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Gender Differences in Driving Norms

Cara Lucey

Table of Contents

For the purposes in understanding this report, I have provided the following information on three different terms that will be used throughout this paper. These are norms, stereotypes, and expectations. This report also includes links to both the questionnaire that I used, the Raw Data Table, original resources, it incorporates my views on the tests reliability and validity, how the future generations can perpetuate this study.

Norms, Stereotypes and Expectations - how they apply

Norms are defined as "An unwritten rule that guides or regulates acceptable or appropriate behavior in a particular situation (Horowitz and Bordens 1995). Meaning that a particular type of action is expected of individuals within certain situations. Stereotypes-as I perceive it, are stigmatic and discriminatory labels that are placed on people, for example, the statement that "women are bad drivers" is a stereotype, and finally another aspect in which we will be viewing gender norms in driving situations is by the expectations that are placed on individuals by others. Although many of our driving behaviors may be justified in our own minds, these three areas prove to have a lot of influence which inhibit many drivers from recognizing the dangerous realities associated with them.

For example, everyday people come in contact with things such as tail gating, car magazines, aggressive driving, or cars that breakdown. On the surface we see them as just that, however, when those things are perceived as how they effect our driving philosophies, a whole new perspective is opened to us, some of these being issues of control and compliance, intimidation and fear, or plain patterns of self destructiveness. For instance, in class discussion we spoke of a few gender differences in driving. Some of the ideas that were shared were:

  • Men are less likely to ask for directions and women find it more comfortable to do so.
  • If a car breaks down, it is more expected of a man to know what to do and more expected of a woman to stand on the side of the road unitl help arrives.
  • Men are more likely to criticize other drivers to where the other driver can hear them and women are more likely to criticize other drivers to themselves out of fear of retaliation.
  • Women prefer their male counterparts to drive they ride as passengers.
  • Interestingly enough, these are the patterns of thinking that shape much of our driving philosophies, and are reinforced by society because they are so accepted as part of the norm. Another interesting example of how norms effect our driving philosophy was shared by a fellow student. Her boyfriend had told her that while he was on the way to pick her up from school , another car had recklessly cut in front of him which really made him upset. He had turned his car around and began following the other car until he realized it was a female driver. At that point he stopped and was actually shocked that a woman would have driven so violently. It is obvious that he as a driver had the expectation that women drivers wouldn't participate in such aggressive mannerisms - further shaping his philosophy to how women drivers are expected to drive conservatively. Just for the sake of argument, if the other driver wasn't a woman would his behavior of turning his own car around and following them be justified because it is more accepted? Unfortunately norms and expectations such as these are becoming so common that it most likely would be accepted.

    From this example, we can see how aggressive driving is not limited to male drivers, however it is the behavior that is acted upon more by males than females. In the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety majority of the perpetrators in aggressive driving were males and the annual percent of increase in aggressive driving has gone up to 7 percent since 1990. Why is this an ever growing phenomena? Perhaps because it is becoming more and more a part of the norm, no longer roles taken on by minorities and those with violent histories, but also roles that are taken on by hundreds of successful people with no violent histories whatsoever.

    These aggressions are not confined to acts of violence which physically cause damage, but are also acts of abuse with persisting psychological damage. By generating behaviors that are abusive and acceptable as part of our norm, in turn we are encouraging abusive behaviors to continue. Coming from my own experience, I have personally been subject to abusive actions while riding as a passenger. When I was 15, I was riding in a car with a boyfriend of mine and he became upset that I had asked him to drive me home. In a residential area where the speed limit is 25mph he sped around corners and past houses at 60mph and this had proved to be a very frightening experience for me. I remember wondering what would have happened if he hit a child playing or someone driving out of their driveway. Although no physical damage was done, I perceived the situation, at that time, that he had proved his control and domination in the relationship. Today, I can see how he was playing out the role of being in control and forcing me to comply with his emotions without giving me a choice.

