The Psychology of Electric Car Range Anxiety: Conclusion


Stephanie Lay

Stephanie Lay is a post-graduate psychology researcher at the Open University. She doesn’t drive but has had the pleasure of being a passenger in the Magic Flying Leaf for the last three years. She works full-time for the Open University and studies part-time working on a thesis about the uncanny valley phenomenon: she spends most of her free time studying near-human faces and researching why they can be unsettling and creepy. Her research page can be found at the Uncanny Valley Open University siteShe gives us a psychological look at range anxiety. She has already talked about her personal experiencesthe human factor and the car’s role. Today she gives us her conclusion.

What are your opinions of range anxiety?

What are your opinions of range anxiety?

The evidence suggests that range anxiety will remain a concern for the driver for as long as there is a mismatch between the desire or expectation to travel long distances and the ability of EVs to do so. As the current benchmark for drivers is comparing their EV to the range of a conventionally fuelled vehicle, it may be inevitable that a smaller range is seen as a ‘loss’ where the only option for framing range is as neutral or negative.

Range anxiety appears to be a genuine issue, so where does the responsibility for tackling it lie? Improved methods of communicating information about remaining range would help alleviate range anxiety, but changes in this area are likely to be incremental rather than revolutionary. Input from cognitive psychologists in designing interfaces to make the best use of the limited attention available to a driver would be valuable in creating systems that are truly useful to in alleviating anxiety.

On a very basic level, manufacturers should be responsible for to giving realistic estimates to potential buyers: they have a legal obligation to do this, of course, but helping buyers to understand what might be a realistic range for them would also mean new EV drivers were more likely to be satisfied with their purchase and translate to long-term EV enthusiasts and advocates.

Franke’s 2013 study emphasised how prior knowledge was positively related to competent range and suggested that buyers should be given enough background information when considering their purchase to allow them to self-regulate their driving behaviour and get the most out of their new vehicle. They also found that there was a positive effect of daily practice on comfortable range and competent range, so actively promoting regular EV driving practice via user instructions and feedback may help drivers to expand their comfortable range zone and achieve maximum performance.

Are you a suitable EV owner? Maybe tests need to be devised to help you decide?

Are you a suitable EV owner? Maybe tests need to be devised to help you decide?

One final area for consideration may be whether it is desirable to design an ‘EV suitability’ personality test for potential buyers. This would certainly be possible: according to Franke’s findings, personality attributes such as impulsivity, tolerance of ambiguity and locus of control could be used to define a measure indicating the type of additional support that could be needed for an individual in achieving the highest comfortable range possible.

All things considered, this is still a new field and after researching the studies detailed above, I’m now interested in various routes for further research: a very recent study by Nicolette Caperello, Jennifer Hageman and Kenneth Kurani found that there were distinct male and female driving patterns when using EVs. Gender differences in driving behaviours have been well observed in the conventional literature but this has not been studied in detail in the EV realm to date and Caparello et al have proposed a fascinating area for further enquiry.

Open for comments

Having considered current evidence in this area, this is an ‘over to you’ moment – please use the comments and let me know whether you feel that the academic studies are correct and range anxiety is a valid phenomenon, and if so, do the explanations resonate with you? Alternatively, do you think that advances in battery technology will soon relegate range anxiety to the status of a vanishing issue? I.e. Eventually everyone will either be able to afford a Tesla or the other manufacturers will find a way to achieve a 200+ EV and range anxiety will cease to exist…

Are we worrying too much about people worrying too much about how far they can go?

Five tips to alleviate range anxiety: heuristic suggestions grounded in psychological research

Make peace with range anxiety, and learn to love trip planning.

Make peace with range anxiety, and learn to love trip planning.

  1. Rein back your impulsivity.
  2. Learn to love planning.
  3. Are you highly conscientious and do you have a strong concern for others? You’ll be fine.
  4. Stick with it. Range anxiety seems to decrease over time.
  5. Learn to be happy with ambiguity: have you done five impossible things before breakfast? Well done! You’re well set up for your electric commute!

Bibliography for all posts

  • Bunzeck, I., Feenstra, C. F. J., & Paukovic, M. (2011). Preferences of potential users of electric cars related to charging – a survey in 8 EU countries (pp. 1–37).
  • Caperello, N. (2014). Engendering the Future of Electric Vehicles: Conversations with Men and Women. Institute of Transport Studies, University of California (pp. 1–18).
  • Egbue, O., & Long, S. (2012). Barriers to widespread adoption of electric vehicles: an analysis of consumer attitudes and perceptions. Energy Policy, 48(C), 717–729. doi:10.1016/j.enpol.2012.06.009
  • Franke, T., & Krems, J. F. (2013a). Interacting with limited mobility resources: Psychological range levels in electric vehicle use. Transportation Research Part A, 48(C), 109–122. doi:10.1016/j.tra.2012.10.010
  • Franke, T., & Krems, J. F. (2013b). What drives range preferences in electric vehicle users? Transport Policy, 30(C), 56–62. doi:10.1016/j.tranpol.2013.07.005
  • Franke, T., Neumann, I., Bühler, F., Cocron, P., & Krems, J. F. (2011). Experiencing Range in an Electric Vehicle: Understanding Psychological Barriers. Applied Psychology, 61(3), 368–391. doi:10.1111/j.1464-0597.2011.00474.x
  • Skippon, S., & Garwood, M. (2011). Responses to battery electric vehicles: UK consumer attitudes and attributions of symbolic meaning following direct experience to reduce psychological distance. Transportation Research Part D, 16(7), 525–531. doi:10.1016/j.trd.2011.05.005

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