Unconscious Motivators and Situational Safety Belt Use: Literature Review and Results from an Expert Panel Meeting

Despite the overwhelming evidence that safety belts save lives, millions of Americans still do not buckle up every time they are in a motor vehicle. A small proportion of these people never wear safety belts, but the vast majority are “situational safety belt users,” wearing a belt only when they think it is necessary. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) researchers hypothesized that these part-time wearers use unconscious defense mechanisms (i.e., repression, denial, rationalization, and fatalism) to suppress conscious thought of the consequences of being in a crash. To explore whether unconscious defense mechanisms are an appropriate intervention point to encourage the full-time use of belts, NHTSA commissioned a literature review and expert panel meeting on the role of unconscious motivators in response to safety threats. The literature review suggested increased mindfulness, enhanced efficacy, increasing the social desirability of compliance, disrupting resistance, and encouraging anticipatory regret as ways to overcome unconscious motivators. The expert panel suggested the following techniques: reframe personal control, reframe the reason for wearing belts (e.g., make it unrelated to safety), reframe the perception of who wears belts, use indirect messages which are nonthreatening, and recognize the factors that make belt wearing a unique behavior. Both portions of this research suggest that unconscious motivators play an important role in situational belt wearing, and offer suggestions for how to address these unconscious motivators at a mass level to encourage full-time belt wearing. However, the particular combination of strategies to achieve favorable outcomes is highly dependent on: (1) which unconscious motivators are at work, and (2) the population exhibiting the behavior targeted for change. Additional research on these two issues is recommended.


  • English

Media Info

  • Media Type: Web
  • Edition: NHTSA Technical Report
  • Features: Appendices; References; Tables;
  • Pagination: 64p

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01047569
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Report/Paper Numbers: HS-810 650
  • Contract Numbers: DTNH22-04-P-05230
  • Created Date: May 1 2007 9:59AM