A new study published in Transportation Research sheds light on the role of emotional self-regulation in preventing aggressive driving behaviors. The study explores how individuals can control their anger and manage instances of road rage.
“Aggressive driving can include a wide range of driving behaviors, such as speeding, tailgating, traffic rule violations, and inappropriate lane changing,” says Dr. Steven Love of the University of Sunshine Coast in Australia, the lead author of the study. “The behaviors often lead to altercations between drivers, resulting in the engagement of verbal or physical aggression, or even using the vehicle to express anger.”
For those who are struggling to improve on their aggressive driving behavior, Love offers two practical steps to follow:
- Accept that there is an issue. Recognizing that there is an issue and taking responsibility for one’s behavior are the first steps toward change. While external triggers may initiate feelings of anger, individuals must understand that they are responsible for their responses.
- Practice self-regulation regularly. This can be incorporated into daily routines, and there are specific mindfulness-based methods that can expedite the process of developing skills and nurturing a positive mindset.
“The problem with aggressive driving behaviors is that they can be initiated instantaneously and can be an unconscious response to emotional impulses,” says Love. “This means that the behaviors are difficult to intervene from both an enforcement and self-regulatory perspective.”
Driven by their interest in understanding self-regulation in the context of aggressive driving, the authors utilized a semi-structured interview method to examine triggers of anger, factors that contribute to anger, processes of anger regulation, and how individuals evaluate angry driving experiences.
One of the most significant findings of the study was that individuals with high ‘metacognitive’ awareness had better control over and regulation of anger while driving. This awareness also led to more adaptive evaluation of angry driving events, improving future responses to triggers.
“Metacognitive awareness refers to being attuned to one’s own thinking. It allows individuals to detach from their thoughts, identify harmful thinking patterns, and regulate their emotions effectively,” says Love.
Additionally, it was found that individuals with antisocial traits were found to be more resistant to change and had poorer control over their anger.
- They tended to attribute their aggressive behaviors to others and believed that aggression was necessary to “teach them a lesson.”
- These individuals lacked insight into their aggression and often acted without awareness of doing so. Even when they became aware of their behavior, it took them longer to regain control.
- They were prone to engage in anger rumination, which predisposed them to heightened and more uncontrollable anger responses in future triggering situations.
“It is believed that anger rumination predisposes drivers to heightened and more out-of-control anger responses the next time a trigger is presented,” says Love.
Self-regulation strategies play a vital role in preventing and managing aggressive driver behavior. These strategies involve adopting tactics to change or control one’s thinking, and strategies that aim to positively process negative feelings are beneficial.
For instance, positive reappraisal is regarded as a highly effective strategy. Many drivers reported successfully ‘letting it go’ and adopting the perspective that they have no control over certain events, thereby minimizing the impact on their emotions.
“The strategies we adopt will depend on our metacognitive skills and how experienced we are at regulating thinking. For example, an experienced person might say ‘I just control it.’”
“Fortunately, as with any skill, practicing the process of being self-aware can be learned and, in time, mastered,” Love states.
A full interview with Dr. Steven Love discussing his new research can be found here: A behavioral scientist explains how we can overcome involuntary road rage
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