’Mantrol’ and the Psychology of Destructive Behaviour

By Darcy Cowan 18/11/2010

Recently the NZ Transport Authority and the Police introduced a new campaign for reducing driver speeding. The “Mantrol” concept attempts to link the safe driving with “manliness” and in this way induce those who might speed out of machismo to take a second look at what constitutes that ever mercurial definition of “real man”.

Looking at a few of the comments on the Stuff version of this story there is a lot of negativity regarding this campaign. I think many of the comments miss the point. I agree many of the comments (in aggregate) that auto fatalities are a multi-factorial problem, not only speed but driver competency, road condition, alcohol, culture, road laws etc are all contributing to the current situation. To expect one ad campaign to address all of these disparate causes is obviously unrealistic. It is even unrealistic to expect one campaign to address and counter every reason that a person might speed. We have had the graphic advertisements showing the consequences of out of control speeding, these will work on one sub-set of the population. Now we have an approach that may have an effect on a different sub-set.

I wrote in January about a study comparing types of cigarette warnings, the study found that warnings emphasising mortality were less effective on individuals who based their self esteem, at least in part, on their smoking behaviour. As a result those individuals would rate themselves as more inclined to continue smoking. On the other hand, warnings that directly attack the source of self esteem are more effective. Individuals who consider smoking to make them more attractive (the “coolness” factor) will be more influenced by warnings that state the opposite.

One of the conclusions of the study was that warnings may need to be tailored to the population you are trying to influence.The depending factor is how much the behaviour is related to a person’s self esteem and self image.

In attempting to tie safe driving to manliness there is a move towards reaching people at a place in their psyche that relates to their self esteem and how that manifests in their behaviour. In other words if speeding is an expression of one of a person’s core beliefs about themselves ie that they are macho man, then pointing out that in the eyes of others their behaviour is inconsistent with that label may lead to a behavioural change.

Now I do think that the current set of ads don’t quite hit that mark but I do think that they are a step in the right direction. The implicit humour of the ads are also a mark in their favour but they are perhaps a little too close in flavour to a number of other ads currently in the market (multitude of beer ads, even McDonalds ads) trying to tie their product to what real manly men do.

In any event, it is too early to tell whether or if the current crop of anti-speeding ads will have an effect on behaviour. I do think that the use of multiple approaches is valuable in itself as a one-size-fits-all attempt is certainly doomed to failure.

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Filed under: Psychological, Sciblogs Tagged: Behavior, Defensive driving, health, New Zealand, Science and Society, Self-esteem, Traffic collision

0 Responses to “’Mantrol’ and the Psychology of Destructive Behaviour”

  • FWIW, I once had a driver instructor (years and years ago) who put forward the view that a good driver was one like a high-class chauffeur, who drove smoothly, anticipating any problems long before they happened, knew the rules inside-out, and never got ruffled.

  • The unfortunate problem with advertising like this is that it will be out of date and blase in six months time. Further, if it is aimed at 15 to 25ish year olds then it will need to be repeated every 3 to 5 years to catch the subsequent “age flow”. I would argue that the silent and stealthy approach is what works best.

    350+ dead and 1000’s injured every year and there is no substantial training for beginner drivers. Yes, we can pay for an instructor. But not everyone is going to.

    What could be done? The schools are where the focus should/must be. The US have schemes where everyone at the school has driving instruction. The benefits of such a scheme are scary to contemplate.

    It would be easy to set up a programme in NZ with well compensated, trained (and retrained) instructors, consistent learning programme, consistent skill acquisition and the opportunity to educate each “age flow” continuously. I would stake my house that the outcome would be measurable within 10 years of its initiation nationwide.

    Given the cost of death and destruction on our roads, the cost of ACC, health, off work costs, social costs at a guestimate is at least $1million per life, Even if twice that lose was utilised and injected into such a campaign it would be cheap.

    Those with the purse strings? Think about it. I dare you.

  • Hard to argue with that.
    As far as speeding goes what is really required is a culture change. Could be that school programs could flow on to create this change.

  • >One of the conclusions of the study was that warnings may need to be tailored to the population you are trying to influence

    I’m told some men prefer to buy the packets that warn against damage to an unborn child. ‘These ones can’t hurt me’, they probably think.

  • Thanks possum, you’ve put your finger on the danger of individualising the approach but having to implement it in the general population. Those who would be most affected by one strategy actively seek out the ineffective strategy in order to justify continuing their behaviour.

    This I think is a significant issue when attempting a public outreach programme like this, not only the message but the delivery must be targeted, not an easy thing to do.