Drunk Driving and Perception


            When Bernard Williams (1981) introduced the idea of Moral Luck, it led many to question the underpinnings of responsibility and culpability. The term describes how individuals often receive moral blame for circumstances that were evidently out of their control. Thomas Nagel (1979, p. 24) describes a situation in which a truck driver accidently runs over a child. In this scenario, Nagel suggests that the moral culpability of the driver doesn’t rest on him alone, but also on the presence of the child. The driver, even if culpable of some minor negligence on his part, would not have been viewed negatively in a scenario where no child is present. Therefore, the child is fully out of the driver’s moral control, and his culpability is based on luck.

Similarly, drunk driving fatalities fall into this gray moral area. Is drunk driving wrong? At first, we are inclined to say yes, despite not all drunk drivers ending up committing manslaughter. Many arrive back home moderately safe, thus the impairment caused by the alcohol alone is not enough to create a tragedy. A pedestrian (which the driver cannot account for) must be at the wrong place at the wrong time. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (2017), drunk drivers account for approximately 10,000 fatalities a year. In contrast, there are approximately 30,000 vehicular deaths a year. Therefore, drunk driving alone is not the sole contributor of accidents and fatalities, even when sober manslaughter is still very likely.

However, what if there is more than moral luck behind drunk driving fatalities? What if the act of drinking itself, alters our perceptions in such a way, that we are more prone to swerve towards the pedestrian, than away from them? For example, Tourette’s syndrome appears to have a higher likelihood of expressing inappropriate words in its verbal tics (Lanckerab & Cummings, 1999). Steven Pinker, speculates that these tics are more like urges—temptations induced by a faulty basal ganglia, which normally functions as the “packagers and inhibitors of behavior.” (2007, p. 335). If the act of losing inhibitions and self-control, can lead you to shout “Fire!” in a crowded airport, perhaps it is also able to cause behaviors you would otherwise not commit, such as swerving towards pedestrians.

It is not a secret that alcohol lowers your inhibitions—that is the main reason people drink, to “loosen up.” One negative consequence of this disinhibition is aggression. Everything from murder, kidnapping and robberies, and other violent crimes have occurred while under the influence of alcohol (Collins, 1980). Spousal abuse is also more likely to occur when alcohol is involved (Livingston, 2011). Lastly, alcohol also makes you more prone to risky behavior, such as unwanted and unprotected sex.

Based on this information, it seems probable that alcohol also affects our perceptions while driving, but in such a way that it disinhibits normal behaviors aimed to keep us and those around us safe. In other words, we will test the potential problem that alcohol makes one prone to swerve into pedestrians than away from them. Up until now research has mostly focused on reaction times, such as hitting the breaks at the appropriate times. Instead, we will measure what the participants attempt to do, rather than what they fail to do.


Participants. 50 Student volunteers from the psychology department at the University of Central Florida. Consent forms and IRB permission will be required, due to participants consuming alcohol during the experiment.

Experiment 1. In line with (Johansson, 1973) point-light walker experiment, we would like to gauge the sensitivity to biological movement, at various intoxication intervals. Given the ability of sober people to discern not only between people and animals using this method, but also whether someone is male or female, a runner, someone who is happy or sad, it is my belief that this ability should remain generally unhindered while inebriated. If visual cues while driving are leading drunk people to crash into pedestrians, their ability to see and recognize the pedestrian must remain fairly intact.

According to an analysis made by Zador (1991), at a BAC of around 0.02- 0.03%, accidents are 1.4 times more likely than while sober. The likelihood of a crash increases almost exponentially with each percentage increase: a BAC of 0.05-0.09% is 11.1 times more likely to get in an accident; At 0.10% to 0.14%, you are 48 times more likely, and at BACs of 0.15% or above, the likelihood of a crash rises to 380 times more likely than while sober. Based on this information, participants (which will consist of 50 individuals) will undergo the point-light experiment at roughly these intervals. Each participant will undergo 3 Trials. In Trial 1 they’ll participant with a BAC of .03%. In Trial 2 they’ll be legally impaired, at .08-.10% BAC, and lastly, they’ll try again with .15% BAC. There is no need for a trial while sober, since it will be identical to Johansson’s results.

