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Why do people become aggressive when driving? © Getty Images

Why do people become aggressive when driving?

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Asked by: Paul Mellor, via email

The boundaries of the situation play a part – whereas a late-running pedestrian can walk more quickly, a driver often has no choice but to follow the speed of the car in front, or to give way to other vehicles. Compounding matters is the fact that we tend to be highly territorial about our cars – they’re our own private space, and this is at odds with the fact that we’re driving them in an often extremely busy public place.


The role of territoriality in road rage was confirmed by a 2008 study at Colorado State University, which found that people who put more effort into personalising their cars (with bumper stickers and such like – a sign of territoriality) were more prone to anger at the wheel. However, the idea that driving totally transforms our characters is an exaggeration. Many studies show that it’s those who are generally more impulsive and aggressive in everyday life who are more inclined to road rage.

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Dr Christian Jarrett is a cognitive neuroscientist, science writer and author. He is the Deputy Editor of Psyche, the sister magazine to Aeon that illuminates the human condition through psychology, philosophy and the arts. Jarrett also created the British Psychological Society's Research Digest blog and was the first ever staff journalist on the Society's magazine, The Psychologist. He is author of Great Myths of The Brain and Be Who You Want: Unlocking the Science of Personality Change.


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