Academics have suggested the word “cyclist” has become too associated with negativity and needs to be banned so people who ride bikes can be considered human.
A new study from researchers at the Queensland University of Technology and Monash University has found a link between the dehumanisation of cyclists and acts of aggression towards them.
The study found more than half of drivers think cyclists are not completely human, with the academics having to develop a specific insect-to-human scale because respondents often described cyclists as “cockroaches”.
The study, which questioned 442 cyclists and non-cyclists from Victoria, NSW and Queensland, looked at the psychology of drivers and how cyclists were perceived as a group.
Participants admitted to deliberate acts of aggression against cyclists. More than one in 10 people have deliberately driven closer to a bike rider, 17 per cent said they had used their car to deliberately block a cyclist, 11 per cent had deliberately driven their car close to a cyclist and 9 per cent had used their car to cut off a cyclist.
Others anecdotally admitted to shouting or throwing things at riders.
The study is the first of its kind to look at dehumanisation of cyclists — a phenomenon generally studied in relation to ethnic minorities.
During the study, the researchers developed two different evolutionary scales — one from ape to human and one from insect to human — because of the many “cockroach” and “mosquito” slurs they heard from respondents describing cyclists.
Fifty-five per cent of non-cyclists, using the ape and insect scale, described cyclists as being not completely human. Thirty per cent of cyclists also described themselves as being less than human, using the scale.
The researchers said there was a connection between dehumanisation of cyclists and escalating aggression on the road.
“When you don’t think someone is ‘fully’ human, it’s easier to justify hatred or aggression towards them. This can set up an escalating cycle of resentment,” Dr Alexa Delbosc, senior lecturer in the Institute of Transport Studies at Monash University said.
“If cyclists feel dehumanised by other road users, they may be more likely to act out against motorists, feeding into a self-fulfilling prophecy that further fuels dehumanisation against them.
“Ultimately, we want to understand this process so we can do a better job at putting a human face to people who ride bikes, so that hopefully we can help put a stop to the abuse.”
The paper’s co-author said changing the language around people who rode bikes could be the answer to reducing road-rage incidents between drivers and cyclists.
“The bigger issue is that significant numbers of both groups rank cyclists as not 100 per cent human,” CARRS-Q Centre director Professor Narelle Haworth said.
“Amongst people who ride, amongst people who don’t ride, there is still people who think that cyclists aren’t fully human.
“The dehumanisation scale is associated with the self-reporting of direct aggression.
“Using your car to deliberately block a cyclist, using your car to deliberately cut off a cyclist, throwing an object at a cyclist — these acts of direct aggression are dangerous.
“Let’s talk about people who ride bikes rather than cyclists because that’s the first step towards getting rid of this dehumanisation.”