Ivory Towers: It's enough to drive you mad

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WOMEN drivers are liable to become just as angry as men drivers, according to a recent study, though the causes of their anger may differ. Three researchers from the University of Colorado have designed a questionnaire specifically for use on bad-tempered car drivers; their results are reported in 'Development of a Driving Anger Scale' by J L Deffenbacher, E R Oetting and R S Lynch in a recent issue of Psychological Reports (1994, 74, 83-91).

The motivation for the research lay in traffic accident figures in the US, where an annual cost of dollars 75bn has been estimated in lost productivity through death and disablement on the roads. And part of that cost may be the result of people losing their tempers, or to put it more precisely: 'Anger while driving may interfere sufficiently with attention, perception, information processing, and motor performance to increase the likelihood of an accident directly or indirectly through the increased probability of other risk behaviours.' The authors specifically mention 'deleterious behaviours such as physical assault between drivers or arguments with passengers'.

So they asked 724 men and 802 women to assess 53 potentially provocative situations, on a five- point scale of fulmination ranging from 1 (not liable to make me angry at all) to 5 (liable to make me very angry). An analysis of responses revealed six clusters:

1) Hostile Gestures (for example, obscene gestures, honking or yelling).

2) Illegal Driving (through red light or too fast).

3) Police Presence (speed traps or hidden police car).

4) Slow Driving (pedestrians ambling across the road or dawdling drivers).

5) Discourtesy (drivers cutting in, cyclists in mid-lane, non-dimmed headlights).

6) Traffic Obstructions (jams, potholes, large trucks, detours).

These provide six sub-scales which may be compared with the overall score on driving anger. Generally the subscales correlated well with each other, though people angered by Illegal Driving tend not to be disturbed by Police Presence or Slow Driving.

While there were no gender differences in overall anger, scores on the subscales revealed that men and women drivers are angered by different things. 'Women are slightly more angry about things that interfere with their driving' including speeding, stop signs, road repairs and vehicles that interfere with traffic flow, while 'men may be slightly more angry about authority . . . and about slow driving'.

The new scale is described as 'only the first step toward exploring anger as a person-related variable in accidents or in other driving risks'.