    In a separate incident, I was the driver and again was in a situation that caused my boyfriend to get upset. He, as a passenger, forced the car off the road by threatening me to pull over, and slapped me in the head for not believing in his outrageous story. I feel it is very possible that if he was in control of the vehicle he wouldn't have had to slap me to comply but simply scare me into it. With this perspective we can see how men choose to allow their anger to dominate and control them, resulting in behaviors that are destructive to both themselves and to passengers - be it other men, women, or children. Aside from my own experience, there are many others that we see in newspapers and actions of other drivers on our own roads. For instance the reports on highway shootings and beatings over who was driving too close or too slow. Or witnessing someone yelling at another driver that had made them upset. As we watch these behaviors increase, we can see how these behaviors are becoming more of what is expected from drivers - especially those who view aggression as something that makes them stronger and more powerful. A learned behavior which many males are enforced with in child raring. By allowing these norms to continue, we as a society are allowing the abuse to continue.

    In the same note, taking the example from class that I have mentioned earlier "women choose to have the men drive", we can also see how a womanize perspective of her appropriate role - (submissive and compliant), can be self destructive, yet is still part of the norm. Women throughout history have inadvertently inherited their norm in society just as males have, unintentionally placing them in a situation that gives up the power and control to the more dominant figure placing them at an even greater risk for abuse. In another report from Dr. James' traffic psychology course gender stereotypes are discussed and how women acquired their roles as drivers and how this affected the perspectives on how men perceived them. This report basically points out how men felt a loss of control and damage to their pride and expressed it in ways that criticized women. Perhaps as history evolved, so did society. In a world where women are becoming less dependent and more independent, men are unconsciously trying to find solutions to compensate for their losses without recognizing how self destructive their behaviors are.

    Results of this Questionnaire

    In order to look at gender driving norms, I had taken a test issued in Dr. James' G6 class and distributed them amongst sixteen individuals. Eight were answered by females and the eight others were answered by males. The test consisted of twenty questions. The first seven featured questions that revealed anger within the individual, the next four looked at the philosophy of the individual, the next seven at the feelings of compulsive rushing and competition, and the last three at the over sensitivity to social pressures that motorists experience.

    To view the Raw Data Table click here!!!

    To review the results I obtained, I looked at the totals that were gained from the "yes" answers amongst the sixteen subjects (8 = male, 8 = female) within the sections mentioned above.

    The average results were as follows:
  • #1-7 female average 2.87... male average 2.0
  • #8-11 female average .87 ... male average .62

  • #12-17 female average 1.62 ...male average 2.12
  • #18-20 female average .5 ... male average1.
  • When looking at the data collected from this, it shows without a doubt that women had scored slightly higher in all areas except areas of feelings of compulsion and competition and over-sensitivity to social pressure; However, with the inadequate amount of subjects involve, this test cannot prove that there are any significant gender differences in driving norms.

    Issues of Reliability and Validity

    When discussing issues regarding psychological tests, two general areas are essential to identify. This would be the areas of reliability and validity. Reliability as referred to in the text of Abnormal Psychology 6th edition (Davison and Neale 1996) states "whatever is observed must occur under the prescribed circumstances not once but repeatedly. An event must be reproducible under the circumstances stated anywhere, anytime", and it is by this definition that we will be looking at the issue of reliability. In regards to validity, again taken from the text of Abnormal Psychology 6th edition (Davison and Neale), we see that it is referred to as "the extent to which an assessment procedure is measuring what we intended to measure", and is also the context in which we will be viewing it here.

    There are many factors that contribute to how reliable the test was. For instance, the time of day, the state of mind, the individuals mood etc. and all of these are factors which can influence the answers of the individual test taker. I did not - at this time, work on the test in a test-retest fashion which would have allowed me to assess the reliability of the questions to its fullest extent; however, I did receive feedback from some of the females responding as follows when I had asked them to elaborate on some questions:

  • "it really depends on what mood I am in when I drive"
  • "well, at some times of the day I am tired and that really affects how bad I want to get home".
  • From this I could not assess the reliability of the questions, but the knowledge that I did gain was that the female subjects had expressed more awareness that their moods and other external sources had an effect on their driving behaviors - as none of the male subjects had identified when I had asked them to elaborate on the same questions.

    To measure validity, I used the same technique. Again the subjects were asked to elaborate on certain questions to assure that the answers marked on the tests coincided with their responses. I had immediately noticed some discrepancies. For example, looking at items 1-7

    To see a list of the questions click here!!

    testing the anger theory of the individual, cumulative yes answers for females has a total of 23 and males a total of 16 - (maximum total = 56 , minimum total = 0). After asking the subjects to further explain their answers, they had all responded generally the same. They had questioned things as "how much is a lot more?" or "how much is regularly?" I had followed up by rephrasing the questions such as this one with question #2:

    I regularly have critical thoughts about other drivers.

