Risk homeostasis theory in simulated environments
This thesis has two aims. First, it sets out to develop an alternative methodology for the investigation of risk homeostasis theory (RHT). It is argued that the current methodologies of the pseudo-experimental design and post hoc analysis of road-traffic accident data both have their limitations, and that the newer 'game' type simulation exercises are also, but for different reasons, incapable of testing RHT predictions. The alternative methodology described here is based on the simulation of physical risk with intrinsic reward rather than a 'points pay-off'. The second aim of the thesis is to examine a number of predictions made by RHT through the use of this alternative methodology. Since the pseudo-experimental design and post hoc analysis of road-traffic data are both ill-suited to the investigation of that part of RHT which deals with the role of utility in determining risk-taking behaviour in response to a change in environmental risk, and since the concept of utility is critical to RHT, the methodology reported here is applied to the specific investigation of utility. Attention too is given to the question of which behavioural pathways carry the homeostasis effect, and whether those pathways are 'local' to the nature of the change in environmental risk. It is suggested that investigating RHT through this new methodology holds a number of advantages and should be developed further in an attempt to answer the RHT question. It is suggested too that the methodology allows RHT to be seen in a psychological context, rather than the statistical context that has so far characterised its investigation. The experimental findings reported here are in support of hypotheses derived from RHT and would therefore seem to argue for the importance of the individual and collective target level of risk, as opposed to the level of environmental risk, as the major determinant of accident loss.