Cyclists and motorists are known for their somewhat belligerent relationship. But a new study suggests that they may be so averse to one another to the point of dehumanisation.
‘Not Completely Human’
You don’t have to travel far to find cyclists on Britain’s roads; there are more of them than ever before. Whether they’re covered from head to toe in Lycra or casually commuting, they’re a diverse bunch. Fitness enthusiasts, hipsters and people who just enjoy the practicality of bikes, there’s not a fat lot that unites cyclists; except for the intense dislike most drivers have for them. That’s according to a new study conducted in Australia. Researchers have concluded that motorists simply do not perceive them to be ‘fully human.’
Dehumanisation is the process by which we justify hostile actions by coming to view people or groups as being fundamentally different to ourselves. It’s a mechanism by which many people justify aggression, and tragically, persecution. It’s this process that can cause motorists to disregard the safety of cyclists and drive aggressively when they’re around them.
The study, which was conducted by Monash University, involved nearly 450 participants. Some of these hadn’t ridden a bike in a year whereas some had. They were provided with the iconic image of man’s descent from apes. Some were also provided with an altered image which showed stages of evolution between cockroaches and human beings. This was geared around the fact that many Australian cyclists refer to cyclists as ‘cockroaches’ and ‘mosquitoes.’ The participants were asked to state where they felt cyclists fell on the evolutionary scale.
Incredibly, 55% of the participants who hadn’t ridden a bike in a year rated cyclists as not being completely human. Even more tellingly, 30% of those who had ridden a bike in the last year felt the same. The study also discovered that 17% of participants had used their cars to block cyclists, 11% had driven intentionally close to them and 9% had cut them up.
Research Lead, Dr Alexa Delbosc, explained how the dehumanisation process leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy. She said, “if cyclists feel dehumanised by other road users, they may be more likely to act out against motorists, feeding into a self-fulfilling prophecy that further fuels dehumanisation against them.” She added, “ultimately we want to understand this process so we can do a better job at putting a human face to people who ride bikes, so that hopefully we can help put a stop to the abuse.”
Is There Any Hope For Reconciliation?
Unfortunately, other than offering the hope of further insights, the study in Australia offers no solutions. But if our evolution is behind the dislike between drivers and cyclists, is there really anything we can do? First of all, some perspective is required. Whilst over half of the participants suggested they saw cyclists as something less than human, much smaller figures claimed to have deliberately interfered with them. Whilst this could be a product of shame or guilt, those emotions in of themselves are indicative of ethical judgements.
Cycling has been a mode of transport for a long time, but the idea of cyclists sharing the road with fast lumps of metal is a relatively new one. As more and more cities consider pedestrianising (or at least reducing traffic), it’s possible that cyclists and cars will share fewer and fewer roads anyway. Drivers need to remember how vulnerable other road-users are, whereas cyclists need to avoid escalating hostile encounters (no matter how hard it may be).
How To Drive Safely Around Cyclists: https://www.autoserveclub.co.uk/blog/how-to-drive-safely-around-cyclists/
Drivers And Cyclists (More) On Why They Just Can’t Get On: http://autoserve.co.uk/motoring-news/drivers-versus-cyclists/