Experiment 2. The same participants from Experiment 1 will participate in Experiment 2. During the second set of experiments we place people in front of a computer, or ideally, a Virtual Reality headset. A prerecorded driving simulation would have been filmed prior to the experiment. In the recording we’ll show a normal drive through a town or neighborhood, from the point of view of the driver. The video will be approximately 5-10 minutes in duration. During the recording we’ll show pedestrians walking casually on the sidewalk, or children, at specific intervals. We’ll also test other stimuli aimed to capture the attention of the driver. Some will be intriguing, such as a pink elephant, others will consist of things normally understood you are not supposed to hit with a car, such as cones.

Since this video will be prerecorded, it does not consist of a simulation, in which the participant is in control. The vehicle will not be able to be moved by the driver, though participants will not be told this. Instead participants will be given a wheel such as those used in video games. We will be measuring the degree and direction, no matter how slight, that they turn the wheel while thinking they are in control. The road in the recording will be mostly straight, and we’ll measure how what they do in the presence of the visual stimuli. We’ll also add moments where the car begins to diverge from the straight path into a pedestrian, to see how well the driver notices and attempts course-correct. We are not interested in reaction times, but intention. Measurements will be taken at the same BAC categories listed for Experiment 1. However, we will repeat this experiment while BAC is ascending as well as while it is descending due to the psychological differences experienced by people during the two events, and the likelihood that most drunk drivers, get into vehicles after they are finished drinking (Maisto, Galizio, & Connors, 2015).


            For Experiment 1 an independent samples t-test will be conducted on the results. We will analyze data in a similar fashion to Johansson, only given the BAC variable. For Experiment 2 a paired sample t-test will also be conducted on the results. We are not interested in any specific demographic variable, despite some research showing that young people are more likely to get into accidents while drunk, than adults. These findings are often due more to irrelevant circumstances, such as peer-pressure. Moreover, since we are conducting the trials twice in Experiment 2, both for ascending and descending BAC, an analysis of variance will also be conducted.


            Needless to say, if the research gives positive results, it will bring about a new level of understanding to the dangers of alcohol and driving. Current laws against drinking and driving are no different from those of texting and driving: they are both justified under the assumption that reaction time and attention are inhibited. However, if results indicate that alcohol “makes you do” things you normally wouldn’t, like swerve into a pedestrian, we would not only expect to see new legislature taking the results into account, but also a new wave of research aimed at understanding how perception, not just sensation, are affected by various drugs.


Collins, J. J. (1980). Alcohol use and criminal behavior: An empirical, theoretical, and methodological overview. New York: Guilford Press.

Johansson, G. (1973). Visual perception of biological motion and a model for its analysis. Perception & Psychophysics, 195-204.

Lanckerab, V. D., & Cummings, J. L. (1999). Expletives: Neurolinguistic and neurobehavioral perspectives on swearing. Brain Research Reviews, 83-104.

Livingston, M. (2011). A longitudinal analysis of alcohol outlet density and domestic violence. Addiction, 919-925.

Maisto, S. A., Galizio, M., & Connors, G. J. (2015). Drug use & abuse (ed. 7th). Canada: Cengage Learning.

Nagel, T. (1979). Moral Luck. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2017, November 19). Drunk Driving. Retrieved from NHTSA: https://www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/drunk-driving

Pinker, S. (2007). The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature. New York: Penguin Books.

Williams, B. (1981). Moral Luck. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Zador, P. L. (1991). Alcohol-related relative risk of fatal driver injuries in relation to driver age and sex. Journal of Sudies on Alcohol, 52, 302-310.

















Thank you Disruptive Adventism for having me on your podcast! We explored the importance of psychology for Christianity among other things. I highly recommend checking out their other interviews as well.

