Science Questions

Why do people get rude in cars?

Mon, 3rd Oct 2016

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Alicia asked:

Why otherwise nice people become mental when driving a car?"


Smart carWe put Alicia's question to neuroscientists Heidi Solberg ōkland... 

Heidi - So there are kind of maybe three main reasons why people get angry more often when theyíre driving. One is that if you imagine driving somewhere, your one your way to some appointment and you have a goal - you're going somewhere. So anything thatís going to come in your way is going to be obstructing you to getting to that goal where you want to be. So just that is something that will start to annoy people.

Chris - People are really, really quite nasty in certain circumstances but then in real life - I use that phrase to mean when theyíre not behind the wheel - theyíre really nice people, so why do they go sort of Jekyll and Hyde like that?

Heidi - There are two reasons maybe. One is that comparing driving a car to walking on a pavement for instance, and thereís lots of people. When youíre just walking around and someone is cutting off, you donít really start shouting at those people because then that means you actually have to face them.

Chris - Especially if theyíre bigger than you!

Heidi - Yes. Whereas when youíre in a car, you donít really see them, so thatís one thing. Or you might see them but they might just be passing by and you can shout at them but you donít get any conversation.

Chris - Youíre shouting. Do you shout at people behind the wheel?

Heidi - I donít tend to do so but I have a good friend who tends to do it.

Chris - Are you a shouty person Judith?

Judith - Not as much as my husband is.

Heidi - So you donít really get any chance to get a reaction from anyone so you can just go on and be really angry at them.

Chris - I feel like itís a self-fulfilling prophecy because there's nothing there to abate your excitement. You just keep getting more and more riled about it because they canít even explain that they weren't really trying to wind you up, it just sort of accidently happened.

Heidi - Exactly. And the other thing is that you sort of get a bit more anonymous, I guess. Itís a bit like commenting on the web orÖ

Chris - Like social media trawling?

Heidi - Yes. So itís kind of, maybe, something along the same lines, yes.



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