6 Scientific Reasons People Drive Like Assholes
Shocking stat of the day: Despite the invention of airbags, seatbelts, antilock brakes and god knows how many other improvements meant to keep us safe, traffic deaths aren't much lower than before all that was invented.
How is that even possible? Well, if you've spent five minutes on the roads today, you know why: People can't drive worth a shit. Here are some scientific reasons that guy in the next lane is about to run you into a guardrail.
He Just Finished Playing a Racing Video Game
Unless you're a professional gamer, a mercenary for hire or you just take lots of acid and often find yourself chasing six-foot tall mushrooms through the streets, there really aren't that many video game skills that translate into something practical in the real world.
At first blush, racing games seem to be an exception to that rule. We all have to drive, right? And not just anyone can navigate a Lamborghini Murcielaga through Las Vegas at 185 miles-per-hour and only slaughter, like, two pedestrians. Surely the dexterity and reflexes required to brake, boost and drift all at the same time in Burnout: Paradise translate to some sweet fucking chops behind the wheel of an actual car, right?
Not the same as real life.
Incredibly, video games have failed to improve our lives again.
A recent study found that men who simply play racing games and then get behind the wheel of a real car tend to take more risks, display more aggression toward other motorists and generally drive like they're trying to cross some imaginary finish line before everyone else. Or, like the other cars are cheating by teleporting right behind him even when he knew he was way ahead, goddamnit.
Curiously, this effect can be blunted if you simply avoid having a penis. Studies showed women can play Gran Turismo for eight hours straight, drive home in the heaviest rush-hour traffic ever and never once scream, "Get that piece of shit out of my way you festering communist anal wart."
The Dunning-Kruger Effect
This one is not only a cause for bad driving everywhere, but also about half of the bad stuff that happens in the world.
Have you ever known anyone who thought they were awesome at something when, in reality, they sucked very, very badly? Even when all their friends told them they sucked? And their mother told them they sucked? You've got the guy at the office who still insists he could play in the NFL, the shrieking girl on karaoke night who is sure she could sing professionally if she chose to...
It's possible that those poor souls are living in the shadow of the Dunning-Kruger effect. Cornell psychologists Justin Kruger and David Dunning describe this phenomenon as someone being "unskilled and unaware," meaning they have a specific short circuit in their brains that makes them suck at figuring out they suck.
Once you are aware of this phenomenon, you'll see it five times a day in your everyday life. And perhaps nowhere is this more dramatically demonstrated than on our roadways.
This driver will vastly overestimate his own driving abilities, while underestimating or diminishing everyone else's, and he'll be as self-assured as possible while he's doing it. That's why he thinks he's perfectly capable of talking on his cell while steering with a sandwich, but anybody else who does that should have both their license and reproductive organs revoked.
Experts call this "deficient metacognitive skill" but it's basically a ridiculous system by which a person continually sees all other drivers as worse than they are, therefore making himself look better by comparison. This is coupled with a complete inability to self-evaluate, so they go on living in their own little fantasy world where they're the king of the road, and the rest of us are just obstacles to be avoided, sped by and flipped off.
The Safer They Feel, the Worse They Drive
The primary need of every human is to feel safe and secure. Once those needs are met, it really frees us up to concentrate on other more important things, like changing lanes without looking, tailgating other drivers and leaning on our horn during a traffic jam just to alert other drivers that we're displeased with the situation.
Everyone else hates it too. Shut up.
Everybody has an acceptable level of risk, and scientists say we try to keep risk at the same acceptable level in any situation. This sort of makes sense until you realize that if your risk level is too low, you will actually engage in riskier behavior to compensate.
So, for example, when you get into your custom Volvo with the five-point harness NASCAR seat belts, side impact airbags and anti-lock, you don't just pat yourself on the back for being extra safe. No, you subconsciously compensate by driving faster, following other cars more closely and flipping the bird more frequently.
On the opposite side of the psychological highway, the driver in the '74 Ford Pinto with the washrag gas cap and four bald tires is probably driving under the speed limit, signaling every turn and hating your guts as you whiz by him at 90 miles-an-hour.
Last known sighting of the elusive Pinto.
