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Car Status and Bullying On the Road: It Pays To Drive a Maserati!

Car Status and Angry Driving.

One of the ways by which one might manifest his/her aggressive driving is via the use of an "impatient" car honk and/or light flashing. All other things equal, aggressive drivers are more likely to honk and flash their lights, and perhaps to do so more rapidly. We also know that people of high social status are granted greater deference. Might it be the case that the car that you drive is linked to bullying/bullied behavior? Specifically, does the likelihood of your getting honked at depend on the status associated with your car? Secondly, are you more likely to honk or flash your car's lights at someone as a function of the status of your car?

In today's post, I'd like to discuss two "oldie but goodie" studies that have investigated these exact issues. Doob and Gross (1968) conducted a naturalistic experiment (i.e., in the field) wherein they manipulated the status of a "blocking" car at an intersection. The objective was to gauge the reaction of the driver of the car that pulls up immediately behind the blocking car, once the intersection light turned green. When blocked by a low-status car, not only were drivers were more likely to honk but they also did so more rapidly. If you don't want people to honk at you indignantly, drive a Maserati!

Diekmann et al. (1996) completed the story by also conducting a field experiment wherein they held the status of the blocking car constant (Volkswagen Jetta) and instead explored how the car status of the blocked drivers would affect their behaviors. Perhaps not surprisingly, the higher the status of the blocked cars, the more aggressive the response as measured by car honking and light flashing.  Driving a Maserati will allow you to state more vociferously: "Get out of my way, punk!"

In my forthcoming trade book titled The Consuming Instinct: What Juicy Burgers, Ferraris, Pornography, and Gift Giving Reveal About Human Nature (Prometheus Books, 2011), I discuss the latter studies along with several others that deal with the use of cars as sexual signals.

Ciao for now.


Doob, A. N., & Gross, A. E. (1968). Status of frustrator as an inhibitor of horn-honking responses. Journal of Social Psychology, 76, 213-218.

Diekmann, A., Jungbauer-Gans, M., Krassnig, H., & Lorenz, S. (1996). Social status and aggression: A field study analyzed by survival analysis. Journal of Social Psychology, 136, 761-768.

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