If you’re regularly out on the road, you’ll already be well acquainted with the white lines in the center of the highway. But here’s something interesting to consider. While we may all know what they’re for, how we behave around the dashes and perceive them may actually reveal a lot about us.
Who’d have thought that something as innocuous as a painted line could hold so much meaning? Well, one man has taken a real interest in this topic down the years. And he has paid close attention to how people look at the dashes on the road.
His name is Dennis Shaffer, and he works at The Ohio State University as a program coordinator and associate professor of psychology. But before he moved into the world of teaching, Shaffer had already started to note the interesting perception surrounding the white lines.
In fact, Shaffer’s fascination dated back to his own time as a student at Kent State University. The future teacher apparently spent his time analyzing how drivers see the road dashes and began studying the subject in 1995. Yet his work didn’t conclude when he eventually said goodbye to college life as a postgraduate.
Shaffer carried his interest over when he worked at Arizona State University – before moving on to the college in Ohio. But what analysis was the expert conducting throughout those years? Well, part of it was pretty simple. All he needed was a tape measure!
Shaffer recorded the measurements of white lines across numerous highways near the universities. Though he didn’t do it alone, as some of his co-workers lent a hand, too. On that note, the academic felt compelled to author a project on the subject, and it would go on to appear in the Perception & Psychophysics publication in 2009.
Over the course of the project, Shaffer and his two workmates Windy Roy and Andrew Maynor recruited roughly 400 test subjects from the universities. Then, they ran three different procedures on the students. The goal was apparently to see how the group perceived the size of the white lines on the road.
But not even Shaffer could’ve predicted the results at the end. You see, the vast majority of the students who took part all stated that the dashes were a certain size. Here’s the thing, though – they were way off. Incredibly, they’d underestimated the true measurement by a significant margin.
So what does that mean, and why is it important? Well, Shaffer’s results suggested that the miscalculation said a lot about the students’ mindset. And by extension, it could be just as revealing for us, too. After all, how long would you say that the white lines really are off the top of your head?
Now you might be able to see why Shaffer became so interested in this topic. Then again, we can’t help but ask: are there any other road-related misjudgements or actions that disclose more about a person? Or is the white line discovery just an anomaly?
It’s pretty intriguing, and one online user shared their thoughts on the subject of drifting. Yes, a person on Reddit suggested that the aforementioned action could be a sign of impatience. To back that up, they recalled some examples from their time on the road.
The user wrote, “If [a] car appears to be drifting into the front of my car, I slow down a bit to allow them entry. More often than not I find myself in this predicament when there’s a traffic jam, and motorists are looking for every possible chance to get out of the slowest-moving lane.”
But drifting could also tie into a different action that leaves drivers just as angry. Of course, we’re referring to road hogging. This maneuver is essentially a form of obstruction, as motorists block their lanes by traveling at a slower speed than those behind them. And that’s not the worst of it.
You see, road hogs have a tendency to drift into other lanes as well, which obviously affects the cars next to them. Don’t they notice the white lines? They’re there for a reason! Anyway, it’s believed that motorists of such as these harbor a form of passive aggressiveness in their personality, according to the Inc. website.
There are also a few other road-related examples that could shed some light on your attitude. If you don’t bring your vehicle to a complete halt when you come across a stop sign, for instance, that might mean that you’re careless with certain jobs. Inc. notes that there’s also a possibility you take shortcuts.
Rolling stops don’t seem so innocuous now, do they?! Meanwhile, those who often honk their car horns at their fellow motorists could be quick to share scathing judgements at home or work. But at the same time, they hate to be on the other side of it. We all know someone like that, right?
And the connections don’t end there, either. Tailgating is another action that might be more revealing than you’d first think. Then again, if you really analyze the situation, it adds up. According to Inc., drivers who get too close to the cars ahead of them could have a mundane personality.
You know the type: individuals who can’t see the numerous outcomes of their actions. As a result of that, they’re shocked when one of the aforementioned consequences comes to light. One example could be ramming into the back of a car they’ve been tailgating as the other driver quickly slams on the brakes.
How about obscene gestures, though? Surely they’d be included here, too? Well, they certainly are! Drivers with a tendency to flip the bird might be harboring pent-up feelings of anger and exasperation. Inc. notes that there’s also a possibility that they speak malicious words behind people’s backs in the workplace.
By now, you’re probably curious as to what our perceptions of the white lines says about us. How does it line up with everything that we’ve just discussed? Well, that brings us back to Dennis Shaffer’s project from earlier. What did he ask the students to do in order to get his intriguing results?
As we mentioned before, the evaluation itself was broken into three separate phases. The opening stage was a simple written exam which quizzed the students on the size of the highway dashes. Alongside that, they were requested to estimate the measurement of the gap between the lines, too. Then, things got more practical.
