A Drive to the Mall: Psychologically
By: Emily Quinn


Alice is getting ready to drive to the mall to meet some of her friends (establishing and enforcing stage three of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs) one afternoon, when she realizes she has misplaced her keys. However, she use a heuristic of thinking backwards to remember where she had them last. At last she gets in her car and fastens her seatbelt because she knows otherwise her car will make an obnoxious ringing noise. Her action demonstrates operant conditioning using negative reinforcement. Alice then put the keys in the ignition without even having to look due to her mental image of that space in her car. Here cerebellum allows her to press the gas as she reverses to leave without having to think about it. The cerebral cortex allows for her to think, hear and see all around her while she drives. She knows that empiricism is the real reason she has a high driving intelligence since she has a decent amount of experience.


Alice must decide which route to take to the mall using recall and the multiple approach-avoidance conflict. One way is slower but with less traffic lights while the other is faster but will be more crowded. She have a basic script of what will happen as she drives: turn, speed up/slow down, stop at red lights/stop signs, etc. She drives on the right side of the road, separated between the left by a dotted line on the ground, which everyone sees as one line due to Gestalt’s Law of Continuity. Alice’s air conditioner is broke and it’s getting warm in her car so she rolls the window down, but the noise is so loud and a bit annoying at first but after a while sensory adaptation occurs and she is no longer bothered by it. On the side of the road, Alice sees her friend Melissa and acts with prosocial behavior in stopping to see if she needs help. Melissa asks Alice if she knows what the suspension is on a car and she pulls the definition from her semantic memory. Melissa asks Alice to repeat her license plate number to her so Alice uses chunking to remember the number. Melissa is stranded here, but Alice’s id tells her to just go to the mall since she’s in a rush and her friend will find another way home and her superego tells her to take her friend home and stay with her for the rest of they day. Alice’s ego rationally makes the decision to take her friend home and just get to the mall a little late and maybe stay later.

Alice gets back on to a long stretch of open road. She can perceive it’s length because distance cues, though such as trees and guard rails. Up ahead, she sees a police officer and immediately slows down. First of all she’s extrinsically motivated to slow down because her parents have told her that if she doesn’t get pulled over then they will buy her gas! However she’s intrinsically motivated as well because she has a need for achievement to have a spotless driving record. Also, since there are many drivers around her and they all slow down, conformity kicks in and she slows down as well. She also needs to turn down her music but just enough that it will cross the police officer’s just noticeable difference. She forgets to speed back up after passing the cop so when she hears someone honk, her perceptual set tells her they were honking at her, when they actually didn’t even mean to honk the horn.

While sitting at an intersection, Alice witnesses an accident and assumes that the people involved must be terrible drivers, she’s committing the fundamental attribution error and not realizing that their car’s breaks weren’t working properly. Just then she sees someone swerving towards her, which activates her sympathetic nervous system, allowing her to quickly get out of the way. Situations like that seem to always happen to Alice, causing her to have a bit of anxiety about driving.

Alice experiences cognitive dissonance while driving and texting. She understands that it’s illegal and yet does it anyway, justifying by saying she has to let her mom know where she is. She realizes it’s almost twelve o’ clock and according to her circadian rhythm, she always use the bathroom at this time so she makes a quick put stop. She’s almost to the mall, which is fairly new. Proactive interference seems to get in the way though because she seems to have taken the street that would lead you to where the old mall was, not the new one. She has hindsight bias by telling herself that she knew it was the wrong street all along and she was going to take the right street, when in reality she just made a mistake. Once she gets to the right mall she chooses a parking spot further back so that the ones in the front can be used for elderly or disabled people, a common social norm. Alice’s trip to the mall had more connections to psychology then she will ever realize!!