Are narcissists bad drivers?

In Greek mythology, many loved the hunter Narcissus for his beauty, but he showed them contempt and disdain. It seems many fellow narcissists exhibit similar behavior on the road. (A narcissist is someone who has an inflated sense of self-importance or who has an excessive interest in or admiration of themselves).

Psychological scientists from Ohio State University and the University of Luxembourg hypothesized that narcissism could predict aggressive driving behavior, which causes more than half of the traffic accidents in the United States each year.

The researchers concluded, through three studies, that the link between the two exists. Narcissists believe their time is precious compared to others and that they deserve special treatment. If they don’t get their way, they react with aggression.

For their research, the scientists distinguished those with a clinical diagnosis of narcissism and those with lower levels, the latter of which were the basis of the study. Lower levels of narcissism are defined varying levels of selfishness, superiority feelings, entitlement to special treatment and inflated self-views.

The studies

Two of the studies assessed participants’ levels of narcissism and driving habits. The narcissism questionnaire asked participants to rate how strongly they agreed with statements such as “I like to be the center of attention” and “I often swear at others when driving a car” on a scale of one to five. The researchers reported that stronger ratings of narcissism correlated with angrier and more aggressive driving habits.

The third study was a driving simulation where participants sat behind the wheel of a car, surrounded on three sides by a curved projection screen, for a 15- to 25-minute exercise. Participants saw other computer-generated cars and believed other study participants were operating some of the vehicles.

The drivers encountered five obstacles:

  • A car pulling in front of them suddenly
  • A traffic jam with two 10-second full stops in a row
  • A construction zone with one lane closed and the other slowed down
  • A second car mimicking the human’s behavior
  • A traffic light with a 60-second red like and a five-second green light

Participants who scored high on narcissism measures were more likely to tailgate, speed, drive off-road, cross the center lane into oncoming traffic, drive on the shoulder, honk their horn or use verbal aggression and aggressive gestures. Three of the highest-rated participants collided into other vehicles during the simulation.

These studies concluded what many of us likely knew already: drivers who behave recklessly are likely to be narcissists. We may not find these drivers beautiful like the Greeks thought of Narcissus, but these drivers treat everyone else on the road with the same contempt the hunter would exhibit behind the wheel.

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