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Knowing a few things about human psychology can help us avoid some of the thousands of accidents that injure or kill children around the world every year.

Hosted by: Brit Garner
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Sources:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3499858/
https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2019/08/deadly-childhood-accidents
https://academic.oup.com/jpepsy/article/40/2/238/2951808
https://www.poison.org/poison-statistics-national-data-from-2015
https://spssi.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1540-4560.1987.tb01298.x

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https://www.istockphoto.com/vector/the-car-seat-which-protects-a-child-isofix-gm1086146482-291422120
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https://www.flickr.com/photos/fernando/2620041065/in/photostream/
https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/bubble-football-game-gm612630990-105566551
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https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/close-up-of-child-with-reward-chart-gm970998172-264510727
https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/bottle-fresh-pressed-orange-juice-gm185004446-18881273
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https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/set-of-detergent-bottles-and-containers-cleaning-and-washing-supplies-gm1038180774-277894453
https://www.istockphoto.com/photo/row-of-water-bottles-bottles-with-blue-caps-for-drinking-water-gm1095282602-293996911
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Thanks to Dashlane for sponsoring this episode.

Go to dashlane.com/scishowpsych to learn more about Dashlane’s Internet privacy and security features. [♩INTRO]. Every year, accidents injure or kill thousands of children around the world.

But most of these accidents aren’t really accidents. They’re unintentional, sure, but they’re not random, unpredictable events. Many of them are rooted in basic human behavior and that means there’s a silver lining here.

Because if accidents are caused by basic human stuff, that means you don’t always need fancy technologies to keep kids safe. Instead, a little Psych 101 knowledge can go a long way. This isn’t some off-the-wall idea, either.

It’s been done before… and it’s worked. Like, in the 1980s, researchers tapped into our love of rewards to try and keep kids safe on the road. At the time, parents weren’t really putting their kids in car or booster seats, often claiming it was uncomfortable for their children, too expensive, or just unnecessary.

And as a result, thousands of kids were being needlessly injured or killed in car crashes. It was enough of a problem that in 1984, researchers decided to tackle it with some basic psychology. At two daycare centers, they gave parents tickets for a lottery where they could win prizes if their kids arrived in car seats.

At another two, they gave the incentive to the kids themselves awarding them stickers if they arrived in car seats. The reasoning behind this was pretty simple: Humans love rewards. When we get one, our brains release all kinds of chemicals that make us feel good and drive us to repeat behaviors so maybe it’s no surprise that this approach worked really well.

At one daycare, car seat use jumped from forty-nine to eighty percent. And at another, it rose from twenty-three to sixty-three percent. After the reward system was taken away, some people gradually returned to old habits, but use never dropped as low as it had been before the experiment.

This tells us that simple reward systems can get people to adopt safer habits, and it’s still hugely relevant today. Car accidents are the leading cause of preventable deaths in children because many people still don’t use car seats properly. So maybe what we need is more stickers.

Reward-based systems aren’t always ideal, though, because sometimes you don’t get a second chance at preventing an accident. A major example of this is accidental poisoning, which is the number-five cause of death among children in the US. But this is often preventable, if you know about the associations we form early in life.

Even before we learn to read labels, we quickly develop instincts about what’s edible and what’s not. For instance, many kids learn that juice comes from a clear, round bottle, but antiseptic for their scrapes comes from a dark, square one. So dark bottle equals “not food.” These associations are called affordances, and psychologists have found that understanding them may prevent accidental poisonings.

In a 2015 study, they showed bottles to sixty-eight toddlers between one-and-a-half and two-and-a-half years old, then asked them which ones were drinkable. The bottles had different transparencies, colors, and shapes; used different labeling methods; and were made of different materials. They also contained various liquids, ranging from juice to torch fuel to paint thinner.

The researchers found that children generally considered transparent, rounded bottles safe to drink because they looked like juice containers. That was especially true for torch fuel bottles, which also had juice-colored fluid inside. This was a big red flag, and after the research was published, torch fuel companies started changing the way they bottled their products so kids would be less likely to drink them.

Of course, you can apply this basic psychology at home, too. If you have children in your home, you can keep them safer by storing things like cleaners and excess car fluids in proper containers, rather than in something like an old milk jug or soda bottle. Research gives us a lot of ways to protect kids from predictable accidents.

But the answer to how to keep them safe is not always “reduce risks.” Sometimes, it has to do with how children experience risks themselves. Research shows that kids who don’t get the chance to take risks while they play don’t learn how to cope with situations that scare them. But the ones who do face risks, like heights or high speeds, are more likely to learn how to avoid hurting themselves.

So, as tempting as it is to bubble-wrap kids, it’s okay for them to get a little scratched up sometimes. The team behind this work suggested that play spaces should be only “as safe as necessary,” not as “safe as possible.” And as an example of what this could look like, they pointed to something called an “adventure playground.” It’s a type of playground inspired by junkyards, and is full of things like loose tires, rope, and pieces of wood. Kids can also build things with materials like dirt, sand, and water.

The point is to let them be creative. Some research has found that, even though they encounter more risks, like playing on things they could fall off, children end up getting injured less than they do on typical playgrounds. The study suggests that if they’re aware of their own limits and the fact that they need to be on the lookout for risks, they’re less likely to get hurt, even if there are more chances to.

Protecting kids from accidents is not always intuitive especially when they’re fearless little humans who just want to explore the world. But psychology has a lot of tools to figure out how people’s behavior leads to unintentional injury or death, and the better we understand them, the better we can keep our kids safe. Speaking of keeping things safe, this episode of SciShow is sponsored by Dashlane!

Dashlane is a desktop and mobile app designed to make your digital life simpler and safer. It features a password manager, a virtual private network, and dark web monitoring. They also decrypt your information locally on your device, which means their servers only store jumbled, encrypted noise that not even Dashlane can access without your Master Password.

So even if they were to get hacked, your information would be safe. Dashlane is a good way you can help keep your information safe online, and if you want to check it out, you can go to dashlane.com/scishowpsych to try it for free or use the promo code “scishowpsych” for ten percent off Dashlane Premium. [♩OUTRO].