Bad Bicyclist Behavior, It’s All In Your Head

Charlie Gandy circulated a link to an interesting article in Slate, “Why You Hate Cyclists“.

Author Jim Saksa helps to explain scientifically that a lot of our feelings about cyclists’ bad behavior is in our heads, a so-called Affect Heuristic, according to behavioral economists:

Which is a fancy way of saying that people make judgments by consulting their emotions instead of logic. The Affect Heuristic explains how our minds take a difficult question (one that would require rigorous logic to answer) and substitutes it for an easier one. When our emotions get involved, we jump to pre-existing conclusions instead of exerting the mental effort to think of a bespoke answer.

He quotes, “Data from nine major North American cities showed that, despite the total number of bike trips tripling between 1977 and 2009, fatalities per 10 million bike trips fell by 65 percent. While a number of factors contribute to lower accident rates, including increased helmet usage and more bike lanes, less aggressive bicyclists probably helped, too.”

Why then do so many motorists complain so vehemently? Certainly there’s a lot of objectionable behavior out there, but this is where the Affect Heuristic kicks in. Our minds remember these bad experiences and keep them more prominently in our memories, whereas the vast majority of well behaving cyclists don’t move the needle, so to speak. There’s little to goad a motorist when we stop at red lights and ride courteously.

Saksa makes many references to Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow.



Frank Peters

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