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Kingdom of Heaven

Pingelap is a small circular island in the Pacific, an atoll, forming part of the country of Micronesia. A portion of its residents live with a most intriguing and peculiar neurological condition: they are born without cone receptors, those microscopic photoreceptors in your eyes that enable you to see color—a condition called achromatopsia. Their vision is analogous to a black and white television screen: darker colors are seen as dark grey while lighter colors are seen as light grey. The circumstances of this condition extend beyond color: cones are responsible for seeing in daylight, but at night they are ineffective and hand the job over to the rods. Without cones to see in the daytime, the light sensitive rods take over, so squinting and wearing heavy dark sunglasses are a regular consequence for the people of.

There is a world hidden from the eyes of the people of Pingelap—one that, perhaps, even their imaginations cannot fully comprehend: for no memory of color has ever hued their thoughts, no shade of tint has ever dyed their imagination. Are we any different? The universe is all there is, and every species living in it experiences only a portion of it. The world we experience is one written by our senses, and our senses reveal only a portion of it. We remain ignorant of things hidden beyond our sensory experience. The German biologist Jakob von Uexküll called the partial world in which a species lives the umwelt. Continue Reading…

Heaven’s Eyes

Our eyes are the windows to the soul—or so the saying goes. They are the gatekeepers of the mind; the doorways of the heart; and the sentries upon the towers. Poetic as these phrases may be, reality is not too far behind. In a very real neuroanatomical sense, to look into someone’s eyes is to gaze upon the throne room of the mind—their brain. While we are yet inside our mother’s womb, the developing human brain differentiates into three portions: the hindbrain, midbrain, and forebrain. As the forebrain grows into what will eventually become the cortex, it sprouts two unique vesicles. These vesicles extend and grow like the stalks of a plant, cupping themselves into the familiar ocular form. These optic cups are the premature inklings of what will become the retina; which is where light come to once it enters the eye. Unlike the rest of our sense organs, our retinas are a unique extension of our brains. Continue Reading…

The Robe of His Righteousness

A shot was fired a few miles from my home, February of 2012. That gunshot, which resulted in the death of a young African American, marked the beginning of a disquieting conversation over race. For a while however, people argued over a different question—would the young man still be alive if he wasn’t wearing a hoodie? One controversial comment was made by Geraldo Rivera: “I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was” (Fung, 2012). The comment quickly found opposition: “I will never look suspicious to you. Even if I have a black hoodie… because of one thing and one thing only. The color of my skin. I am white” (Skolnik, 2012). How important are our clothes?

Regardless of your stance on the controversy, clothes can be symbols of discrimination. A hijab, a hoodie, even a Make America Great Again hat, can all influence our perceptions of a person long before we’ve met them. It makes us categorize people into boxes, and expect certain behaviors from them. Studies have found that our perception of a student’s intelligence is influenced by the student’s style of dress (Behling & Williams, 1991); they’ve found that women which dress masculine are more likely to be hired (Forsythe, 1990). Truly, “a person’s character is judged by his style of dress” (White, Education, 1903, p. 248).

Besides the sociopolitical aspects of clothing, psychologists are interested in a different question—how they affect our minds. Clothes carry information, those cultural stigmas and social symbolisms with which they are associated. When an artifact of clothing is worn, it influences the wearer’s behavior and cognition, making them likely to “embody” those associative attributes (Adam & Galinsky, 2012). For example, researchers found that wearing white makes people see themselves as more moral than when they wore black (Uebayashi, Tao’oka, Ishii, & Murata, 2016).

What comes to mind when you think of a lab coat? Most likely a doctor or scientist—professions which require intellect, focus, and attentiveness. In one study, participants were divided into two groups; both were given lab coats, but one group was told the coats belonged to medical doctors, and the other was told they belonged to painters. Both groups then performed a visual search task, which involves finding small differences in two otherwise identical images. Interestingly, results showed that those told they were wearing a doctor’s coat were significantly better at spotting the differences than those who weren’t.

The psychology of how dress affects behavior is termed Enclothed Cognition. How interesting that we see this same embodiment in our spiritual lives. Our current apparel consists of filthy garments, and to no surprise so does our behavior and character (Isaiah 64:6). But like the doctor’s coat, which imparts its influence upon the wearer, we are offered a heavenly coat made of fine linen, clean and white (Revelation 19:8); a robe which when worn, also imparts its attributes on the wearer: “the white robe of character, which is the righteousness of Christ” (White, 1952, p. 518). As Christians, we can take off our filthy rags and be clothed with the coat of our Heavenly Doctor. When we decide to do so, we will be influenced to behave accordingly, reflecting Christ’s character.

