You or Me? Personality Traits Predict Sacrificial Decisions in an Accident Situation

Ju Uijong, June Kang, Christian Wallraven

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Emergency situations during car driving sometimes force the driver to make a sudden decision. Predicting these decisions will have important applications in updating risk analyses in insurance applications, but also can give insights for drafting autonomous vehicle guidelines. Studying such behavior in experimental settings, however, is limited by ethical issues as it would endanger peoples' lives. Here, we employed the potential of virtual reality (VR) to investigate decision-making in an extreme situation in which participants would have to sacrifice others in order to save themselves. In a VR driving simulation, participants first trained to complete a difficult course with multiple crossroads in which the wrong turn would lead the car to fall down a cliff. In the testing phase, obstacles suddenly appeared on the 'safe' turn of a crossroad: for the control group, obstacles consisted of trees, whereas for the experimental group, they were pedestrians. In both groups, drivers had to decide between falling down the cliff or colliding with the obstacles. Results showed that differences in personality traits were able to predict this decision: in the experimental group, drivers who collided with the pedestrians had significantly higher psychopathy and impulsivity traits, whereas impulsivity alone was to some degree predictive in the control group. Other factors like heart rate differences, gender, video game expertise, and driving experience were not predictive of the emergency decision in either group. Our results show that self-interest related personality traits affect decision-making when choosing between preservation of self or others in extreme situations and showcase the potential of virtual reality in studying and modeling human decision-making.

Original languageEnglish
Article number8651471
Pages (from-to)1898-1907
Number of pages10
JournalIEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2019 May

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported by the National Research Foundation of Korea, grant NRF-2017M3C7A1041824.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 IEEE.


  • Applied computing
  • Computing methodologies
  • Human-centered computing
  • Interactive games
  • Laboratory experiments
  • Psychology
  • Software and its engineering
  • Virtual reality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Signal Processing
  • Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition
  • Computer Graphics and Computer-Aided Design


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