People who drive for their jobs take safety seriously on the road, but unfortunately accidents can still occur due to another driver's negligence. Many of us assume reckless drivers are selfish people, and while many accidents happen because of another driver's honest mistake, our assumptions may be accurate.
A new body of research looked at narcissism and aggressive driving to see if there was a correlation between the two. Aggressive driving is the cause of more than half of all traffic accidents in the United States.
In three studies, psychological scientists from Ohio State University and the University of Luxembourg assessed people with subclinical levels of narcissism, meaning they haven't received a clinical narcissism diagnosis. Clinical narcissism is a personality disorder characterized by:
- A need for admiration
- A lack of empathy
Whereas lower levels of narcissism are defined by varying levels of:
- Feelings of superiority
- Entitlement to special treatment
- Inflated self-views
Narcissism and aggressive driving go hand in hand
The researchers found that the more narcissistic drivers are, the likelier they are to become angry and aggressive on the road.
In one of the studies, the researchers used a 15- to 25-minute driving simulation where participants sat behind the wheel of a 2010 Honda Accord surrounded on three sides by a curved projection screen. They encountered the following scenarios:
- A car pulling suddenly in front of them
- A traffic jam with two 10-second full traffic stops, one after another
- A construction zone with one lane closed and the other lane slowed down
- A second car mimicking the human driver's behavior
- A traffic light that was red for 60 seconds and green for five seconds
Those participants who scored high on narcissism measures were more likely to tailgate, speed, drive off-road, cross the center line into oncoming traffic, drive on the shoulder, honk their horn or use verbal or physical aggression. In fact, three participants who had significantly higher narcissism scores compared to other participants crashed with other vehicles.
The researchers concluded that narcissists may have the tendency to see their time as precious compared to that of others and believe they deserve special treatment, and when they don't get their way they react aggressively.
If you see another driver on the road acting recklessly who almost causes or does cause an accident, the immediate thought that "they must think they're really important" is probably right on the nose.