Realizing that there is a problem: road rage and society

This is report 1

Ashlee Matsui, Angela Park, Chad Honda


Psy 409a, Spring 2008, Generation 27


Dr. Leon James, Instructor, University of Hawaii


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Section 1. Lecture Content

Introduction: The Problem of the Unknown Problem

One of the biggest problems that are ever present when it comes to improving society’s aggressive driving is that most drivers don’t even seem to know there is a problem. We are all so quick to point fingers at “bad drivers” not realizing that while doing so, we have three fingers pointing right back at us. This is why subjective surveys and self-reports are so problematic; researchers are getting a very rose-tinted version of America’s drivers. Before we can even begin to start thinking of practical applications to improve the issues of road rage, we must get a more accurate picture of how serious and prevalent the road rage really is. To be able to do that, we must get a more accurate picture of how the average driver really is.

The New Approach: Thinking Aloud

            There is a new method of studying drivers that hopefully leaves us at least one step closer in attaining a more objective view of the drivers. This new method was introduced by Dr. Herbert Simon who was the first and only Psychologist to have ever won a Nobel Prize (granted it wasn’t for the field of Psychology). Dr. Simon created the think aloud method on his path to design the chess playing computer game. He designed the computer program on the foundation of how actual human players think. He had actual human chess players play the game of chess while recording their verbalized thoughts all throughout. This gave Dr. Simon an idea of how the logic and thought process behind the game of chess worked and allowed him to design a human-like chess playing computer program. In the same way, we are applying this think aloud method to the study of driving. Instead of drivers thinking back on their driving incidents when their perspective or memory can be altered or biased, the participants record themselves thinking aloud as they actually go through the act of driving. If they feel a certain way, they record themselves expressing it right then and there. If they are doing a certain action, they record themselves describing the deed as it is happening. This is much more effective because it doesn’t let the lapse of time affect their judgment or viewpoint on their driving skills or habits.

            I think that this is truly a far more effective method in attaining a true and unabashedly honest representation of how Americans truly drive. Often, we alter our true behaviors and try to present them in ways that are more “socially acceptable.” For example, if one was to be asked whether one would return excess miscalculated change, I am willing to bet that the average person would answer that they would return the extra money. However, whether or not they really would return the extra money when in that given situation is a different story. Society has trained us well in presenting the “acceptable” versions of ourselves where morals override personal gain. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case in actuality. In the same way, when surveyed or asked to describe ones self as a driver out of context (i.e. when they’re not actually driving), people are likely to embellish themselves as the “good” driver surrounded by everyone else who are “bad” drivers.
Three Drivers In One

            Before getting into the practical applications of understanding how a driver thinks or functions, it is important to even understand what makes up a driver. Now this may sound like a trivial and almost foolishly easy to answer, but what aspects of a person are being utilized when driving? The basic and probably more common answer would be the body. A few possible specifics are the hands that are on the steering wheel, or the foot that controls the gas and brakes, or the eyes that are focused on the road. These are categorized as the sensorimotor self in Driving Psychology. This involves anything that we physically or outwardly do with our vehicles in order to handle it. One of the reasons why this is such an important category is that if for nothing else, the law system uses it to articulate any wrongdoings in the world of traffic law. However, this category is not the only one that makes up a driver. There are three fold selves to a driver with sensorimotor only being one of them.

The next fold is the affective self. This side of the driver involves any feelings or emotions that are triggered or used while driving. Though the art of driving may simply seem like a physical action, there are many emotions involved. For example, I think anyone can empathize with the flashing lights in their rearview mirror chasing after them. We feel the anxiety and regret immediately flood our minds. Or when someone cuts us off rudely without a wave of thanks, we feel anger and bitterness towards that driver. It could even be the feeling of happiness or relief when one is late to an appointment and one sees that they lucked out with no traffic. No matter how stoic or unfeeling one may be, driving has this way of triggering all kinds of feelings and emotions within us.

