La Rage dans les Rues

Whether it’s Friday evening during rush hour or Sunday morning or Tuesday at 2am, I always get to enjoy the lovely sounds of vehicles in Paris. Vehicles communicate in the most loud and obnoxious way, and I’m convinced that it’s even worse than fifteen American college students causing a raucous in the metro. See, these vehicles communicate sans blinkers or small toots. Instead, they scream at each other with blaring horns that could last up to five full seconds. And here I am on the edge of Paris city limits, my window overlooking a busy street and the perimeter highway.

View of the perimeter highway from my window

I know the traffic in Atlanta is bad, but at least cars don’t have conversations via honking there. I’m beginning to think that honking is a subset of the French language. It most likely has developed due to the insane intersections like the roundabout at the Arc de Triomphe.

Check out this video to see the roundabout in action: https://youtu.be/-2RCPpdmSVg

Traffic around the Arc de Triomphe

So what is behind this road rage of sorts? Impatience. The unwillingness to wait for someone or something and tending to be quickly irritated. While I don’t have any tendencies towards road rage, this is a concept I very much relate to. Pretty much everywhere I go, people walk incredibly slowly and often block the path I’m trying to walk on, and I don’t particularly enjoy it. I think we all get frustrated at some point during each day, but what causes some people to act out this frustration while others let it go? Do some people have more angry personalities than others? Studies have shown that even mentally healthy individuals can engage in consequential acts of aggression (Anderson & Bushman, 2002), and some people have higher tendencies toward acts of aggression than others (Bettencourt et al., 2006). There are two types of aggressive personalities: general and displaced. When people with high displaced aggression are provoked, they harm innocent others and report increased levels of romantic partner abuse and driving aggression, whereas people with high general aggression do not (Denson et al., 2006).

Much of research concerning driving risk has found that emotional stability, agreeableness, and conscientiousness are factors in aggressive driving, which leads to risky driving outcomes (Chraif et al., 2016), but few studies have related behavioral observations and subjective ratings to particular areas of the brain. An fMRI study by Denson et al. (2009) sought out to better understand the neural processes underlying risk for aggression. Participants were provoked during a simple task through interruptions, and during one, the experimenter condescendingly implied that the participant was not intelligent enough to follow basic directions.

Figure 1 from Denson et al. (2009)

Interestingly, results from the fMRI imply that there is a neural basis for differences in aggressive behavior. Just seconds after being insulted, there were differences between activated regions of the brain, the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) and the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), that correlated with different aggressive personalities. Individual differences in general aggression and the subjective experience of anger were more strongly correlated with activity of a region associated with the intensity of anger (dACC), whereas individual differences in displaced aggression were more strongly correlated with activity in a region associated with self-reflection and emotional regulation (mPFC) (Figure 1). Essentially, these data suggest that activity in these brain regions contributes to the differences in personality and behavior in response to provocation.

While Denson et al.’s results were convincing, especially through the use of a real-world provocation, I would love to see researchers take this study one step further to observe behavioral variances between those with different aggressive personalities. Though a bit of a stretch, with more research, one might find activation of the mPFC higher in those with road rage. Current models indicate that road rage is an incredibly complex phenomenon, with many contributing psychological factors (Lajunen & Parker, 2001). Perhaps cultural differences play a role, as well, in determining which type of aggressive personality an individual develops. If so, I would guess that the French are prone to high displaced aggression!

 

References:

Anderson, C. A., & Bushman, B. J. (2002). Human aggression. Annual review of psychology, 53(1), 27-51.

Bettencourt, B., Talley, A., Benjamin, A. J., & Valentine, J. (2006). Personality and aggressive behavior under provoking and neutral conditions: a meta-analytic review. Psychological bulletin, 132(5), 751.

Chraif, M., Aniţei, M., Burtăverde, V., & Mihăilă, T. (2016). The link between personality, aggressive driving, and risky driving outcomes–testing a theoretical model. Journal of Risk Research, 19(6), 780-797.

Denson, T. F., Pedersen, W. C., & Miller, N. (2006). The displaced aggression questionnaire. Journal of personality and social psychology, 90(6), 1032.

Denson, T. F., Pedersen, W. C., Ronquillo, J., & Nandy, A. S. (2009). The angry brain: Neural correlates of anger, angry rumination, and aggressive personality. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 21(4), 734-744.

Lajunen, T., & Parker, D. (2001). Are aggressive people aggressive drivers? A study of the relationship between self-reported general aggressiveness, driver anger and aggressive driving. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 33(2), 243-255.

Traffic around the Arc de Triomphe: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-2RCPpdmSVg

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