Displaced Aggression Theory | Road Rage

Displaced Aggression Theory

What is Displaced Aggression?

Displaced aggression can occur when someone cannot aggress towards the source of incitement or provocation, so instead takes it out on something else and behaves aggressively towards another individual that had nothing to do with the initial conflict. According to Bushman in a 2005 study, “Aggression is displaced when the target is innocent of any wrongdoing but is simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

The individual may need to constrain any aggression when dealing with a coworker or a boss for example, and will direct it towards someone or something else, such as a pet, whenever any mildly annoyance is perceived. Specifically this phenomenon can be referred to as triggered displaced aggression. “Following an initial provocation, the target commits a minor provocation, the triggering event, which in turn prompts an aggressive response.” Anyone objectively observing this aggressive response may perceive it as being far more excessive than what one might expect from a minor provocation.

road rage

Displaced Aggression and Road Rage

Aggressive driving and road rage are good examples of real life scenarios in which the displaced aggression theory comes into play. Aggressive driving is less serious than road rage, which is not usually the direct result of the behavior of another motorist. A driver may become impatient, frustrated, and aggressive due to the phenomenon of displaced aggression discussed above. In this case, the driver, who is already angered by someone or something else, takes their aggression out onto the road. Speeding, flashing headlights, honking horn, and cutting in and out of lanes are all examples of the behavior of an aggressive driver. Aggressive driving is usually due to traffic congestion in a time of urgency.

Road rage is aggressive driving taken a step further into a potentially lethal direction, defined as: an incident in which an angry, impatient, or aroused motorist intentionally injures or kills, or tries to injure or kill, another motorist, passenger, or pedestrian, in response to a traffic dispute, altercation, or grievance. Some example behaviors of road rage include overly extreme tailgating, chasing another vehicle, driving straight at a pedestrian or another vehicle with the intent to injure, or trying to run another car off the road. Road rage, unlike aggressive driving, tends to be violent and a direct result of the interpretation of a provocation or confrontation, in which the driver must retaliate to defend their self-esteem.

It has been estimate than an average of 1,500 – 2,000 people are killed or injured each year in the United States due to vehicular homicide, and aggressive driving or road rage. In a 2006 national survey, there were more reported cases of aggressive driving and road rage in Miami than any other city in the United States; Phoenix, AZ followed closely in second.

The weapons most commonly used in incidents of road rage are the vehicles themselves or firearms. Researchers have shown a correlation between the possession of a gun in the car, and higher levels of aggressive behavior while driving. Shoes, fists, tire irons, knives, baseball bats and pepper spray have all been reportedly used in these altercations. Cases of domestic violence or disputes are commonly found factors leading up to road rage; these individuals take out their aggression on unsuspecting victims on the road.

Road rage is a growing problem in the United States; reported cases increase roughly 7% each year.