Trait Anger Linked to Dangerous Behavior Among Drivers

Individuals with excessive trait anger are "more easily provoked by a wide variety of situations than people with low levels of trait anger."

Trait anger and driving anger are positively correlated with dangerous driving behavior, with driving anger partially mediating the effect of trait anger on dangerous driving behavior, according to a new Chinese study. However, more experienced drivers are less likely to fall prey to dangerous driving, even if they experience trait or driving anger.

The researchers defined trait anger, a term derived from state-trait anger theory, as “a global or chronic tendency to experience anger.” Individuals with excessive trait anger are “more easily provoked by a wide variety of situations than people with low levels of trait anger.”

The authors call driving anger “situation-specific”; that is, “more frequent and intense anger while driving a car.” In the case of traffic scenarios, driving anger seems to share features with trait anger, according to previous studies. 

However, trait anger assesses “a somewhat independent construct from driving anger,” although both are positively correlated with dangerous driving behavior. Trait anger “may be associated with aggressive driving behavior directly, but may be connected to aggressive behavior via driving anger indirectly.” In addition, other variables may be at play, including the level of driving experience.

To further elucidate the connections among trait anger, driving anger, aggressive driving behavior, and driving experience, the researchers conducted a moderated mediation analysis of the effect of trait anger, driving anger, and driving experience on driving behavior in a sample of 303 drivers (age, 20-56 years) with an average driving experience of 6.56 years (SD, 5.305) and an average annual mileage of 20,198 km (SD, 27,942 km). Participants were drawn from public places such as office buildings, gas stations, parking lots, shopping centers, and restaurants in Beijing, China.

The researchers used the Driving Anger Scale (DAS) to measure anger predisposition while driving, the Trait Anger Scale (TAS) to measure state-trait expression, and the Dula Dangerous Driving Index (DDDI) to measure dangerous forms of driving behavior. The scale measures 4 types of dangerous driving behaviors: negative cognitive/emotional driving, aggressive driving, risky driving, and drunk driving.

According to participants’ self-report, the average frequency of dangerous driving behavior on the DDDI was 2.15, with negative cognitive/emotional driving the most common dangerous driving behavior (average score, 2.44 for the subscale). Risky driving was slightly more common (M, 2.13), and aggressive driving was a less common form of dangerous driving (M, 1.96). The least common type of dangerous driving behavior was drunk driving (M, 1.59). The researchers stated that the total DDDI “showed very good reliability (α = 0.94).”

All 4 of the DDDI subscales were positively correlated with the total scores of the TAS and the DAS. There was a negative correlation between the drunk driving subscale of DDDI and age, with female drivers reporting a significantly higher score on the TAS than male drivers. On the whole, men possessed a higher number of driving years, annual mileages, and total mileage than women, pointing to a positive relationship between sex and the 3 variables.

Bootstrapping analysis found that DAS mediated the relationship between TAS and DDDI, after controlling for age and sex. TAS positively predicted the effect of DAS on high levels of total and low mileage (gradient, 0.33 [t=4.20; P =.000] and gradient, 0.74 [t=9.48; P =.000], respectively). In addition, the magnitude of the effect of TAS on DAS decreased as total mileage increased, and the magnitude of the mediated effect of DAS on DDDI was moderated by total mileage.

“The results showed that driving anger partially mediated the effect of trait anger on dangerous driving behavior. Driving experience moderated the relationship between trait anger and driving anger as well as the effect of driving anger on dangerous driving behavior,” the researchers stated.

Both trait anger and driving anger “played an important role in driving behavior,” demonstrating a moderately positive correlation with all 4 subcategories of dangerous driving behavior, the researchers continued, noting that the coefficient between trait anger and DDDI was greater than that between driving anger and DDDI.

The researchers noted several limitations to their study, including their reliance on self-report rather than objective measures (eg, driving simulation) and the fact that the participants might not have been representative of all Chinese drivers.

Nevertheless, they called the findings of their study “interesting,” especially regarding the interaction between driving experience, trait anger, and driving anger. They noted that that they used total mileage from the time the driver obtained a license as the index of driving experience. Drivers with more experience, regardless of the level of trait anger, displayed similar levels of anger under driving conditions.

In contrast, in drivers with limited experience, higher trait anger led to irritation more easily under similar situations than lower trait anger. Moreover, the extent of driving experience moderated the effect of driving anger on dangerous driving behavior. The results showed that higher driving anger led to more dangerous driving behavior than lower driving anger in the less experienced driver group.

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Ge Y, Zhang Q, Zhao W, Zhang K, Qu W. Effects of trait anger, driving anger, and driving experience on dangerous driving behavior: A moderated mediation analysis [published online May 29, 2017]. Aggress Behav. doi: 10.1002/ab.21712