Report 1
My Understanding of Driving Psychology
By: Derrick Stevens
Instructions for this report are at:


            Driving consist of physical and mental states that occur as a separate but interacting entity.  Every individual develops a subjective view of how to become a successful driver.  Through the major principles of psychological behavior, we can build an awareness of our three-fold self, witness our behaviors, and modify them over time to become positive in areas of affective behavior, cognitive behavior, and sensorimotor behavior.  A driver’s personality is a key component in developing a positive domain of his or her self, and can help maintain life-long strides in driving self-improvement.  The notion of a driver’s personality makeover will be discussed in this report as well as how my individual personality can be objectively monitored and assessed by myself.  Self witnessing involves taking an inventory of skills and errors that will be used to design, discuss, and evaluate my personal driving makeover. I will conduct an experiment in which I apply modification techniques and report on their degrees of success or failure.  I trust this report will provide an insight for future generations as to how driving psychology can be a very influential area of study that can be effectively utilized to guide our thoughts and improve driving behavior.

The Three-fold Self ,Taxonomy, and Driving Makeover

            In Table 1  the Three–Fold self is briefly explained.  There are three main components of the Three-Fold Self.  The concept includes the affective, cognitive, and sensorimotor self.  These concepts are defined as separate but interactive variables which influence an individual’s driving behavior.  These domains are composed of skills and errors, which are often habitual activities that can be adaptive or maladaptive in their impact upon an individuals driving personality.  The acquisition of any skill may potentially incorporate the Three-Fold self.  Bicycle riding is a fitting example.  A bicycle rider glides down a highway on his ten speed bicycle in a busy intersection, focusing on his route, when a motorist comes dangerously close to hitting him with their car, nearly killing him.  That motorist does not stop to see if the bicyclist has been injured or shaken up.  This     incident leaves the bicyclist feeling enraged.  He throws up his middle finger and screams some fierce obscenities.  He thinks about catching up to the car and giving him a piece of his mind.  He tells himself that drivers like that shouldn’t be allowed on roads.  The range of emotions expressed in this scenario portrays various aspects of the negative Three-Fold Self.  These powerful emotions may linger in an individual, and reappear as a cyclist, motorist, or even a pedestrian takes the road in the future.

            The negative affective self is exemplified as one thinks about ‘giving someone a piece of his mind’.  These wild emotions and invented interactions negatively affect a driver’s goal or destination.  It should be obvious that the intention of riding your ten speed bicycle was not to race down a motorist and give them a piece of your mind but for other purposes that you intended to a be as a goal or destination.  These internal motives or desires must be obtained while maintaining a positive affect.  Once we exhibit negative emotions in the affective domain we expose ourselves to increasingly stressful situations that significantly impact the self. 

            In the example, the bicyclist finds himself saying that people who drive like that should not be able to drive on the road.  These cognitions represent the negative cognitive self.  This is negative because one is making judgments of what people should and should not do on the road.  Regardless of individual focus or skill level, all motorists must accept and acknowledge the notion that errors will be made.  Ignorance, lack of attention, and inexperience can contribute to both common and extreme mistakes.  One major aspect of the cognitive self demands that an individual should not pass judgment on other drivers.  Internal dialogue can be impacted and expressed through the last domain of behavior.

            The last domain of the Three-Fold Self is the sensorimotor self.  The acts of shouting explicit verbal taunts and gestures are seen as negative sensorimotor displays that can be habitual and conditioned.  As described in the bicyclist example, giving somebody the finger in anger demonstrates a sensorimotor habit.  When we act in this manner, we are neither diffusing nor extinguishing our emotional distress.  We are actually contributing to a cyclic effect that reinforces bad habits to eventually arise again under similar circumstances.  When we learn to establish positive behavior in these three areas of the self, we can acquire the critical skills needed to become a better driver and human being.

