Drivers with low or unstable self-esteem often behave aggressively on the road. Anger is also more common in drivers who do not use bikes or walk on foot – said psychologist Dr. Aneta Przepiórka in an interview with PAP.
Cutting in, driving bumper to bumper, blinding with lights, honking, threats, curses, arguments on the side of the road or even extreme cases of road rage – these are some examples of how drivers can show anger and aggression on the road. “Aggressive behaviour on the road is intentional and aimed to inflict harm to another user of the road” – said in an interview with PAP Dr. Aneta Przepiórka of the Department of Psychology of Emotions and Motivation, John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin. In her research – conducted with Dr. Agata Błachnio – she is looking for personality and individual factors that contribute to higher levels of aggression among motorists.
“Our research shows that aggressive behaviour on the road is more common in drivers who have a low or unstable self-esteem, narcissists” – said Dr. Przepiórka. She added that narcissism manifests itself, among others, in self-sensitivity and being more sensitive to the opinions of others. She noted that if someone acts differently than it would suit a narcissist, the narcissist feels threatened and reacts aggressively. “Such people also believe that someone deliberately makes their driving difficult. Narcissists protect themselves by engaging in risky and aggressive behaviour” – commented the psychologist.
The research results show that the drivers who move not only by car, but also use bikes or walk on foot, are less aggressive. “For motorists who move only by car it is harder to accept the point of view of another road user – a pedestrian or cyclist” – explained the scientist.
She admitted that aggression on the road is a little different than usual aggression. “It turns out that the traffic situation causes behaviour, which usually does not occur. It is easier for drivers in their cars to be aggressive because of anonymity, a high degree impersonalisation. Because of that, it is easier to burst out” – concluded the researcher.
“Besides, in daily contact we can quickly see that our behaviour begins to arouse negative emotions” – she said, and reminded that in the car the contact with other drivers is rather limited. We do not always even realize that our behaviour can arouse someone’s aggression. “Usually, when conflict is growing in a relationship with another person, we can ease the tension through facial expression, gesture. A driver in a car has fewer options in this area” – she said.
She pointed out that aggression is certainly not an optimal way of venting negative emotions. “When you are stuck in traffic and honk or shout at someone, it will not make you feel better. Besides, aggressive behaviour can lead to an aggressive response. This starts a spiral of negative emotions, and such arousal does not discharge quickly. In addition, aggressive behaviour can lead to collisions or accidents” – she noted.
In dealing with tension on the road – according to the psychologist – education is especially helpful, showing that not every behaviour of others is directed against us. “The fact that someone is in the wrong lane may result not from his bad intentions, but, for example, from the fact that he got lost or missed his turn. We must realize that the others make mistakes. It’s about looking at the situation from another person’s perspective. Drivers often lack the ability to do that. They often think that the inappropriate behaviour of another driver is aimed at them” – noted the researcher.
The psychologist stressed that it is also important to manage time well, anticipate, leave early enough. “Time pressure is known to be one of the factors that trigger aggressive behaviour on the road. When we get stuck in traffic, we get upset, we react with anger. Anticipate difficulties – it’s a very simple advice, but not always taken into account” – she pointed out.