Texting and tombstones: Impact of mortality salience on risky driving intentions

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Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour

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© 2018 Elsevier Ltd Objective: This study investigated the impact of a new mortality salience (MS) manipulation on the intentions of young adults to drive a motor vehicle while texting or using a cell phone. Methods: Four hundred and eight participants were randomly assigned to one of four experimental conditions. Participants in the MS condition were shown a color photograph of a gravesite and tombstone on which the participant's name was inscribed. Participants in the quasi-MS condition viewed a color photograph of a grave site and tombstone on which the participant's family name was inscribed. Participants in the two remaining non-MS conditions viewed color photographs depicting scenes unrelated to death. A 10-item scale assessed the extent to which a participant's self-image was linked to their cell phone use. The 20-item Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS) served as the distractor task, enabling images of death to fade from conscious awareness prior to completing the dependent measures. Results: Both mortality salience manipulations increased negative attitudes toward driving while using a cell phone (DWCP) and decreased DWCP behavioral intentions. A subsequent test of an interaction between experimental condition and self-image scores on DWCP attitudes and intentions was non-significant. Conclusion: Public health campaigns that personalize the risk of DWCP and link images of death to one's own health threatening behavior may increase negative attitudes towards DWCP and reduce DWCP intentions even after these images fade from conscious awareness. This finding is based on a new method of increasing mortality salience, which has implications for future morality salience research, terror management theory, and the development of risky driving interventions.