            The table link above lists some key examples of positive affective self, cognitive self, and sensorimotor self.  I feel that positive levels of the three domains are reactive and counteractive.  In order to successfully counteract, and navigate oneself through the stress involved in the driving experience, an individual must remain in the three domains.  It is important to anticipate and react to the thoughts, motives, and abilities of other drivers.  Maintaining a positive state of self at all times while driving, walking, or even cycling can benefit a driver’s safety as he or she reaches his destination.  An inability to determine others’ motives and intentions make the driving experience controlled chaos.  One can only speculate and draw inferences from incomplete sources of information and minimal time, how to react to a particular incident.  A strong driver is able to avert disaster in unforeseen circumstances and “roll with the punches” in any given situation.  By utilizing skills in the positive spectrum of the Three-Fold Self, a driver can have a safer and more pleasurable driving experience.

            Table 2  further explores the three areas of the self that influence driving mentality and habits.  Dr. James explains that habits are built upon one another, although a “taxonomy” or inventory of these habits can help us modify our learned behaviors in the future.  Learned habits can be corrected or modified with a personal and subjective assessment of one’s own behavior.  Any learned behavior is subject to error as all activities are not performed at a perfect level.  Therefore, we remain vulnerable to flawed learned behaviors with the start of each new activity.  This perpetuates the cycle of error that we continue to live by.  This is especially relevant to the realm of driving behavior.

            Table 2 portrays three levels of competence that are necessary within the three domains of the self (affective, cognitive, and sensorimotor).  Levels 1-3 lie within the domain of the Three-fold Self, and include Proficiency, Safety, and Responsibility.  Each level is paired with its positive or negative self, creating nine zones and eighteen behavioral zones.  A plus mark is given for the positive behaviors and a minus mark is given for the negative behaviors.  In the Proficiency level a new driver focuses on three things.  Firstly, in the Affective Self, a driver must be calm and alert at all times.  This mind state will aid the individual during times of stress as well.  Being alert and calm can be a precautionary device against dangerous collision and unwanted road violations.  Second, in the Cognitive Self, a driver must be aware of his or her surroundings.  He or she is aware of space and time.  Distracting surroundings and unfamiliar circumstances may impair judgment as to when and how to react to any given situation.  For example, one may not be aware that the traffic jam before him or her is caused by an accident that has taken place miles down the road.   Feeling frustrated and distressed, he begins to shout and force his way illegally, around the traffic, although tailgating and speeding may not be the best solution to the problem.  Thirdly, in the Sensorimotor Self, an individual coordinates his or her hands, feet, and eyes in the correct position to avoid any collision.  This aspect of the model suggests that drivers should not engage in talking on cellular phones for an extending period of time, putting on makeup, changing out of beach clothes, playing with PsP’s (Play station Portable), or having loud arguments with a passenger.  These distractions deplete the value of one’s physiological senses.  By simplifying the driving experience, a motorist can attune him or her self to sensory cues.

            Level 2 involves the Safety Zone.  First, in the Affective Self, a driver is motivated to avoid all trouble.  He or she will wear seat belt at all times and follow proper precautions.  Wearing a seat belt can also prevent potential financial troubles that may accompany a traffic violation or ticket.  Avoidance can range from not driving in a particular lane to allowing someone who is in a rush to merge in front of you.  This will evade some problem areas on a highway or freeway.  Secondly, such a driver notices and identifies problem areas.  Through self witnessing, one can monitor how to judge lane separations and intervals of stopping time.  A person who is highly aware of his surroundings will know that he or she will need to stop or slow down seconds before an average driver will notice.  After identifying the danger area, a driver is then able to problem solve the situational problem. Thirdly, in the Sensorimotor Self, problem solving cognitions are finally put to use.  A driver’s appropriate reactions should lead to a safe trip.  Feelings of stress and fatigue on any given day can lead to poor sensorimotor performance.  If one experiences these states before driving, he or she should relax or rest before getting behind the wheel.  Accidents happen in a matter of seconds, but can have everlasting effect.

           Responsibility is the concept behind Level 3.  Firstly, in the Affective Self, a driver realizes that he or she is accountable for the possible injuries of others.  When this value is internalized a driver tends to take a more altruistic approach toward other drivers.  The actions of others have an affect on you, just as your actions will affect others.  Also, in the Cognitive Self, as a driver develops a more caring approach toward others, he or she can act and think in a more pro-social way.  Anti-social thoughts of resentment toward others on the road lead to a negative cognitive responsibility.  Thirdly, in the Sensorimotor Self, the positive responsibility and cognitions should lead to a better quality of driving life.  In stressful and happy time, positive affect, cognition, and sensorimotor behaviors should withstand most aggressive and dangerous situations.

