From so-called ‘Mammils’ (middle-aged men in Lycra) to fixie-riding, red-light-running hipsters, cyclists seem to suffer from more negative stereotypes than any other road users. But now a study by Australian researchers has found that some motorists take things a step further and dislike cyclists so intensely that they view them as not being completely human.
This dehumanising effect is typically seen in relation to attitudes towards racial or ethnic groups and can cause motorists to drive aggressively by deliberately cutting off or impeding cyclists, the researchers say.
The study was carried out at Monash University, Queensland and the University of Melbourne’s School of Psychological Sciences and involved almost 450 participants, some who hadn’t ridden a bicycle in the last year and some who had, from Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.
Participants were given either the iconic evolution of ape to man image, or an adaption of that image showing the stages of evolution from cockroach to human. This image was designed for the study due to the fact that many Australian road users insult by cyclists by comparing them to “cockroaches” or “mosquitoes”. They were then asked to rate how human they believed cyclists to be on each scale.
On both ape-human and cockroach-human scales, 55 per cent of people in the group who hadn’t ridden a bicycle in the last year rated cyclists as not being completely human. Interestingly, 30 per cent of people in the group who had ridden a bicycle in the last year also rated cyclists as not completely human.
Also, among both groups, 17 per cent said they had used their car to deliberately block a cyclist, 11 per cent said they had intentionally driven their car close to a cyclist and 9 per cent said they had used their car to cut off a cyclist.
“When you don’t think someone is ‘fully’ human, it’s easier to justify hatred or aggression towards them. This can set up an escalating cycle of resentment,” Dr research lead Alexa Delbosc said. “If cyclists feel dehumanised by other road users, they may be more likely to act out against motorists, feeding into a self-fulfilling prophecy that further fuels dehumanisation against them. Ultimately we want to understand this process so we can do a better job at putting a human face to people who ride bikes, so that hopefully we can help put a stop to the abuse.”