  • "Have you ever found yourself having critical thoughts about other drivers? Perhaps their driving techniques?"
  • "What does regularly mean to you?" Perhaps with these elaboration's we can see what kinds of different behaviors males and females are experiencing.
  • Their responses were quite different after this. For the most part, after rephrasing the questions and providing them with scenario's, most of the subjects had admitted to regularly having critical thoughts - "Oh, yeah" about other drivers although marking "NO" for question #2. I had found, without asking them to further explain, the extent to which we intended to measure the frequency of their "critical thoughts of other drivers" could not be measured - either due to their interpretation of the question or the honesty of the test taker. In which ever case, the lack of information gained solely from the question itself and the small amount of subjects involved, could not determine the validity of this test.

    Implications in Traffic Psychology

    As mentioned earlier, the weight of gender norms affecting driving environments according to the test could not be determined, but the scope of " gender norms" in general is very much an area that, in my opinion, warrants further examination. So far, in Dr. James' G6 - Traffic Psychology course we have looked at the domains in which an individual / individuals experience, interpret and how they can enhance driving environments, and yet on a large scale, the " gender norms" which people follow within driving environments has not been addressed in much detail and has a strong effect on an individuals driving philosophy - further extending to driving environments.

    This leads me to believe that many behaviors have become so much of an unwritten rule in our driving society that they are becoming norms which shape many people to believe that they are in control when in actuality it is altering the amount of control they really have. Taking this a step further and looking at why it continues to happen could possibly be due to the reinforcement of the " gender norms" such as witnessing aggressive road rage behaviors so frequently in the media and on the roads, or falling for the belief to the use of communicating to the driver in front of you by tail gating when in actuality you are intimidating them. These are all things that people come in contact with everyday. By having these reinforcements, it reflects the aspect of classical conditioning (Social Psychology 1995) "A learning process in which a neutral stimulus is paired with a stimulus that causes a reflex response so that the neutral stimulus comes to evoke that response on its own".

    I feel that by looking at the norms of driving behavior on from a gender perspective, traffic psychology may be even more effective by bringing out the awareness of how negative behaviors are being reinforced by compliance with these norms. Perhaps the awareness of "what is really driving the car"- the person or the society, can aid in breaking the "resistance" that people are experiencing in this process of change, and enhance the efforts in shifting an individuals attention from external excuses to internal solutions. In simpler terms, perhaps by revealing the myth that shape gender norms we can shift the "justifications" of bad driving behaviors - escaping with the "monkey see monkey do" excuse, that are attributed to norms, and place the responsibility back on the individuals.

    Recommendations for Future Generations

    Although this assignment has proved to be a definite challenge, the results that I found - from the test, cannot be generalized towards a large population. Due to both the lack of subject matter and the questions involved, there were a lot of factors that were not taken into consideration which I feel would greatly contribute to the outcome.

    I have many suggestions that I hope "you" who inherit this assignment can benefit from. As I have done - to help in clarifying the answers, ask the subjects to explain their answers. By providing scenario's, asking for or giving them examples of personal experiences. Anything that will expand on the reasoning for their answers. A simple way to do this would be to record and interview them after they have taken the test, or even simpler yet, adding please explain after each question. I feel that this will give us less biased answers and more of an understanding to their thought processes while driving.

    Another way to do this would be to choose a test or devise one that would test the areas of ACS's (affective, cognitive and sensory motor). For example

  • Affective - Feeling angry and frustrated is normal when I am driving along and another driver cuts in front of me.
  • Cognitive - When I drive and another driver cuts in front of me I find myself thinking what a terrible driver they are.
  • Sensory Motor - When I drive and another driver cuts me off I yell out the window to let them know how mad I am.
  • I would hope that by giving the test questions more depth, less clarification would be needed to obtain results. Another important factor that I found while doing this exercise was that of individual perspective. By gaining information on the expectations different genders have about each other, we can increase the knowledge about how the norms of driving societies are shaped and accepted, and how they increase destruction in our environments as well as our minds. All these recommendations are ways that can help perpetuate and inform others about driving behaviors, and with your additional information can aid in creating appropriate norms for our driving environments. My last suggestion is for all the future generations, as challenging as this class is "embrace the resistance", it can be the most valuable learning experience you can have.

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