ARSRPE Conference Paper Database

Do drivers respond emotionally and behaviourally differently to an intentionally anger provoking driving situation than to an ambiguous but potentially provocative one - results of a self-report survey

Shaw, L, O'Brien, S, Watson, B, Lennon, Alexia (Peer reviewed)

Driver Psychology / Human Factors


Aggressive driving is considered an important road-safety concern for drivers in highly motorised countries. However, understanding of the causes and maintenance factors fundamental to aggressive driving is limited. In keeping with theoretical advances from general aggression research such as the General Aggression Model (GAM), research has begun to examine the emotional and cognitive antecedents of aggressive driving in order to better understand the underlying processes motivating aggressive driving. Early findings in the driving area have suggested that greater levels of aggression are elicited in response to an intentionally aggressive on-road event. In contrast, general aggression research suggests that greater levels of aggression are elicited in response to an ambiguous event. The current study examined emotional and cognitive responses to two hypothetical driving scenarios with differing levels of aggressive intent (intentional versus ambiguous). There was also an interest in whether factors influencing responses were different for hostile aggression (that is, where the action is intended to harm the other) versus instrumental aggression (that is, where the action is motivated by an intention to remove an impediment or attain a goal). Results were that significantly stronger negative emotion and negative attributions, as well as greater levels of threat were reported in response to the scenario which was designed to appear intentional in nature. In addition, participants were more likely to endorse an aggressive behavioural response to a situation that appeared deliberately aggressive than to one where the intention was ambiguous. Analyses to determine if greater levels of negative emotions and cognitions are able to predict aggressive responses provided different patterns of results for instrumental aggression from those for hostile aggression. Specifically, for instrumental aggression, negative emotions and negative attributions were significant predictors for both the intentional and the ambiguous scenarios. In addition, perceived threat was also a significant predictor where the other driver‟s intent was clearly aggressive. However, lower rather than higher, levels of perceived threat were associated with greater endorsement of an aggressive response. For hostile aggressive behavioural responses, trait aggression was the strongest predictor for both situations. Overall the results suggest that in the driving context, instrumental aggression is likely to be a much more common response than hostile aggression. Moreover, aggressive responses are more likely in situations where another driver‟s behaviour is clearly intentional rather than ambiguous. The results also support the conclusion that there may be different underlying mechanisms motivating an instrumental aggressive response to those motivating a hostile one. In addition, understanding the emotions and cognitions underlying aggressive driving responses may be helpful in predicting and intervening to reduce driving aggression. The finding that drivers appear to regard tailgating as an instrumental response is of concern since this behaviour has the potential to result in crashes.