Wearing a bicycle helmet can increase risk taking and sensation seeking in adults

Tim Gamble, Ian Walker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Citations (SciVal)
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Humans adapt their risk-taking behavior on the basis of perceptions of safety; this risk-compensation phenomenon is typified by people taking increased risks when using protective equipment. Existing studies have looked at people who know they are using safety equipment and have specifically focused on changes in behaviors for which that equipment might reduce risk. Here, we demonstrated that risk taking increases in people who are not explicitly aware they are wearing protective equipment; furthermore, this happens for behaviors that could not be made safer by that equipment. In a controlled study in which a helmet, compared with a baseball cap, was used as the head mount for an eye tracker, participants scored significantly higher on laboratory measures of both risk taking and sensation seeking. This happened despite there being no risk for the helmet to ameliorate and despite it being introduced purely as an eye tracker. The results suggest that unconscious activation of safety-related concepts primes globally increased risk propensity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)289-294
Number of pages6
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number2
Early online date6 Jan 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2016


  • Risk taking
  • Sensation seeking
  • Social priming
  • Bicycling
  • Protective equipment
  • Behavior change
  • Open data


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