A Look at How our Thoughts Influence Aggressive Driving

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It has long been a mystery why aggressive and non-aggressive drivers handle hostile situations differently. Sundé Nesbit, Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Northern Iowa, recently published an article in the Journal of Transportation Research examining this very question.  Specifically, Nesbit looked at the cognitions, or thoughts, of aggressive and non-aggressive drivers.

About the article, Nesbit wrote that, “I tend to view behavior (of any kind) as a consequence of how people think about and interpret their world.” This opinion was illustrated through Nesbit’s research as she questioned and surveyed participants about their past driving experiences, and how they would react in various driving situations. It was expected that the drivers who typically expressed their anger outwardly would be more likely to be aggressive drivers. Likewise, it was expected that those who were more able to control their anger would drive more safely.

Nesbit found that the data supported her hypothesis saying that, “The majority of participants in the higher aggression group had been in at least one collision (72%) and had received a speeding ticket (63%). In comparison, participants reporting fewer aggressive acts also reported fewer collisions (49%) and speeding tickets (34%).” In addition, it was found that those who were maladaptive thinkers were more likely to be aggressive drivers than those who laid out the consequences before they acted on a situation.

Clearly, the way we think and act regarding a certain situation, such as driving, can have an impact on the consequences of the situation. Nesbit believes that, “how we think about these situations (i.e., if we think about our driving circumstances and other drivers in a hostile and retaliatory way) will increase the likelihood that we will become angry and will react in aggressive ways while driving.” This research suggests that drivers should think positively about the provocations on the road, in order to prevent accidents and speeding citations. Remember, the way you think will most likely influence the way you act.

For questions about this research, contact Dr. Sundé Nesbit at sunde.nesbit@uni.edu.

By Timothy Zietz
Tim is a Psychology and Human Biology Major with a minor in Chemistry.  He plans on graduating in 2015 and attending medical school to obtain his MD and PhD and specializing in neurosurgery.