you an empathize with cyclists.

I've noticed something similar when learned to ride a motorcycle. Once you know how to do this you suddenly become a lot more aware/understanding (while driving a car) why motorcyclist behave the way the do on the road.
E.g. why motorcycles often 'hide' behind your C-pillar - which seems patently stupid from an automobilist's POV - until you realize it's the natural spot to be for the motorcyclist to get an overview of what happens further ahead.

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