Here’s one for the boys at Top Gear to think about – apparently having an obsessive passion for driving can predispose people towards aggression behind the wheel. The idea is that for these people, driving has become an overpowering compulsion, such that an obstacle – for example, a slow driver in front – provokes great frustration, which leads to anger, which explains why they sometimes drive right up your bumper and flash their headlights.
Frederick Philippe and his colleagues make their claims based on three studies. The first was a survey of 133 undergrad drivers. Those who scored highly on obsessive passion for driving (e.g. agreeing with statements like ‘I have difficulty controlling my urge to drive’) also tended to score highly on driving aggression (e.g. ‘I speed up to frustrate another driver’). By contrast, ‘harmonious passion’, as indicated by agreement with statements like ‘driving is in harmony with other activities in my life’ was not linked with increased driving aggression.
A second study replicated these findings but with a sample of 458 middle-aged drivers, and with the addition of a question about a recent driving incident. Obsessive passion was again linked with aggression.
Most convincing is the third study involving a driving stimulator. Forty-four male car fanatics were tricked into thinking they were completing the task with another participant in another car. In reality the behaviour of the other driver was fixed such that he got in the participant’s way on more than one occasion. Honking from the car behind helped crank up the pressure. Independent judges scored the participants’ driving for aggressiveness. Once again, participants who rated highly on obsessive, but not harmonious, passion for driving tended to drive more aggressively. Participants also completed a questionnaire about their anger during the simulated drive. Results from this suggested that obsessive driving passion led to aggressive behaviour purely because obsessive participants got more angry.
‘When obsessively passionate, the person wants to pursue activity engagement because of an internal compulsion that comes to control him or her,’ the researchers explained. ‘Within such a state, being prevented from engaging in the activity by an external agent is conducive to anger toward this agent.’
FL Philippe, RJ Vallerand, I Richer, E Vallieres, & J Bergeron (2009). Passion for Driving and Aggressive Driving Behavior: A Look at Their Relationship. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 39, 3020-3043
Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.