Most people believe they're above average. It helps explain why they do things they deem too dangerous for others. One oft-cited example these days: using a smartphone while driving. A recent Insurance.com survey found 75 percent of drivers viewed texting while driving to be as risky as driving while drunk - and 38 percent of those folks texted anyway. On one hand, we have mounting statistics, damning research and increasingly severe penalties. And on the other, just one powerful defense: A whole lot of people do it. Here's a look at the many ways the conflict is emerging.
You're not that much smarter than a monkey
Still using the term 'multi-tasking'? Physiologically, there's no such thing. Our brains actually toggle between complex activities - that is, any requiring thought. "It's not possible to look at your smartphone and look at the road and process both streams of data simultaneously," says Dr. David Greenfield, a psychiatry professor at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. When the primitive region of our brain anticipates a reward - say, a “ding” from an incoming text or a bell that signifies a tasty bit of banana - it automatically intercepts the wiring to the high-level, decision-making region. In essence, we're powerless over our distraction. "We're animals," says Greenfield. "When you activate the reward circuitry in the brain, you shut down the connections to the frontal lobe, so what you're not doing is thinking."
That texting killer is "just like you."
Two years after swerving his SUV into another car, killing both its occupants, Reggie Shaw finally admitted he'd been texting on the Utah highway that morning. Ashamed, he later went further, testifying in support of texting bans and lecturing students about the risk. Shaw also volunteered to put his brain through scans and other tests to help scientists identify what, exactly, might predispose him to distraction. The result? His brain was completely normal.