Taking-Risks While Driving: Are there Sex Differences

Shelia M. Kennison, Oklahoma State University
Author Profile
This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project


In this laboratory exercise, students carry out a naturalistic observation study in order to test the hypothesis that there are sex differences in risk-taking. The students are asked to consider whether men and women might differ in the frequency with which they engage in this risky behavior. The laboratory instructor explains that the question can be answered empirically using a naturalistic observation. The students are then asked to develop an operational definition of "using a cell phone while driving." A very strict set of guidelines are developed so that students will be able to make naturalistic observations without much doubt about whether the observed event counts or does not count as the target event. Students then leave the lab in pairs and observe slow-moving traffic on and around campus. The observations are carried out for 30 minutes. At the next laboratory session, they analyze the data using the Chi-Square Test of Independence and learn how to report the statistic and summary data table in APA style.

For the following laboratory meeting, students prepare a research report using APA style. In doing so, they prepare a brief literature review, method section, results section, brief general discussion, reference list, and at least one table or figure.

Learning Goals

Students should learn how to conduct a naturalistic observation, how to create good operational definitions, how to make and to record observations in the field, how to conduct a chi-square test of independence, and how to prepare a research report in APA style.

Context for Use

The exercise can be very easily adapted to a variety of teaching situations. The naturalistic observation is a versatile methodology that can be used for any discipline. The hypothesis that is tested can be easily changed.

The exercise can be carried out across two class meetings with 30-50 minutes or so in each class. The exercise could be used for large classes if the instructor has assistance quickly pooling the data in time for the next class. However, it is also not necessary that the second discussion of the data occur at the next course.

Description and Teaching Materials

There are no materials needed beyond a notebook and pencil/pen. The instructor will also need a table of significance for chi-squre values.

Teaching Notes and Tips

In terms of safety, students should be directed to observe traffic in the day time and in locations with driving speeds that are 25 mph or less. Students should stand on the sidewalk and not stand in the street. If the exercise is carried out in an area with a concern of crime, students can be instructed to keep to areas with close access to call boxes to campus security, etc.


Instructors may use the research report as one measure of learning. It is also feasible to use a pre-test/post-test assessment of learning. The pre-test and post-test would assess knowledge of naturalistic observations, creating operational definitions, carrying out chi-square test of independence, and preparing an APA style research report.