It might seem to be somewhat obvious but a new study by the Dept. of Psychology at Bath University has found that wearing a helmet increases rick-taking and sensation-seeking in adults.
Here’s the abstract in full:
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.
It’s good to have evidence of things that we inherently feel to be true – as in so many cases received wisdom is anything but – and certainly in mountain biking we are *much* more cautious riders when unhelmetted (which actually hasn’t happened in years – you just feel so *naked*).
The study used helmet and cap-mounted eye trackers on 15 male and 24 female helmetted riders, and on 19 males and 22 females who merely wore a cap. They were subjected to a series of laboratory tests which demonstrated increased risk taking and sensation seeking in helmetted riders as opposed to the becapped ones. Striking.
The study is by Tim Gamble and Ian Walker – a chap who has also shown that helmet-wearing can decrease the distance other road users give to cyclists when overtaking. It will no doubt fuel more debate on helmet safety on roads (and arguably elsewhere) – although we still take the opinion that if you MTB without one you’re an idiot.