“For He has clothed me with garments of Salvation and arrayed me in a robe of His Righteousness.”


~John Bryan


  • Adam, H., & Galinsky, A. D. (2012). Enclothed cognition. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 918-925.
  • Behling, D. U., & Williams, E. A. (1991). Influence of dress on perception of intelligence and expectations of scholatic achievement. Clothing & Textiles Research Journal, 1-7.
  • Forsythe, S. M. (1990). Effect of applicant’s clothing on interviewer’s decision to hire. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 1579-1595.
  • Fung, K. (2012, March 23). Geraldo Rivera: Trayvon Martin’s ‘Hoodie Is As Much Responsible For [His] Death As George Zimmerman’. Retrieved from The Huffington Post: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/23/geraldo-rivera-trayvon-martin-hoodie_n_1375080.html
  • Skolnik, M. (2012, March 19). White People, You Will Never Look Suspicious Like Trayvon Martin! Retrieved from Global Grind: https://globalgrind.cassiuslife.com/1807268/michael-skolnik-trayvon-martin-george-zimmerman-race-sanford-florida-photos-pictures/
  • Uebayashi, K., Tao’oka, Y., Ishii, K., & Murata, K. (2016). The effet of black or white clothing on self-perception of morality. Japanese Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 130-138.
  • White, E. G. (1903). Education. Mountain View: Pacific Press Publishing Association.
  • White, E. G. (1952). The Adventist Home. Hagerstown: Review and Herald Publishing Association.


21. Stars

There is a small issue with looking at the stars; and that is that they may not exist. We equate them with the beauty of a girl’s eyes, or with the heights of intellect that humans may achieve, but seldom consider that they are nothing more than a distant photograph of a time long past. Light takes time to travel and when we account for the distance of some of these stars and compare them to their average lifespan, it is easy to understand that we may be looking at a sky full of memories.

This may be a saddening idea to contemplate, that those stars which so beautifully remind us of who we are, may no longer exist. Yet it is also an idea which brings us closer to the past. The SH2-106 nebula for example is about 2,000 Light Years away (NASA, 2011). This means that the youthful light emitted by this nebula when a man named Jesus walked the Earth, is just now reaching us today. In other words, when we look at this celestial object, we are looking at the exact time when our Lord walked among us. How poetic it is that this nebula has the form of an angel; that like the angels of old that once gave glad tidings to the lowly shepherds, this angel of light now preaches the same message to Earth from the heavens.

~John Bryan


What are you Thankful for?


One study by Watkins and colleagues (2016) found that narcissism (extreme selfishness), cynicism (the belief that others are motivated by self-interest), and materialism (valuing material possessions over social and even spiritual possessions) inhibit your sense of gratitude. Like water and oil they do not mix. Can you identify what things are inhibiting you from being grateful?


The Feeling of Awe

Awe—three letters that define the feeling of reverence as it intermingles with fear and wonder. In the simplicity of those letters is captured the emotion felt by all who witnessed the eclipse this August. It is difficult not to have been overtaken by the event: Joy and fear mixed into a single voice as the thousands of people around me began to howl and cheer at the sight of a blackened sun. A decidedly secular event marked by the smell of food and gasoline quickly transformed into a sacred and spiritual experience for everyone in attendance. CONTINUE READING…

Truth and Lies

There is beauty in words. A sentence well written—a phrase that captures a thought and holds it for a moment—these are the moments for which readers search. But the nature of a sentence is a strange thing. Words by themselves are not bound by any ethics; they are empty vessels in which nothing but a single unit of information is contained. Claiming that the words “fruit” and “tree” are true or false is meaningless. However, the moment words are grouped together into a sentence, they gain a truth value. That is to say, a sentence has the emergent property of “truthfulness” not found in the individual nouns and verbs that compose it. Take, for example, the sentence “The fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree.” It makes a claim about the state of both the fruit and the tree, which can be verified by reality. CONTINUE READING…