The Unintended Effects of Providing Risk Information About Drinking and Driving

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Abstract

Objective: Alcohol-impaired driving remains a serious public health concern despite the fact that drinking and driving risks are widely disseminated and well understood by the public. This research examines the motivational conditions under which providing risk information can exacerbate rather than decrease potential drinking drivers’ willingness to drive while impaired. Method: In a hypothetical drinking and driving scenario, 3 studies investigated participants’ self-reported likelihood of drinking and driving as a function of (a) accessibility of information regarding risk associated with drinking and driving, (b) motivation to drive, and (c) need for cognitive closure (NFC). Results: Across the 3 studies, participants self-reported a higher likelihood of driving when exposed to high-risk information (vs. low-risk information) if they were high in NFC. Risk information did decrease self-reported likelihood of driving among low-NFC participants (Studies 1–3). Furthermore, this effect was exacerbated when the relevant motivation (to get home conveniently) was high (Study 3). Conclusions: These findings have important implications for impaired-driving prevention efforts. They suggest that at least under some circumstances, risk information can have unintended negative effects on drinking and driving decisions. The results are consistent with the motivated cognition literature, which suggests that people process and use information in a manner that supports their most accessible and important motivation despite potentially negative consequences.

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