Why do people get rude in cars?

04 October 2016

Question

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

Answer

We put Alicia's question to neuroscientists Heidi Solberg Ã~kland...

Heidi - So there are kind of maybe three main reasons why people get angry more often when they're 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 that's 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 they're not behind the wheel - they're 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 there's lots of people. When you're just walking around and someone is cutting off, you don't really start shouting at those people because then that means you actually have to face them.

Chris - Especially if they're bigger than you!

Heidi - Yes. Whereas when you're in a car, you don't really see them, so that's one thing. Or you might see them but they might just be passing by and you can shout at them but you don't get any conversation.

Chris - You're shouting. Do you shout at people behind the wheel?

Heidi - I don't 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 don't 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 it's 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 can't 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. It's a bit like commenting on the web or.

Chris - Like social media trawling?

Heidi - Yes. So it's kind of, maybe, something along the same lines, yes.

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