‘The Moth to a Flame Effect’ (a.k.a ‘Perceptual Tropism’), was first formally described in 1953 by Clark, Nicholson and Graybiel in their paper ‘Fascination: a cause of pilot error‘ (for Journal of Aviation Medicine, 24(5):429-40.) Unfortunately, the paper doesn’t appear to be available online, but it describes how aircraft pilots sometimes fail to take evasive action in dangerous situations because they are concentrating too hard on a detail – one which in hindsight turns out to be insignificant. To an outside observer, it can look as if the pilot is being mysteriously drawn towards the danger.
The alarming video below, entitled: ‘The Moth Effect : Alerting Motorists to Dangerous Human Instincts‘ (courtesy PoliceUSA.com), shows how the same effect can manifest itself in car drivers . . .
Or does it?
A 2004 study by Jeffrey W. Muttart, (IMPACT, Volume: 13, Issue Number: 3) asserts that the Moth to Flame Effect is, in fact, a myth. At least in the context of drivers who appear to be inexplicably drawn towards the lights of another vehicle. See: Examining the myth of perceptual tropism or the moth-to-flame phenomena: Myth busted!