While I was out of the country, a new study on bumper stickers was hitting the media. As it touches upon on a number of things discussed in Traffic, the study, “Territorial Markings as a Predictor of Driver Aggression and Road Rage,” by William J. Szlemko, Jacob A. Benfield, Paul A. Bell, Jerry L. Deffenbacher, and Lucy Troup, all of Colorado State University, was right up my alley.
The study, published in the June issue of the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, essentially seeks to explain what part of aggressive driving behavior might be caused by the very environment of traffic, and the way we understand it and inhabit it. Working partly from a previous theory (i.e., I. Altman, The Environment and Social Behavior), the authors delineate the different types of space we inhabit: Primary, Secondary, and Public. A primary territory would be one’s home; a secondary would be a space one inhabits temporarily (the office); while public territory would be a park bench. One interesting source of tension noted by Altman is when one type of space (primary) is adjacent to another (public). When these are adjacent, “the potential for miscommunication and conflict increases as a result of confusion of social norms for each territory type.”
This is exactly the kind of situation we have in traffic: We sit in our own cars, occasionally acting like they are rooms closed off from the rest of the world; but most of the time we drive, save for our own garage, we drive in a public setting. As the authors note, however, some “boundary confusion” exists: “How many times have drivers uttered the phrase ‘He just got into my lane?’ ”
If one of the hallmarks of primary space is a tendency to mark it in some way, to define one’s territory, the authors speculated, then the opportunity for boundary confusion might be highest among those most committed to marking territoriality over their primary space. Thus, they argued, people who personalized their vehicles, and reported showing the most attachment to their vehicles, would act most aggressively to defend their territory in the transitional spaces of traffic.
And this is precisely what they found, in a self-reported survey of college students: “Both number of territory markers (e.g., bumper stickers, decals) and attachment to the vehicle were significant predictors of aggressive driving.”
While I found the study novel in its approach, and its implications fascinating, I was left with a few questions. (more…)