            Table 3 consist of two stages that propose a driving makeover plan.  The first stage is to avoid being an aggressive driver.  Aggressive driving is considered any act of driving that puts another person or property in danger.  At the Affective Level of this makeover plan drivers must overcome their resistance to change.  It is important not to tease, mock or ridicule other drivers.  By over attributing errors and overestimating the skills of others we are susceptible to exhibiting states of anger, rage, and retaliation. 

Passengers are important witnessing mechanisms.  In order to employ a life long modification, drivers can make it acceptable for passengers to complain, or make suggestions about their driving. This will help drivers notice if old habits have resurfaced and help them train themselves back to the desired level of proficiency. The cognitive level says that one should learn rational analyses of traffic incidents. Drivers can do this by making the mistakes committed by others a normality.  It is inevitable that people are going to make errors on the road.  The point is whether or not these errors are internalized and over-attributed to ignorance or inexperience.  The Cognitive Level also says that drivers should counteract against cognitive biases in how they view incidents.  This can be done by learning more socialized and self- regulatory sentences.  In the Sensorimotor Level you improvements can be made by performing happy gestures and signals.  I say “performing” because we cannot always be in a good mood.  But to uphold the altruist sense of the affective self we can alleviate any potentially provoking events by signaling and smiling to other drivers.

Stage 2 explains how to become a supportive driver. This level can only happen when you are ready for change and truly except the changes that you have made.  It is almost the opposite of stage 1 because, behaviors errors you had to avoid in stage 1 are now the behaviors you enjoyed doing in stage two.  In the Affective Level you learn to maintain a supportive love for others by feeling responsible for errors and seeking ways to remedy the problem.  In the Cognitive Level you will learn to acknowledge and assess all of your own driving errors.  By objectively witnessing these errors you can lean to modify those habits.  In the Sensorimotor Level, you can change those bad habits to ones that are productive and positive.  You can drive friendly as well as act friendly by anticipating other driver’s needs.  Thus allowing you to relax and enjoy the ride.

Table 4  is a somewhat simplified approach to driving makeovers through the paradigm of Driving Psychology.  Driving psychology is a variation of human psychology.  When we drive, we are driven by complex behaviors, cultural norms, and learned functions of habit.  This behavior or skill can be influenced by many other variables.  Table 4 talks about the AWN approach.  This acronym stands for Acknowledge, Witness, and Modify.  To acknowledge is to understand the mistakes that are learned through media, parenting, cultural and peer influences.  Once you acknowledge your mistakes you should witness them while they are active.  By witnessing your mistakes you can reinforce or modify them by accommodating a new and different adaptive habit.  (It is important when you are witnessing your own behavior to be as objective as possible). The AWN method should be repeated so that it will help weaken the likeliness of a habit such as anger or rage to surface frequently.  Driving is a cultural phenomenon.  I think that drivers are a representation of a socialized product that is separated only by the context of where they live.  Driving is looked at as being governed by motor skills and laws of natural physics.  But there is a lot more to it.  The interaction between the drivers’ mental state, environment, ability, and emotional intelligence are just a few variables that influence individual drivers.  The newest driving generation today displays many errors in the Driving Three-fold Self.  Affective errors such as valuing territoriality, competition and dominance manifest behaviors like risk taking, aggressiveness, and intolerance to other drivers.  Cognitive errors and Sensorimotor errors are becoming a norm amongst the newest generation of drivers.  It is widely noticed in the magazines and on T.V. that being fast is just not fast enough for some kids today. They want to go faster than whomever is the fastest person.  But the blame is not to be placed on the youngsters of today, because, they were taught by the prior generation who were once the same age. 

