Humans are hard-wired to rage on the road, scientists say
Human beings are hard-wired for road rage, says one anger expert.
And if you’re looking for an explanation for the recent violent examples of the phenomenon
that have shocked communities across Canada, look no further than your own brain.
Our ancient threat responses are all put on high alert by the modern stress of driving,
said R. Douglas Fields, an American neuroscientist and author of Why We Snap.
In Toronto, two men engaged in a sprawling fist fight in the middle of College Street in
broad daylight on Friday following a traffic conflict. And in East Vancouver, 33-year-old
Willis Hunt was gunned down on Friday in what police say may be another incident of
Fields said while he wasn’t able to speak directly to these two cases, such acts of
violence are more explicable than one might imagine. Aggression is one of the brain’s
survival mechanisms, he said, promoting self-defence in life-threatening situations.
“We still have the same brain we had a hundred thousand years ago,” he said. “Same
identical brain, but it's operating in a completely alien environment.”
In evolutionary terms, violence and aggression are defences against very specific
threats, Fields said, but the modern stresses inherent in driving hit every threat-
response trigger in the human brain.
Nearly 80 per cent of Canadians have experienced road rage, according to one study.
Road rage, as defined in the study, can range from speeding, profanity and aggressive
driving to physical violence.
And while anger resulting in violence might seem loathsome to the conscious mind, the
parts of the brain that respond to threats are subconscious, Fields said. It’s only after
the incident that we are able to consciously perceive what, exactly, provoked a threat
Different individuals, however, are wired to respond to threats differently, he said.
When humans sense danger, some freeze, some flee and some fight. Gender seems to be
one important factor, he said. For evolutionary reasons, he suggested, males are far
more likely to engage in violent behaviour.