Many situations require decisions to be made in very little time-in emergency or accident situations such decisions will carry potentially harmful consequences. Can we predict how people react in such situations from their personality traits alone? Since experimental tests of accident situations are not possible in the real world, existing studies usually employ text-based surveys or post-situation assessments, making predictions and generalization difficult. In the present study, we used virtual reality to create a more life-like situation in order to study decision-making under controlled circumstances. In our experiment, participants trained in an immersive car simulation to complete a race-course as fast as possible. In the testing phase, pedestrians appeared on the course without warning, forcing participants to react. The experiment used a one-shot design to avoid pre-meditation and to test naïve, rapid decision-making. Participants' reactions could be classified into two categories: people who tried to brake, and people who potentially endangered pedestrians by not braking or conducting hazardous evasion maneuvers. Importantly, this latter group of participants scored significantly higher on psychopathy-related traits among a set of personality-related factors. Additional personality factors, as well as age, gender, gaming expertise, and driving experience did not significantly influence participants' decision-making. This result was true for both a Korean sample (N = 94) and an independently-tested German sample (N = 94), indicating cross-cultural stability of the results. Overall, our results demonstrate that decision-making in an extreme, simulated accident situation is critically influenced by personality traits.
Keywords: accident situation; decision-making; driving; personality; psychopathy; virtual reality.