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Running head: DRIVING VENGEANCE 1

Age and Vengeance as Predictors of Mild Driver Aggression

Dwight A. Hennessy

Dept. of Psychology

Buffalo State College

&

David L. Wiesenthal

Dept. of Psychology

York University

Note: This manuscript appears in Violence and Victims so plagiarism will be fruitless. This is used

for demonstration purposes in PSY450 only.

Key Words: AGGRESSION; VENGEANCE; AGE; AUTOMOBILE


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Abstract

The present study examined the influence of driver age and vengeance on mild aggression among

drivers with at least five years experience. Mild aggression decreased with age among low

vengeance drivers and changed little across age groups among moderately vengeful drivers.

However, mild driver aggression actually increased with age among highly vengeful drivers.

Results are interpreted in terms of the aggressive nature of an enduring vengeful attitude.
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Age and Vengeance as Predictors of Mild Driver Aggression

According to Stuckless and Goranson (1992), vengeance can be a strong motivation for

aggressive and violent behavior. Vengeance has been linked to a variety of destructive behaviors,

including homicide (Daly & Wilson, 1988), vandalism (Wiesenthal, 1990), workplace aggression

(Douglass & Martinko, 2001), arson (Bradford & Dimock, 1986), violent crime (Gibson &

Goranson, 1996), and suicide (Tanaka, 2001). McCullough, Bellah, Kilpatrick, and Johnson

(2001) have noted that revenge motivated aggression is stimulated by a variety of goals, including

getting even, teaching the victim a lesson, and "saving face” to establish respect. Further, there is

often a belief that vengeful aggression may ultimately deter future unfair treatment from the victim

or other observers and increase personal self worth (Cota-McKinley, Woody, & Bell, 2001;

Wilmot & Hocker, 2001). Such vengeful tendencies can cultivate over time as perceptions of

injustice accumulate, which can lead to a vengeful disposition and an increased tendency toward

destructive retaliatory behavior (Gibson & Wiesenthal, 1996; Holbrook, 1997; McCullough et al.,

2001). According to McCullough et al. (2001), vengeful individuals typically ruminate longer over

perceived infractions, are less forgiving, and demonstrate prolonged motivation to harm perceived

transgressors.

Vengeance has been recently linked to roadway aggression and violence in both

hypothetical and actual driving situations (Gibson & Wiesenthal, 1996; Hennessy & Wiesenthal,

2001a; in press). Wiesenthal, Hennessy and Gibson (2000) have defined driving vengeance as the

wish or desire to get even with another within the driving environment in response to a perceived

injustice or infraction. For some drivers, this desire is fulfilled through acts of personal aggression

and violence (Hennessy & Wiesenthal, 2001a; in press). Within the driving environment,

aggression arises predominantly as a consequence of perceived conflict, provocation, threat, or


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danger from another driver (Gibson & Wiesenthal, 1996; Gulian, Debney, Glendon, Davies, &

Matthews, 1989; Hennessy, 1999; Matthews, Dorn, & Glendon, 1991; McGarva & Steiner, 2000;

Wiesenthal et al., 2000). Seclusion and lack of communication between drivers typically prohibits

personal explanations for negative driving behaviors. As a result, those who do not see a clear

environmental explanation to actions that are perceived as aversive and potentially harmful, may

view those actions as purposeful and personal (Ohbuchi & Kambara, 1985; Quigley & Tedeschi,

1989), leading to reduced inhibitions against harming the transgressor (Geen & Stonner, 1973).

However, revenge motivated aggression is often much more harsh and persistent than the

precipitating action, possibly in an attempt to exert power and control over the perceived violator

and to authoritatively bring the dispute to a conclusion (Black, 1983; Cramerus, 1990; Daly &

Wilson, 1988; Elster, 1990; Kim & Smith, 1993; Lane, Hull, & Foehrenbach, 1991; Stuckless &

Goranson, 1992). Despite its destructive nature, vengeful individuals typically feel warranted in

harming others they believe are deserving of punishment or correction for inappropriate behavior,

because it provides a sense of “justice” (Baumeister, 1997; Bies & Tripp, 2001; Daly & Wilson,

1988; Pettiway, 1987).