The following stage put the students’ eyes to the test, as Shaffer and his colleagues grabbed some sheets of paper. Now, these blank pages mirrored the precise measurement of the white lines – not the previous estimations. They then stuck them to the floor and positioned their subjects in specific spots.
Some of the students were 60 feet away from the paper, while others found themselves further back at 120 feet. Wherever they were, though, the group had to stare at the sheets through a certain visual slant. And they were tasked to position their eyes as if riding in a vehicle on the highway.
After that, the final test involved the real thing. The students jumped into a vehicle with Shaffer or one of his colleagues and journeyed along a highway. During each trip, the subjects were tasked with staring at the dashes and gaps, while the car moved at a speed of 25 or 60 miles-per-hour.
So, you can’t accuse Shaffer of not being thorough with the testing! And that brings us on to the big question – what were the students’ estimates? As we touched upon earlier, the vast majority reached the same figure. They thought that the white lines were only two feet in size, according to Ohio State News.
As for the gaps, the students also believed that the measurement was just two feet. What would you say? Are you in that same ballpark as well? Surprisingly, the numbers stayed consistent throughout the experiment, which suggests that the group were pretty convinced. Yet how far out were they in reality?
In truth, the white lines are actually ten feet, while the gaps are three times longer. That’s a massive disparity, right? Shaffer was quite shocked himself, as he explained to Ohio State News. According to the academic, the huge misjudgement could say a lot about a person’s driving.
Shaffer told the website, “We were surprised, first, that people’s estimates were so far off, and second, that there was so little variability. This means that to most people, 40 feet looks like a lot less than 40 feet when they’re on the road. People cover more ground than they think in a given period of time, so they’re probably underestimating their speed.”
Yet that’s not the craziest part. Given the years that Shaffer spent analyzing this topic, certain changes were implemented along the way. For example, the white lines were 15 feet before the authorities altered the size. Despite being larger, though, people still couldn’t judge their true size.
Shaffer continued, “It was ridiculous. We talked to different people in different states, over different years, and whether the lines were 15 feet or ten feet, people still estimated them to be two feet.” What a head-scratcher! Anyway, if you’re in that group, there’s a good chance that you drive faster than you should.
But why did so many people get the estimates badly wrong? Surely it can’t be a coincidence? To answer that, a certain theory was put forward. And it sounds quite interesting. As per this suggestion, drivers focus on dashes in the distance instead of those that are closer to them.
Of course, the lines will appear to be a lot smaller from further away. The theory, therefore, is that drivers see them as two feet and subconsciously can’t let go of the suggestion. This could also tie in with a notion that’s emerged within science circles called “size constancy.”
Size constancy describes how the human brain registers the measurement of particular items. Then, regardless of where they’re positioned around a space, the vital organ can’t distinguish them as any bigger or smaller. And to back up the idea, a group of researchers creating a report for Sage Journals put this to the test in 2014 with remarkable results.
The analysts brought together some test subjects and asked them to place their “dominant hand” under a magnifying device. This was done on five separate occasions, with the setting at less than 20 percent. Meanwhile, different objects were put in the same position as well – like their feet or a pen.
Incredibly, though, lots of test subjects insisted that their dominant hand didn’t look too much bigger when compared to the different items. To go into more detail, one of the project’s authors spoke to the Association for Psychological Science website in September 2014. Her name is Sally Linkenauger, and she works as a senior lecturer at Lancaster University in the U.K.
Linkenauger explained, “In most cases, individuals knew that their dominant hand was under the same degree of magnification as another’s hands, feet, and objects. Yet they persisted to report that what they experienced was a smaller degree of magnification for their dominant hand.”
So, is there a similar connection between size constancy and the white lines? Shaffer certainly thought so. He told the Ohio State University website, “That seems to be the case for lines on the road, because even if you know how long they are, they still look two feet. To have a correct perception of the size of an object, you have to be familiar with the object in advance.”
“And that’s the clincher,” Shaffer added. “Very few people are familiar with the size of a line on the road in advance.” Yet we’ve still got one lingering question. Why were the estimated figures in the project so unwavering throughout the three tests?
Well, Shaffer explained that some people might discern geometrical designs differently than others. When it comes to geometry, the individuals who map out buildings and highways utilize the “Euclidean” arrangement. If the moniker sounds familiar, that’s because it’s named after Euclid – the math whizz from ancient Greece.
Anyway, Euclid drew up the angles and dashes that geometrists rely on today. Yet the experiment strongly hinted that the students who saw the white lines as two feet use “non-Euclidean” geometry. It’s a fascinating idea, right? Whatever the answer is, though, just remember this: if your perception is similar, watch your speed!