The last fold is the cognitive self. This involves all of the thoughts and reasoning that we mentally go through while driving. For many of us, driving has become such a routine act that we feel as if we can do it with our eyes closed (obviously not literally). We can multi task; there is always the woman late to work, putting her make up on while driving, or the man trying to squeeze in a quick bite before his appointment. As simple as driving may seem to the “experienced” driver, there are many complex thoughts that we are engaged in. For example, trying to figure out the quickest route to work to avoid as much traffic areas as possible is one thought process. Another one could be thinking of how the driver that you just cut off feels towards you and trying to maintain a safe enough distance where they can’t cuss or rudely gesture at you. For some of us, image management is important and thus keeps us from cutting other people off in fear of what they would think of us. Another incorporates self-evaluation when one comes to the realization that one is way above the speed limit and needs to slow down to prevent a ticket. These are simply a few of many examples of the thought processes that are going on as we drive.

Self-Witnessing For Change

            Now this is where we put it all together with a simple concept called self-witnessing. This is simply the act of monitoring ones self as a driver and conveying or expressing their self-image as a driver. We tie this method with the think-aloud method discussed earlier to bring a practical solution in first of all, revealing to the driver their weak areas (whether it be in their affective self, cognitive self, or sensorimotor self), and then allowing them to conscientiously and purposefully make improvements in those areas.

            Drivers engaging in the self-witnessing through the thinking aloud method would basically record themselves as they basically gave a play by play of everything going on in all three of their driving selves while driving. Later, transcripts were made of these recordings so that researchers could better study and analyze what we as drivers go through mentally, emotionally, and physically. It is believed that these two methods combined can help modify the driver’s selves. For example, when one is feeling anger towards a driver who seemingly has cut one off, one could alleviate their affective self by thinking aloud utilizing their cognitive self: “That driver probably didn’t mean to be rude, but simply is in a hurry to get somewhere. It wasn’t a personal attack against me.” This reasoning can in turn help control our sensorimotor self by keeping the middle finger and aggressive verbal attacks at bay. The thinking-aloud could even help the driver give his/herself a pep talk in preventing those actions: “I don’t want to act immaturely. I will not let that driver get the best of me. They’re not even worth shouting or gesturing at.”

A Turn For the Better?

            Like discussed before, it is absolutely imperative for the average driver to even recognize that despite their positive views on themselves as a driver, they are just as part of the driving and road rage problem as the jerk who cut them off in rush hour yesterday. We are very much prone to describing ourselves subjectively and not objectively. This is one of the biggest reasons for the lack of improvement in the driving world. Before anyone can even begin their attempts in improving the overly aggressive driving, it is essential that they recognize their own aggression. The unknown aggression from our own selves could be what is triggering the aggression from others! One of the reasons for why the self-witnessing through the thinking aloud method has so much potential for changing drivers is its efficiency. This method can be used to not only identify the problem, study and analyze the problem, but even to solve the problem. Simply by verbalizing their thoughts and motives behind their actions, drivers can recognize their weaknesses and right then and there change their automated responses (the middle finger, tailgating, etc.) to a more controlled one. There is much reason to hope that through this method, the driver can utilize all three folds of their self to change the world of road rage one driver at a time.

Dr. Herbert Simon’s Well Lived Life

This article is actually an obituary that commemorates the reputable life of Dr. Herbert Simon who is accredited as the Father of Artificial Intelligence. The article gives a brief summary of his life including his lifelong achievements. He was truly an intelligent and admirable man with different passions ranging from psychology to computer programming to even music.

Section 2: Team Presentation on Readings

Road Rage Chapter 1 page 21-45

Driving in the age of rage

During the 1990’s the term road rage was introduced to the it is referred to as an aggressive behavior. 

