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Computer Racing Games = Risky Driving?

Playing Computer Car-Racing Games May Increase Aggressive Driving
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

March 19, 2007 -- Computer car-racing games may rev up risky driving, German researchers report.

Drivers tend to drive more aggressively -- at least on a driving simulation -- after playing computer street-racing games, the study shows.

Playing such games "could provoke unsafe driving," write the researchers, including Peter Fischer, PhD, of the psychology department at Munich's Ludwig-Maximilians University.

Fischer and colleagues conducted three experiments.

In the first experiment, they interviewed 290 randomly selected drivers at public places (such as gas stations and fast-food restaurants) in Germany.

The group included 198 men and 92 women who were 16-45 years old (average age: 23).

They answered questions about their driving habits and whether they played computer racing games.

Drivers who said they played computer racing games tended to have the most aggressive driving habits, the interviews showed.

Computer Racing Games

Next, the researchers asked 83 students at Ludwig-Maximilians University to play a computer game for 20 minutes.

The students either played a street-racing computer game or one unrelated to racing, such as a game featuring soccer.

To win at the racing games, players had to "massively violate traffic rules (e.g., drive on the sidewalk, crash into other cars, drive at high speed)," the researchers write.

Immediately after playing their assigned game, the students took a word quiz that included 10 German words.

Each word had two possible meanings -- one related to risk and one unrelated to risk. For example, the German word rasen can mean "lawn" or "to drive with high speed," the researchers note.

Students who had played the computer racing game were more likely to choose the risk-related definition for each word.

Behind the Virtual Wheel

The third experiment tested driving safety in a driving simulation.

The participants were 68 drivers aged 19-35 (average age: 23). They played either a computer racing game or a computer game unrelated to racing.

As soon as their assigned game ended, participants watched videotapes of 15 risky driving situations. They pressed computer keys to indicate what they would do if they were the driver.

For instance, one video showed a railroad crossing barrier lowering to close the road as a train approached. In another video, drivers had to decide whether to pass another vehicle.

Participants who had just finished the street-racing computer game took more risks on those driving tests.

That doesn't necessarily mean that they would behave that way in real life; but the possibility deserves further study, note the researchers.

Their findings appear in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied.

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