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On the Psychology of Road Rage

Few of us are fully immune from the effects of road rage. Psychologists are asking why driving can provoke changes in behavior—and how to avert them.
March 15, 2015, 9am PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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Rick Paulas examines the psychology of road rage, delving into why we sometimes behave very differently as drivers and pedestrians. Paulas' observations take direction from the work of Leon James, a psychologist and researcher into driving behavior at the University of Hawaii. 

Paulas writes that in modern society, driving an automobile is the most dangerous physical act many of us regularly undertake. From the article: "On the other side of that coin is the sense of safety you have inside of a car. 'It's not like waiting in the bank line, we're not exposed in the same way,' James says. You feel that you're in a protective bubble, that you're Ripley in the Power Loader at the end of Aliens. Despite all your rage, that cage of yours is keeping the other rats out. That allows us the confidence to act out a little more when confronted with annoying behaviors."

As in most other conflicts, mutual escalation is what make road rage dangerous. "It's no accident James uses the word 'duel' when discussing road rage. Duels are, by nature, the result of two people escalating, neither backing down. The first smacks the white glove and demands 'satisfaction,' and the second says, 'yeah, here it is.' While one may be the instigator, the second is perhaps more instrumental in the end result."

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Published on Friday, March 6, 2015 in Pacific Standard
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