Examples that encourage road rage:

While factors such as impaired driving, risk taking and frustration play a part in this.  In Philadelphia, one person every hour is injured in an automobile accident beating out carelessness as the number one source of danger.  Studies also show that aggressive drivers kill more people than drunk drivers and feel proud in their domination of others on the road.  With so many deaths and accidents, why are there still so many aggressive drivers??

As a problem worldwide, forecasters show that the decline in aggressive driving is not positive and continues to flourish.  This type of driving can be traced to cultural ideology, which influences the level of tolerance by supporting these behaviors. 

I believe that if our culture continues to tolerate and accept these types of behaviors, motorists will continue to drive the way they do thinking that is ok because others do it.

 Two symptoms that define road rage:

It would be very useful if as drivers, we could change our perceptions of others’ driving

Example: Positive-driver entering lane   Negative-driver cutting me off

If the aggressive driver changes, they will alter their thoughts and actions.

Other examples of rage in public places:

These are examples of behavior that can be modified and worked on.  Here in Hawaii with so many people driving and so many cars there are so little parking stalls.  I have seen many incidents of people fighting over parking, yelling and sticking the finger at each other for that one stall.  Are these types of rage due to cultural influences?  The presenting group discussed sidewalk rage in particular.  They used this example to state a cultural difference between people here and people in Texas.  They also stated that this is a rage that can be modified and controlled. 

If people learn to develop the three-step program of driving improvement, then they can become aware of their emotions and actions behind the wheel this becoming better drivers.  The group discussed that it is important to be aware of and stay in control of your behaviors and actions behind the wheel.  I think that if people did this then there would be a lot less accidents and rage on the road, but getting people to learn these steps and wanting to change is the hard part. 

Examples of how to protect yourself from aggressive drivers:

Driving Lessons Chapter 3 p21-49

Dealing with Stress, Aggression and Pressure in the Vehicle

Two conflicting components:

Predictability-speeding, length behind car

Unpredictability-slamming on brakes

These both can lead to stress or incidents on the road. 


The 15 aspects of driving that acts as stressors

  1. Immobility: while driving, most of the body is still
  2. Constriction: while in traffic, one may feel restricted
  3. Regulation: the act of driving is a regulated activity
  4. Lack of control: drivers must follow state law
  5. Being put in danger: close calls on the road
  6. Territoriality: car used to indicate freedom, portraying defensive actions
  7. Diversity: so many drivers on the road
  8. Multi-tasking: eating, talking on phone
  9. Denying our mistakes: activities done through automatic habits acquired through years
  10. Cynicism: subjected to constant judgment by those around us
  11. Loss of Objectivity: someone is always to blame
  12. Venting: may lead to hostility and violence
  13. Unpredictability: environment of uncertainty
  14. Ambiguity: no official gesture communication language
  15. Lack of emotional intelligence: not included with driver education

The group stated that these actions we do so frequently, people do not tend to see them as a problem.  This is very true; we fall into habits that may be hard to break.

While men report being more aggressive drivers than women do, studies show that women are starting to drive more aggressively partially due to more women in the workforce today.  70% of people report to being victims of aggressive driving, while only 30% report being the aggressive driver. 

The group discussed that internal forces play a role in this aggressive driving, ex. Media. With the violence on TV, movies and video games, where people spend so much of their time on it’s no wonder there are people out there driving like they are on a racing game.

The next area the group discussed was the risk homeostasis phenomenon, which is for example, if the road is made straighter or smoother, the driver will compensate by driving faster.  While this is meant to make the roads safer, the rates of accidents remain high.

Also, with the increase of law enforcement the number of accidents still remains steady.  Other preventative such as harsher penalties and anger management workshops do not seem to be making an improvement.  In 2007 Hawaii passed a law which punishes speeding and reckless driving with harsher fines and possible jail time, but the speeding here still seems to be a problem.

Basic Principles of Driving Psychology:

Driving is a complex behavior

The norms exist in three domains: affective, cognitive and sensorimotor

The norms are passed down from parents, other adults and media

These three interact to reach judgments and actual body movements made by driver.