Driving Psychology

Driving Psychology is the study of complex behaviors that are governed by cultural and society norms.  Acculturation can be learned just as driving skills are learned.  This learning process starts when we are young children. Driving can be culture specific and also contain universalities that are common across cultures. Through socialization we also learn what the proper display rules are for driving.  We pass on cultural norms without ever being aware that we are doing it.  In society kids learn traditions and cultural explicit behaviors through adult figures. These influential figures consist of parents, relatives, clergy, teachers, authority figures, and sometimes same age siblings.  Driving skills and errors are learned the same way.  Driving norms are learned without having to speak of it.  It is passed on in verbal and non verbal forms.  When you first learned how to drive, did you need instructions to find the cars ignition or did you automatically know where it was?  I am guessing that if you have an average amount of experience riding in any motor vehicle that you did not need any instructions as to where the ignition was.  That is because we have been watching our parents start and stop their vehicles for years.  This goes to show how non verbal forms of communication are just as affective in teaching driving culture.  When I think about applying Driving Psychology to the generation today, I notice that we should rid ourselves of negative affective, cognitive, and sensorimotor norms.  The media and pop culture today play a big role in influencing the younger generation.  We have become numb to violence, and intolerant of other drivers needs. Thus, pushing ourselves to being socially accepting of maladaptive behaviors, like condoning aggressiveness, and disrespect. Errors within the cognitive and sensorimotor self are also large influences of maladaptive driving norms today.  Lack of emotional intelligence, underdeveloped moral values, and “automotized” habits are just a few examples.  I think that these negative norms can be changed through cultural change.  It will take a long time but, it is not impossible.

My Driving Skills and Errors

Before I began this class I thought that I was the best driver in the northern hemisphere.  I believed that my skills outweighed my errors greatly.  I found myself thinking this way because I considered good driving as being someone that did not get into collisions or receive traffic tickets.  After I attended more classes I noticed that I was a passive aggressive driver and displayed symptoms of road rage.  On any given day I could perform an error in all three domains of the three-fold self.  For example: I am sitting at a light and the person behind me is so close to my bumper that he might as well be in the back seat of my car.  The person in front of me is not aware that the light has already turned green for a few seconds and still has not press the accelerator.  Now the proper way to remedy this situation would be to wait patiently and attribute the lack of movement in the front car to something other than ignorance.  Maybe that person is tired and does not notice the light right away.  Maybe they are looking for a different shade of green light. Or maybe they are having a malfunction with their vehicle.   I should not yell, swear, or honk my horn because I am not fully aware of the situation or how that person in front of me may interpret my impatience.  Given all of the positive skills that I should be projecting my inner dialogue goes like this: “What the f@#$k is this asshole waiting for.  I don’t have all day to wait for you.  Maybe I could move around if this ass behind me was not so damn close.  I bet you that this is an old lady.  Yeah I was right.  (Honking Horn) people that old should not drive this late.  I’ll just wait longer so the person behind will have to wait too” Now that sounds very negative and counterproductive. Also I display forms of passive aggressive driving by trying to punish the driver behind me by taking longer than I should. Now, just because I exhibit some negative errors does not mean that do not have any skills.  I am skillful in the three domains of self too.  I smile and wave when I receive the go ahead by other drivers.  I can also accurately determine when certain situations are dangerous and how to avoid problem spots.  I also know that I can exercise greater control of my vehicle compared to other drivers.  I am very aware of my “territory” Later in this report I will demonstrate how I attempt to change these behaviors through my driving personality makeover.

Generational Curriculum

I found two reports in the generational curriculum that explain driver personality makeovers.  In the first report the students talk briefly about what a driving makeover consists of.  In the first report the experimenter conducts a makeover of one of his close friends.  He goes on two driving trips with her and takes notes on her driving personality.  After he takes a driving personality inventory, he then explains to the subject what her errors might be.  She habitually speeds over the required limit and is insensitive to the emotions of her passengers.  The subject also shows signs of sensorimotor errors as she yells at other drivers on the road.  After he finishes his driving inventory of the subject, he then tells her about her errors.  I especially like this report because he takes external factors in to account that may lead to her driving error of self.  Her parents are divorced and she does not get to see her father very often.  The subject also thinks that she is not an aggressive driver because she does not let it get out of hand.  She expresses her feelings inwardly so that it does not lead to a confrontational experience.  The experimenter then helps her on a last road trip by allowing her to see her own bad habits.  When she corrects these maladaptive habits herself, he then gives a smile of approval to reinforce the behavior.

