Drivers tend to dehumanize people riding bicycles, study says

Credit: Pexels /

Credit: Pexels /

Researchers in Australia say they have found a link between attitudes toward bike riders and acts of deliberate aggression toward them on the road.

In a pilot test of the "dehumanization of cyclists," researchers at Queensland University of Technology, Monash University and the University of Melbourne studied 442 people in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.

Dehumanizationthe group said in the study abstract, "refers to any situation where people are seen or treated as if they are less than fully human."

The participants were first asked if they were a cyclist or noncyclist themself.

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Participants then were shown either the evolution illustration of ape to man, or an adaption of that image showing the stages of evolution from cockroach to human. The insect-human image was designed because of reported slurs against cyclists, comparing them to cockroaches or mosquitoes, according to lead author Alexa Delbosc, senior lecturer in the Institute of Transport Studies at Monash University.

On both the ape-human and insect-human scale, 55% of noncyclists and 30% of cyclists rated people who ride bicycles as not completely human.

Seventeen percent said they had used their car to deliberately block a cyclist, 11% had deliberately driven their car close to a cyclist, and 9% had used their car to cut off a cyclist.

"When you don't think someone is 'fully' human," quoted Delbosc as saying, "it's easier to justify hatred or aggression toward them. This can set up an escalating cycle of resentment."

He added: "If cyclists feel dehumanized by other road users, they may be more likely to act out against motorists, feeding into a self-fulfilling prophecy that further fuels dehumanization against them.”

The researchers say they believe their findings suggest the concept of dehumanizing bike riders deserves further exploration.

“If we can put a human face to cyclists, we may improve attitudes and reduce aggression directed at on-road cyclists,” they write in their study abstract. “This could result in a reduction in cyclist road trauma or an increase in public acceptance of cyclists as legitimate road users.”

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