The Why #29: Why do people speed?

By Dan Monheit, 1.10.21

Question submitted by Alex, Sydney

Experience says you really don’t get there any faster.
Advertising says you’re far more likely to die.
My mother says please don’t do it.

The problem is, speeding is also kind of fun (in an idiotic, completely non-condoned kind of way). Open roads. Quiet roads. Winding roads. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of using your little foot to push a little pedal to make a giant cube of metal rocket towards 100 km/h.

While we all talk a good game, deep down, we also all know the reality. People do get caught. People do die. People do kill. People do get where they were going at the exact same time they would have if they’d just driven within the damn limit!

Sure, I see how you could interpret Google’s estimated travel time of 22 minutes as more ‘challenge’ than ‘fact’, but surely there’s more to leadfooting than that?

Optimism Bias

The Optimism Bias is our tendency to overestimate our likelihood of experiencing positive events while underestimating our likelihood of experiencing negative events.

In 1980, Professor Neil Weinstein of Rutgers University set out to investigate our inclination to be overly optimistic. He assembled more than 200 college students and gave them a list of positive life events (e.g. securing their dream job) and negative life events (e.g. suffering a heart attack). Each student was then asked to rate their likelihood of experiencing each event compared to their classmates.

You can see where this is going.

To the surprise of literally nobody, the majority of students believed that their chances of experiencing positive events like owning a home and living well into their 90s was much higher than their classmates. At the same time, they rated their chances of experiencing negative events like developing a drinking problem or getting divorced as much lower. How lucky for them.

While unrealistic optimism causes us to take more risks (like speeding), it’s also what keeps us bouncing back day after day, believing that tomorrow will always be better (and let’s be honest, with a global pandemic, more than 200 days in lockdown and a casual earthquake, we’re coming in off a pretty low base).

To get the most out of the Optimism Bias, brands should lean into customers’ preprogrammed belief that the future is going to be bright, especially with the addition of our product or service. Dream car? Check. Life goals? Crushed. Six pack? Boom.

Not only is this a way more fun perspective to take, but I’ve got a pretty good feeling it will work out way better for you than it does for most, know what I mean?

Behaviourally Yours,

Dan Monheit

PS If you missed the last edition, you can still check out why some people have all the luck here.

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