Maybe it's the same reason football players get concussions even with those armored, padded helmets on their heads. Each guy seems to think, "Hey, I've got my skull good and protected! That means I can slam my head into dudes even harder."
Basically, all the well-intentioned safety measures the world imposes on us are nullified by the psychopath that lies just below the surface in all of us.
His or Her Genes
Hopefully you're not reading this while you're hauling ass down the highway, but if you are, what the hell... take a quick peek at the cars to your left and to your right. Now think about this: The odds are that one of those drivers--who really seem to have you sandwiched in there--has a gene that makes them a shitty driver. Better go ahead and buckle up too while you're at it.
The human body produces a protein called BDNF which is responsible for maintaining the health of our synapses. Scientists refer to this function as neuroplasticity, the brain's ability to renew itself and retain information.
Ben Stein has tons of that shit.
Driving, being one of those tasks that requires attention, decision-making and good motor skills, depends heavily on this. Good drivers' brains have high levels of BDNF production which allow them to learn faster and perform better during tasks that require advanced motor function. Bad drivers, sadly, do not.
And BDNF production is tied to one single gene variant which scientists have romantically dubbed Rs6265. If someone suffers from low BDNF levels, it doesn't 't necessarily mean they're going to go all Tiger Woods on a tree with their SUV every time they get behind the wheel. They're just more likely to do it than someone whose brain is virtually oozing BDNF like grease from a Fatburger.
That's what BDNF looks like, right?
Their Car Smells Like Shit
OK, maybe not literally like shit. It's probably more like a wet Labradoodle covered with havarti cheese. Either way, bad odors have an adverse affect on your driving ability. So that's what those goddmaned pine tree air fresheners are for. We thought it was for guys to cover up the smell of weed in case they get pulled over.
In that case, don't get this kind.
Anyway, according to scientists at the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation, a nice big whiff of something nasty can induce feelings of hostility, cause you to drive more aggressively and increase your chances of being involved in an accident.
"You just get a warning since it smells like eggy ass out here."
And secondly, smells are processed by the limbic system in your brain, which also governs emotions and long-term memories. A foul odor can evoke any number of long-buried memories and the emotions that come with them. The smell of rotting garbage may bring back memories of that year you lived in a dumpster.
Hard not to miss the old place.
At its most harmless, this leads to an inability to fully concentrate on the road. But if the smell is irritating enough, it can trigger a response in your trigeminal nerve which runs smack dab through the center of your skull.
A nerve response like this is typically accompanied by an adrenaline release that instantly puts you in a tense and angry state. "Tense and angry" tends to mean "asshole" to other motorists, and means you are more likely to start driving like one.
He Just Watched The Fast and the Furious... Again
In many ways, we are prisoners of the culture we grew up in. We're social creatures, we can't help it.
For instance, we all know that children are itty-bitty little profanity sponges. Let a couple of F-bombs slip around a three-year-old, and next thing you know it's "Fuck you Tinky-Winky" this, and "Eat a dick, Bob the Builder" that.
According to psychologist Dr. Leon James children are also quite the little assimilators of our driving habits as well. He has postulated that a childhood of riding with parents who do inconsiderate things--like screaming obscenities, following too closely, attempting vehicular homicide--has a profound effect on the way that we will drive in the future. In other words, if your parents were assholes behind the wheel, it's a good bet you will be too.
And it's not just your parents that fuck you up. Oh no, it's our entire gasoline and car-chase addicted culture. Car chases look freaking awesome on screen and we've been cramming them into movies ever since the camera was invented. Ask a cop how much he likes the Fast and the Furious franchise. He'll be torn between his love for Vin Diesel and the way street racing deaths doubled the year the first film came out. Think it's ridiculous when panicked moral crusaders talk about how movies influence our youth? Tell that to members of the LAPD who have to do extra patrols around theaters showing Fast and Furious sequels just to keep teenagers from squealing off into the distance and smashing head-on into a tanker truck.
Do not attempt to be this homoerotic in real life.
Check out more from Dave over at http://idontgiveadamn.org.
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Now find out what science has to say about the loving actions of our pets, in 6 Insane Dog Behaviors Explained by Evolution and 6 Adorable Cat Behaviors With Shockingly Evil Explanations.
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