Dynamic Signs – Edited, and with thanks, from the Journal of Consumer Research

Researchers from the University of Michigan and Brigham Young University (BYU) have discovered a way to provide a little extra safety margin when it comes to near-accidents. They have found that people react significantly faster to warning signs that depict greater movement.

‘A sign that evokes more perceived movement increases the observer’s perception of risk, which in turn brings about earlier attention and earlier stopping,’ said Ryan Elder, a professor in BYU’s Marriott School of Management, and co-author of the study. ‘If you want to grab attention, you need signs that are more dynamic.’

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Dynamic signs are those that include images appearing to move at a higher speed. For example the cross- walk sign from the US, left above, with the figures apparently showing little speed of movement, has very little dynamism. The sign in the middle, from Poland, with people running, has more, and the one on the right is highly dynamic – the figures appear to be sprinting.

‘If the figures look [as if] they’re walking, then your brain doesn’t worry about them shooting out into the road,’ Elder said, ‘But if they’re running, then you can imagine them being in front of your car in a hurry.’

In one simulator experiment, researchers found that drivers reacted an average of 50 milliseconds faster to warning signs with higher dynamism. For a car going at 60 mph, that 50 milliseconds translated into an extra 4.4 feet travelled – which could make a difference in close shaves.