 In the second report the student conducts an experiment on themselves.  The error that he tries to correct is the act of getting angry when people try to cut in front of him on a freeway on-ramp.  His main error was to cut speed up or cut off the oncoming car so that they would not have enough room to use the on-ramp. By witnessing his behaviors in its pure form he corrects himself by creative a positive feeling in the driving situation.  This is done by stripping negative thoughts and perceptions of other drivers and attributing more positive goal oriented feelings toward them.  He also uses a sort of aversive technique but telling himself that the person that is doing this because they need to get home to their sick child.  This was interesting and unique to that individual.  I am not sure whether that tactic would extinct over time, but it seemed to be useful for him.  I like these reports because I know that everyone has been in the situation when someone tries to cut into the off ramp lane at the last second or felt pressure to yell at another driver for their mistakes. My own experiment shows that I too have sensorimotor errors of self and cognitive biases that may make me more susceptible to road conflict.

My Driving Makeover

Through some careful self witnessing I monitored my emotions and behaviors in the domain of the cognitive and sensorimotor self.   I noticed that I drive in a very loose manner in slightly slouched position.  I am not hesitant to use my horn if I feel that the situation calls for it either.  As I spoke earlier in the traffic light incident, I am also no stranger to swearing or yelling aloud in my car.  My main cognitive error is to overextend my moral driving values onto other drivers.  I make statements like “this guy should not be driving on the road at all” all the time.  In my experiment I wanted to have another person in the car with me to witness my behaviors.  I did not tell that person that I was doing an experiment so that she could feel like it was just another day in the car.  I did this because I feel that is so difficult to be objective about myself.  So by not telling her it was an experiment she could then describe my behaviors with as little bias as possible.  Meanwhile I tried to monitor my behaviors very closely.  I noticed some temperature changes when people cut in front of me without using turn signals.  I noticed my driving posture and hand placement was very poor. This could affect me in the event of having to make a sudden aversive driving maneuver.  I also noticed that if the car in front of me was driving slowly and that person was an older citizen, I would feel resentment toward that driver.  Even though I could not handle when someone cut in front of me without signaling, it was odd that I repeated this same act towards other drivers.  This shows that I can perform self serving biases that have become a cultural norm. The experiment consists of two trips.  After our first trip together I asked my passenger if she noticed some of my driving habits as being bad or maladaptive.  She responded with an enthusiastic “YES”.  I knew that I was doing some of these things and I also self witnessed them but I wanted to know what other people think.  She said that “you get mad and you don’t let it go” meaning that I prolong the response to a cue, thus contributing to a counterproductive state of mind.  This could explain my change in temperature when people cut me off.   By self-witnessing and asking my passenger I was able to modify my behavior.  On our second trip together she gave advice how to think positively about other people’s goals and motives on the road.  I maintained a positive stream of thought and she verbally rewarded me for smiling and making nice hand gestures.  The basic premise of this experiment was to understand my errors and attempt to correct them with the help of self-witnessing.  I noticed a change in my mood while driving and my willingness to take in to account the motives of other drivers.  I think that this experiment brought a better sense of awareness about my driving habits and helped me to begin to unravel them from top to bottom.

Future Generations

So far in this class (Driving Psychology) I have learned how many other external factors can lead to different driving behaviors.  Society plays a big role in determining the different norms and display rules of the driving culture.  A prescription that I would give to the drivers of today would be to understand yourself, your environment, and any factor that will affect your driving.  Driving is not a single act in and of it self because there are multiple causations that can influence it.  Obtaining a valid drivers license is not the final step in becoming a good driver.  I learned that you can and should continue to improve your driving skills throughout life.   By being smart about these areas of the driving paradigm we can learn to pass on the new driving culture to the next generation.  Some advice on how to do this report to the next generation taking this class is to start early.  Driving is not stress free and typing web papers is not either, so get started early.   Web articles and valuable evidence can be found by using large search engines like Thank you for taking the time to read this and I hope that it may be of some help to you.



 Rothe, J.P (Ed.) 2002.  Driving Lessons: Exploring Systems that Make Traffic Safer.  Edmonton:  The University of Alberta Press.

James, L., & Nahl, D. 2000. Road Rage and Aggressive Driving: Steering Clear of Highway Warfare. Amherst: Prometheus Books.