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Answering All Your Car Questions

Putting the brakes on road rage

Research project drives anger to the curb

(NC)—Has the driver in front of you ever slammed on the breaks for no apparent reason? Why do slowpokes always land in the fast lane? Is signaling to change lanes a thing of the past?

It is easy to predict what can make people angry behind the wheel. The real value is in figuring out what calms people back down.

"Understanding the anger cycle is going to benefit those who plan public road safety campaigns and driver education programs," says Wolfgang Linden, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia. His research, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), looks at what makes people angry, how they respond to it and how they recover from it.

Provoking anger in the real world in order to study it is dangerous and unethical, so Linden and his research team turn to virtual-reality driving simulators—the same as those used for head-injury patients who prepare to return to open-road driving. The simulated environment is not only safe, but also cost-effective and environmentally friendly.

"People react to stressful situations in different ways," Linden continues. "By provoking people in a controlled environment, we can watch how they react in response. Then we can start to make the links between anger, stress and disease."

You'll find more information about projects supported by SSRHC on the Council's Web site at