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The Restorative Effect of Automation – Do Automated Driving Technologies Improve Subjective Well-being?
Authors: Frederica Marlene Frank (Catholic University Eichstaett-Ingolstadt, Germany), Jens Hogreve (Catholic University Eichstaett-Ingolstadt, Germany)
The stress of commuting has serious implications on individual and public health and its reduction is of substantial interest for individuals, policy makers and society at large. Comparing stress across different travel modes, Legrain et al. (2015) found that individual driving, which requires constant focused attention, is the most stressful mode of transportation. However, when cars learn to drive autonomously, drivers will turn into passengers. In this new role, they will have the opportunity to engage in other, potentially stress relieving, tasks. In addition, it seems possible that autonomous vehicles with their isolated space and automated driving functions provide an opportunity for consumers to let go of everyday hassle. This raises the question whether traveling in automated vehicles will help reduce stress of commuting and thereby increase overall individual well-being.
To date, research on the well-being impact of travel time, especially focusing on automated vehicles, remains scarce. Based on attention restoration theory, a growing stream of research in environmental psychology provides evidence that both natural and urban environments, by providing a sense of being away, can affect individual well-being – from mitigating stress to reducing mental fatigue and restoring directed attention (Rosenbaum & Massiah, 2011; Newman & Brucks, 2016). It might be the case that automated vehicles provide similar effects. To investigate potential restorative qualities of automated vehicles, it is first necessary to explore consumers’ willingness to divert their attention from traffic to other tasks, as this is a compulsory prerequisite to fully benefit from automation. Therefore, we address the following research questions: (1) Are users willing to engage in non-driving related tasks, (2) does travelling in a fully automated vehicle affect individual well-being, and, if so, (3) which stimuli and characteristics of the in-car environment can help foster restorative effects?
We employ a multi-method approach. First, we conduct a qualitative pre-study using focus groups and problem-centered interviews to explore consumers’ willingness to turn their attention from driving to performing secondary tasks. Drawing from attention restoration theory, we investigate potential restorative qualities of automated vehicles as well as measures that can be implemented to support their stress-relieving effects by conducting experiments in a high-fidelity driving simulator. We expect this set-up to provide results with higher validity as participants will be able to experience what driving in automated vehicles might be like.
Theoretically, we advance understanding of well-being impacts of innovative travel modes. To our knowledge, this is the first study to investigate empirically the restoration and well-being effects of automated vehicles, thereby contributing to the fields of transformative service research, consumer behavior and traffic psychology. From a practical perspective, we provide indications for car manufacturers on how to support acceptance of automated vehicles by creating an environment that fosters recreation.