Wearing a helmet to stay safe is likely to increase risk taking and sensation seeking, conversely making us prone to accidents, a new study has found.
Researchers from the University of Bath in the UK measured sensation-seeking behaviour and analysed risk taking in adults aged 17-56 using a computer-based simulation.
Under the pretence that participants were taking part in an eye-tracking experiment, the researchers split 80 participants into two groups - half wore a bicycle helmet and half wore a baseball cap.
Individuals were tasked with inflating an on-screen animated balloon whilst wearing either the cap or the helmet – which they were told was just there to support an eye-tracking device.
In the experiment, each inflation of the balloon earned participants points and they were told at any stage they could 'bank' their earnings. If the balloon burst, all earnings would be lost.
Over 30 trials, the researchers tested each individual's propensity to keep on inflating and used this to measure the likelihood of them taking more risks, comparing those wearing a cap with those wearing a helmet.
"The helmet could make zero difference to the outcome, but people wearing one seemed to take more risks in what was essentially a gambling task," said Ian Walker from University of Bath.
"Replicated in real-life settings, this could mean that people using protective equipment might take risks against which that protective equipment cannot reasonably be expected to help," he said.
The findings were published in the journal Psychological Science.