Road Rage Psychology – courtesy of Urban Velo

Road Rage Psychology

rageI’ve always felt the argument that one rule-breaking cyclist (“You ran a red light?! Now we’re all gonna die!!”) is what compels drivers to hate all our collective guts, is very weak. Human nature is far more complex and subconscious than this, as is argued by BBC writer, Tom Stafford, as he pulls from evolutionary theory and social psychology to give a more thorough explanation of this road rage phenomenon. He explains,

…It’s not because cyclists are annoying. It isn’t even because we have a selective memory for that one stand-out annoying cyclist over the hundreds of boring, non-annoying ones (although that probably is a factor). No, my theory is that motorists hate cyclists because they think they offend the moral order…

… Humans seem to have evolved one way of enforcing order onto potentially chaotic social arrangements. This is known as “altruistic punishment”, a term used by Ernst Fehr and Simon Gachter in a landmark paper published in 2002. An altruistic punishment is a punishment that costs you as an individual, but doesn’t bring any direct benefit. As an example, imagine I’m at a football match and I see someone climb in without buying a ticket. I could sit and enjoy the game (at no cost to myself), or I could try to find security to have the guy thrown out (at the cost of missing some of the game). That would be altruistic punishment.

I don’t think there is much of a cooperative answer to this problem of cyclists avoiding generally accepted traffic laws, in part as a way of protecting ourselves, but maybe this theory can help you shrug off the haters as you circumvent the moral social order next time the light turns red on you.

Check out Urban Velo – great site and magazine

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