The last main issue of this section was the three step self modification plan:


Article 1 Drivers Behaving Badly on TV, Movies, Cartoons, Music Videos, Car Commercials:  DBB Ratings from the Generational Curriculum (1997)
            (a) (movies only)
            (b) (cartoons only)
            (c) (commercials only)

Article 1

The first article discusses “Drivers Behaving Badly on TV, Movies, Cartoons, Music Videos, Car Commercials : DBB ratings from the Generational Curriculum.” (1997).  The first point the group discusses is that TV has a major influence on the way we drive, and children are susceptible and easily influence by these scenes.  The article discusses that it is important to make children understand that the scenes they see on the television are not real.  An example of drivers behaving badly:

Source: Clueless (Movie and TV series)
She was thinking about her relationship and not paying attention to the road
While changing lanes she almost hit’s a man on a bike
She swerves to the right and hit several other cars and keeps on driving.
Evaluation: She was a very rich person, with a surreal life.  But these images can create the impression that driving is not a serious subject.  The father, let his daughter drive without her permit sets a poor standard. 

The 2 examples the group used:
Fried Green Tomatoes (Movie), Kathy was waiting patiently for her parking stall when a couple of young girls pulled into the stall, got out of the car and laughed at her, Kathy then decided to ram their car and laughed at them.  Again, this shows children that driving is not a serious matter and if someone steals your stall, its ok to ram their vehicle.

101 Dalmatians (Movie), Cruella Deville is chasing a big truck filled with the Dalmatians traveling on a hill side.  She was driving her limousine and trying to run the truck off the cliff by swiping, tailgating and ramming the truck.  This might leave the impression on children that when you are mad it is ok to try and run their car off the hill, or that tailgating is alright to do. 
Children are being exposed to many examples of bad driving in the media, these messages can influence the drivers they become later. 




Section 3: Team Presentation on Exercises

The main ideas that was presented by the team were:

The Threefold Facts which is “a unified theory that tries to deal with external and internal aspects of the self.  For instance, the concept of personality is defined in terms of built-up repertories of basic habits” (Dr. Leon Lecture Notes) (from Malia, Sheena and Kyung):

Another idea that was presented is the skills that go with The Threefold (from Malia, Sheena and Kyung), these are examples of The Threefold:




“I’ve got to be careful here. Don’t want to cut anybody off”

“This person looking like he’s in a hurry to get in.  I better let him in”

(Gesticulating and Smiling)

Go ahead

     You go first


Wish I could give that guy a piece of my mind


I don’t think people like that should be allowed on the road

(Yelling) You stupid, why don’t you watch where you’re going


The next idea the team talked about is the statistics that affect aggressive driving, what is road rage, what causes road rage, etc.  One of the statistics that the team mentioned was the leading causes of death, which are:

The next statistics the team talked about is the drop in the number of deaths in 2006.  They asked the class why what do you think is causing this decline in deaths?  The team stated there are safer roads and the understanding on how to be a better driver.  Another statistics they talked about is “How do Americans define aggressive driving?”  Here is the list of the top five:

The team presentation ended with asking the class a few multiple choices, true/false questions that consisted of mostly of three possible answers.  One of the questions asked was a True/False question “There are 150 per a day that die from aggressive in France?”  The answer is no because it is 150 per a day in the United States not France.  The classes response to most of their questions was that no one answered as it is with most of the classes, everyone sits there.

The way that the team presented was breaking down the different parts of the statistics and information provided on Dr. James’s website and presented the parts that they felt was important for the class to know. 

They interpreted the data as it was presented on the DrDriving website which was a good thing because it presented the class with facts about driving and the statistics that are associated with aggressive driving and driving in general. 

