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Billboards May Be Bad News for Drivers

advertising . / Credit: Billboard Image via Shutterstock

Are billboards driving you to distraction? New research suggests that the language used on billboards may have a negative effect on driving ability.

In a study conducted by the University of Alberta, participants drove past 20 billboards  that contained positive, negative or neutral language.

"Studies have shown that when subjects see an emotional stimulus as opposed to a neutral one, they’re slower in making reaction-time responses and they’re slower when doing a visual search, said Michelle Chan, lead author of the study. "I wanted to see whether the results would carry over in driving — would we also find more distracted performance in driving? — and we did see that.”

Chan and her fellow researchers found that emotionally charged words affected the driver’s focus, a result that could have dangerous repercussions when carried into the real world. Researchers said that subjects who viewed billboards with negative language  were more likely to decrease their speed and veer from their lane. Drivers who viewed positive language on billboards, on the other hand, tended to pick up speed.

"There have been studies showing that when you’re positively stimulated, your attention broadens, so you perform better when you’re in a happy mood," Chan said.

In countries like the United States, where billboard advertising is common and not highly regulated, negative-language billboards could be slowing down drivers’ reaction times, Chan said. She also notes that other countries, such as Australia, are much stricter when it comes to advertising on billboards, which might be good news for drivers.

“Any kind of distraction is risky when you’re driving,” Chan said. “But it would appear to be a larger risk when it comes to emotional stimuli.”

Elizabeth Peterson

Elizabeth writes about innovative technologies and business trends. She has traveled throughout the Americas in her roles as student, English teacher, Spanish language interpreter and freelance writer. She graduated with a B.A. in International Affairs from the George Washington University. You can follow her on Twitter @techEpalermo or .