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An observation on drivers and walkers
Bar Harbor
Some while ago, herooftheage convinced me that reading while walking was, at least while crossing the street, a Bad Idea. He himself had used to read while walking, until one day a car hit him. Since giving up the practice, I have noticed that cars slow down when approaching me a great deal more than they used to. I have further noticed that this is strongly correlated with when I actually turn and look at them.

It seems to me that this behavior is rooted in a social adaptation that made perfect sense before the invention of "things that go fast". (And which still does make sense in most contexts, of course.) The human brain spends a lot of processing power on analyzing the body language of other humans. A face which is turned away says, "I am not engaging with you as either friend or foe. You may safely ignore me." A face looking at you, contrariwise, says, "I am concerned with you. I may be a threat or an opportunity, so you should analyze further. Pay attention to me!"

In a very real sense, Boston drivers are like the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Trall: if you can't see them, they can't see you.

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A few months ago, I saw the results of a study that was done of how drivers interacted with people on bikes. Oddly, drivers tended to give a wider berth to bikers who were not wearing helmets. The author of the study speculated that the mental process might have been something along the lines of, "ah, the person on that bike is wearing a helmet, they're safe, therefore I don't need to be as careful."

The same study, interestingly, found that if the guy on the bike wore a wig and a dress, drivers stayed further away from him than if he was dressed like a man. Hard to say whether drivers were being more careful of women or staying as far away as possible from the weirdo in the wig...

Anyway, it's interesting what the subconscious mind does while we're driving. There's a lot of analysis that necessarily happens below the level of conscious thought.

And the lab studies back you up!

From a practical (i.e., neuroscience) level, the human brain is *very* good at seeing faces, much better than most other stimuli. It's why if you're hiding you want to do so face-down, or in face paint. So I could see them as being literally able to see you better when you face them. And then, of course, there's the tendency for people to Straighten Up And Fly Right when under perceived observation, even if it's just a picture of someone staring at them.

Can't find the references right now, but there's plenty of studies out there to back them up...

Re: And the lab studies back you up!

So, what he needs is a winter hat with a picture of a face on it, to go over the back of his head.

Weird and useful!

A cotton stocking cap, white, with an iron-on transfer from an inkjet should work....

Re: And the lab studies back you up!

Bright colors (i.e. stronger stimulus) = faster response, too, so a brilliantly-colored knit cap with a shockingly contrasty face might work. Hrm...I wonder how hard that would be to chart...

Re: And the lab studies back you up!

To knit, you mean? Probably not too difficult. You need enough detail that it reads as "face," though.

A happy face in natural colors might do it. Or one's favorite human cartoon character face.

Re: And the lab studies back you up!

Ha! It figures that *you* see the correct solution as being a silly hat :-)

(Memo to self: must make post about reactions to my silly hat...)

A parenting theory I came up with (but didn't follow through on) was that children should be allowed to cross the street by themselves *after* they learn to drive. Once you've been a driver yourself, you have a good idea of what the driver is likely to do, including the whole catch his/her eye thing.

Hmm, impractical, but I can see the appeal.

In Japan, the signal for a pedestrian who wants to cross the street is to raise their hand high. This is uncommonly sensible. I wish we did that here. It would remove a lot of ambiguity. I don't know how many times I assumed someone standing around on the curb -- and not looking at traffic -- started leaping into the non-crosswalk when I thought s/he was lost in thought. (And vice-versa -- waiting is safer but often wrong, too.)

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