Some of the areas that could have been improved on were to better explain the theories and concepts that Dr. James presented on the website.  For example, the Threefold, which was explained but not to a great detail but having the information written on the board showing the three different parts of the Threefold plus the chart is good.  Having to see the information then just hearing it makes it just easier to understand and interpret.

The successes of the approach they used was presenting the data and facts found on the website and interpreting that data using psychological factors and how it relates to the topics being discussed.  The making of multiple choice questions is good because it gets the class involved and gives the team the opportunity to also reflect on what they did and understand the material.  Having your friends also try to answer the multiple choice questions gives you can idea on what they know about driving and how alarming the statistics are when it comes to Road Rage, aggressive driving, etc.

The things that needs improvements in the instructions and procedures for this particular exercise is: none

The limitations of these types of exercises are that having to go to a site to look and read information can be hard.  For some people reading off a computer screen is hard to do and not good for your eyes especially if it something long as the site provided for this exercise.  Having print outs or having to read from the textbooks are a better choice.  These limitations can be done but it makes it harder to do the exercise if we aren’t comfortable with the materials needed to complete the exercise.

Going to the website and reading the information was hard but not impossible but ended up printing mostly everything out after which it came much easier to read.  Also you can read it in your free time thus if it was on the site only you will need access to a computer and internet. 

Section 4: Annotated Web Links

Three Studies on Aggressive Driving (

This site talks about three studies done on aggressive driving: Aggressive Driving, Road Rage and Driver Aggression.  It applies to the topics discussed because it also gives statistics about aggressive driving which can go hand-in-hand with the statistics that the team reported for their exercises.  It gives a lot of information that explains “What are the causes of road rage?”, “How to avoid succumbing to road rage” are some of the few topics discussed.

Background of Driving Psychology (

Since this is our first report this site is a good one that gives a lot of information of the psychology of driving.  It talks about Road Rage, how to drive safe, tells stories of driving are just some of the informative information found that describes the psychology of driving.

TV Watching and Violence for Children (

This article talks about how studies have been done (past 30 years) that concludes that violence on TV does cause violence in children.  This relates to article one that was reported during the presentation.  This may not be a totally proven fact but at least in this article it states that it can cause violence in children.

Dr. Herbert Simon’s Well Lived Life

This article is actually an obituary that commemorates the reputable life of Dr. Herbert Simon who is accredited as the Father of Artificial Intelligence. The article gives a brief summary of his life including his lifelong achievements. He was truly an intelligent and admirable man with different passions ranging from psychology to computer programming to even music.

Emotions: The Ultimate Back Seat Driver

This article presents the notion of emotions and its power over us as drivers. Whether it’s stress and fatigue or anxiety and road rage, we as good drivers, need to keep them in check. The article also lists a few helpful and specific tips on how to not let our emotions get the best of us.

The Connection Between Cognition and Driving

This is a very short article presenting some interesting findings that the cognitive level of functioning in a person is what separates the “safe” drivers from the “unsafe” drivers.  Though it is studying the extreme end of cognitive functionality such as healthy individuals versus individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease.

This site talks about a woman driver that killed a man on a bike while she was in a state of rage.  People that have left notes on this page also talk about society and its difficulties with changing people.

Miami makes the headlines for the worst road rage in the United States, two years in a row.  The most frequent cause of this rage is said to be impatient drivers and sometimes poor driving.  This site shows updated photos and videos and well as comments.  Psychologists suggest that the answer lies in compassion.

This site discusses that road rage is a disorder, or a latest spontaneously “discovered” disease.  This disease is sometimes called the Intermittent Explosive Disorder or IED, and pharmacy companies are looking to find cures for this by creating high-profit prescription drugs.  The article also talks about the psychiatric community becoming the disease intervention for the pharmaceutical industry.

This site, Understanding Road Rage discusses the beginnings of the rage and its appearances in articles.  Author Read Mercer Schuchardt believes that there is no such thing and has called himself the science myth debunker.  The author goes down later in the article to say that road rage is real.   


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