To brake or not to brake? Personality traits predict decision-making in an accident situation

Uijong Ju, June Kang, Christian Wallraven

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


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.

Original languageEnglish
Article number134
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberFEB
Publication statusPublished - 2019 Feb 5

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to explicitly acknowledge and thank Prof. Heinrich Bülthoff, director of the department of Human Perception, Cognition, and Action at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Tübingen, Germany for helping with the setup in Germany. This research was supported by the Basic Science Research Program through the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) funded by the Ministry of Science, ICT & Future planning (NRF-2013R1A1A1011, NRF-2015S1A5A8018, NRF-2017M3C7A1041824), and the Brain Korea 21plus program through the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) funded by the Ministry of Education.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Ju, Kang and Wallraven.


  • Accident situation
  • Decision-making
  • Driving
  • Personality
  • Psychopathy
  • Virtual reality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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