Reward Versus Punishment: Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory, Young Novice Drivers’ Perceived Risk, and Risky Driving

One reason that young novice drivers remain statistically over-represented in road deaths is their rate of engagement in risky driving. Prominent contributing factors include driver’s age, sex, personality, risk perception, and their driving experience. This study applied reinforcement sensitivity theory (RST, specifically reward sensitivity and punishment sensitivity) to predict young novice drivers’ perceived risk and self-reported risky driving engagement, while accounting for potential influences of age, sex, and driving experience. Drivers (N = 643, 490 females, 17–25 years, M = 20.02, SD = 2.32) who held an Australian driver’s license (P1, P2, or Open) anonymously completed an online survey containing the Behaviour of Young Novice Drivers Scale, the Sensitivity to Punishment and Sensitivity to Reward Questionnaire, and a measure of perceived risk of driving-related behaviors. A path analytic model derived from RST showed that perceived risk had the strongest negative association with reported risky driving engagement, followed by reward sensitivity (positive association). Respondent’s age and reward sensitivity were associated with perceived risk. Age, reward sensitivity, and perceived risk were associated with reported engagement in risky driving behaviors. Driver sex only had direct paths with RST variables, and through reward sensitivity, indirect paths to perceived risk, and reported risky driving. Neither punishment sensitivity nor driving experience contributed significantly to the model. Implications and applications of the model, and the unique set of variables examined, are discussed in relation to road safety interventions and driver training.


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  • Accession Number: 01638083
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Files: TRIS
  • Created Date: Jun 19 2017 9:34AM