Texting while driving as impulsive choice: A behavioral economic analysis

Accid Anal Prev. 2015 Oct;83:182-9. doi: 10.1016/j.aap.2015.07.025. Epub 2015 Aug 13.


The goal of the present study was to examine the utility of a behavioral economic analysis to investigate the role of delay discounting in texting while driving. A sample of 147 college students completed a survey to assess how frequently they send and read text messages while driving. Based on this information, students were assigned to one of two groups: 19 students who frequently text while driving and 19 matched-control students who infrequently text while driving but were similar in gender, age, years of education, and years driving. The groups were compared on the extent to which they discounted, or devalued, delayed hypothetical monetary rewards using a delay-discounting task. In this task, students made repeated choices between $1000 available after a delay (ranging from 1 week to 10 years) and an equal or lesser amount of money available immediately. The results show that the students who frequently text while driving discounted delayed rewards at a greater rate than the matched control students. The study supports the conclusions that texting while driving is fundamentally an impulsive choice made by drivers, and that a behavioral economic approach may be a useful research tool for investigating the decision-making processes underlying risky behaviors.

Keywords: Behavioral economics; Choice; College students; Decision making; Delay discounting; Impulsivity; Texting while driving.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Automobile Driving / psychology*
  • Delay Discounting*
  • Economics, Behavioral
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior*
  • Male
  • Reward
  • Students
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Text Messaging*
  • Young Adult