Higher Status People Are Meaner Drivers

Posted on November 18, 2016

In a recent study, psychological scientists Amanda N. Stephens (Monash University) and John A. Groeger (University of Hull) found further evidence that social status plays a role in people’s willingness to vent their anger at other drivers. Beyond socioeconomic class, which might be measured based on how fancy the make and model of a car is, people use other signals to determine status on the road.

One potential status signal is the perceived skill of the driver. In many countries, novice drivers have special stickers or markings on their vehicles to help alert other drivers to their lack of skill. While we might expect that other drivers would make an effort to be kinder and show more understanding when inconvenienced by someone who is just learning, Stephens and Groeger found that people were actually more likely to respond angrily to a learning driver.

Across two experiments, Stephens and Groeger had participants drive through a residential neighborhood in a driving simulator. Over the course of the drive, anger was provoked when other cars impeded the participants’ progress. At times, the lead vehicle drove infuriatingly slowly, preventing the participant from passing. Sometimes there was a reason for the annoying slowdown (like an accident) and other times there was no apparent reason for the behavior.

In both experiments, drivers reported feeling more anger after following a lower status vehicle. Status also influenced how close drivers got to other vehicles: Drivers also got much closer behind the cars with learning stickers compared to the identical unmarked sedans, and also drove closer to the unmarked vans compared to the ambulance.

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Category(s):Anger Management

Source material from Psychological Science