Effect of speed on flow and enjoyment for driving

Worldwide, road traffic injuries are the eighth highest cause of death, and campaigns targeting excessive speed are a common approach to tackling this issue. Yet one element missing from these campaigns is acknowledgment that speed is inherently enjoyable.

This study of UK road users was designed to assess whether flow theory predicts the enjoyment of the sensation of speed in the contexts of road driving and riding a rollercoaster. In a repeated measures experimental design participants viewed five first-person videos from a car-driver perspective under the conditions: congested traffic, 20 mph, 25 mph, 30 mph, 35 mph. As a counterpoint to road driving, comprising an experience designed for enjoyment of rapid speed, they also viewed three rollercoaster videos under the conditions: 0.5x normal speed, normal speed and 1.5x normal speed. Participants rated experience of flow and enjoyment after each video.

Flow and enjoyment ratings were increased at faster speeds compared with slower speeds for the road and rollercoaster contexts. Sensation seeking moderated flow scores for road driving such that higher sensation seekers rated higher levels of flow at 20-35 mph, but not in congestion, compared with lower sensation seekers. Findings are consistent with a flow explanation of speeding, such that increased speed leads to increased flow experience. Sensation seekers may be more prone to such motivation to speed, although further research is needed to verify this. We recommend for enjoyment and flow to be considered in anti-speeding campaigns and for driving to be re-designed to facilitate flow at slower speeds.


Dr Richard Stephens, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, Keele University

Richard Stephens has been a psychologist for over 20 years and has developed an international reputation for research on emotional language. His research on swearing and pain using ice water is very well known having been portrayed numerous times in the media.

Richard is passionately interested in science communication and has achieved some notable successes in that arena including the 2017 British Psychological Society Book of the Year Award (Popular Science Category) and the 2014 Wellcome Trust & Guardian Science Writing Prize. June 2015 marked the worldwide publication of his popular science book, Black Sheep The Hidden Benefits of Being Bad, to critical acclaim.

He was appointed Chair of the British Psychological Society Psychologist and Digest Editorial Advisory Committee in October 2020, having served on it since January 2017. He is also deputy chair of BPS Research Board (appointed October 2021) and a former Chair of the British Psychological Society Psychobiology Section (2013-2017).