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Blame it on dopamine: Here's why people text and drive despite knowing risks involved

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Almost everybody knows that texting while driving is not a good idea. Several celebrities have already signed up for public awareness campaigns that look to eliminate the dangerous habit, with over 40 states already setting laws for banning the practice.

A new study with over 1,000 drivers as respondents revealed that 98 percent believe that it is dangerous to be texting while driving. However, a surprisingly high 74 percent are not able to avoid doing it.

Of the respondents, 43 percent said that they text while driving because they wanted to remain connected with their loved ones or with work, and 30 percent said that they do so because it is out of habit as they are used to being connected with their phone.

"There's a huge discrepancy between attitude and behavior," said University of Connecticut Medical School professor David Greenfield, the leader of the study.

According to Greenfield, there is a great divide between what people believe and what people actually do, as demonstrated by the study.

Greenfield explains that texting while driving is similar in appeal to gambling, with both habits being very hard for some people to overcome.

When a text message is received by a driver's phone, the brain releases a hormone name dopamine that causes the feeling of excitement. Once the driver takes a look at the message and sees that the contents are positive, the brain releases even more dopamine.

The compulsion of texting while driving could take several years to be overcome for those that are deep into the habit, resembling the challenge of drivers overcoming the similarly dangerous practice of drunk driving.

Greenfield adds that for people to begin correcting the habit of texting while driving, they need to first admit that they are at fault for it. However, this is something that people are avoiding.

While there have been multiple campaigns released over traditional media and the Internet to raise public awareness against the dangerous practice, the effectiveness of getting the message across remains unmeasured and unclear. Given the small sample size included in the study, however, it seems that the problem is not informing the public of the dangers of texting while driving, but rather it is getting drivers to admit their faults and begin their recovery from the compulsion.

AT&T funded the study by Greenfield and his team, which had 1,004 respondents answer a telephone survey. The qualifications for the respondents are that they should be between 16 years old and 65 years old, own a mobile phone, text at least once per day and drive almost every day.

The study is part of AT&T's "It Can Wait" campaign against texting while driving. The campaign also has the company release an app that turns on when the phone's user is driving over 15 miles per hour, silencing all alerts for incoming messages.

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