Previous research has found that age is negatively related to both mild driver aggression

and vengeance (Hauber, 1980; Stuckless & Goranson, 1992; Wiesenthal & Hennessy, 1999;

Wiesenthal et al., 2000). One possible explanation may be that young drivers exert greater effort

in defending their personal space, especially given that the vehicle is often their most valuable

possession (Hauber, 1980). As a result, younger drivers may be more likely to perceive innocuous

actions of other drivers as intentional infractions, thus enhancing the perceived need for defensive

aggression and punishment of violators. In the absence of police, young drivers may feel that they

alone are left to take action to protect themselves in the presence of threat of injustice.
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Considering that younger drivers, particularly males, have also been found more likely to take

risks and drive in a dangerous manner (Guppy, 1993; Jonah, Thiessen, & Vincent, 1997; Stradling

& Meadows, 2000; Stradling, Meadows, & Beatty, 2000), punishment of “violators” may take the

form of overt aggression. In contrast, as drivers age and gain experience, they typically achieve a

greater understanding of the causes of anger and a degree of behavioral control (Geen, 1990), and

also develop a greater accuracy in the perception of risks involved in hazardous driving patterns

(Cvetkovich & Earle, 1990; Rumar, 1990), which could lead to decreased aggressive responses

(Geen, 1990).

Given the similar negative relationship of age with both vengeance and aggression,

Hennessy and Wiesenthal (in press) have noted that an over sampling of younger drivers may

serve to inflate reported links between vengeance and mild driver aggression. As a result, the

present study was designed to examine this link across an older driving sample, with at least five

years driving experience. It was predicted that mild driver aggression would decline with age, but

most prominently among low vengeance drivers. High vengeful drivers would demonstrate little

reduction in mild driver aggression with age.

Method

Participants

Participants (43 female and 47 males) were recruited, through posted signs and referrals,

from the student and employee populations of York University, and from the surrounding business

community of Metropolitan Toronto. A minimum of five years driving experience was required

with an average of 15.45 years experience (M = 15.04 years for females and M = 15.89 years for

males). The age range was 21-67 years, with an average of 32.88 years (M = 32.86 years for

females and M = 32.89 years for males). The average daily driving time ranged from 15 to 480
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minutes per day, with an average of 98.82 minutes per day (M = 106.30 minutes for females and

M = 92.12 minutes for males).

Materials

The Driving Vengeance Questionnaire (DVQ) (Wiesenthal et al., 2000) was developed to

evaluate a general susceptibility toward a vengeful driving attitude. Items represent common

driving situations in which a participant might be irritated, or feel unjustly treated by another

driver. Participants were required to select a likely response from a series of four options

involving decreasing levels of severity. Response alternatives ranged from displays of extreme

aggression (e.g., force the other vehicle off the road) to doing nothing. Scoring consisted of

assigning a rank to each item, based on the level of severity involved in the chosen response

option. The first, and most extreme, option was assigned a rank of 4, while subsequent options,

which decreased in their level of severity, were assigned ranks of 3, 2, and 1 respectively. All

items also included an open ended response option, to which participants could indicate an

alternate response to those provided. All alternate responses were independently rated as to their

severity in relation to the options provided for that item. For example, those deemed equivalent

to the most extreme option for that item were given a rank of 4, while those considered equivalent

to doing nothing were given a rank of 1. A vengeance score was calculated as the sum of all

individual item ratings with higher scores indicating a more vengeful driving attitude. The DVQ

has been found to represent a reliable measure of vengeful driving attitudes (alpha = 0.83), and to

predict the likelihood of mild driver aggression and violence (Hennessy & Wiesenthal, 2001a;

Wiesenthal et al., 2000).

The Self Report Driver Aggression Questionnaire was developed to evaluate the

likelihood of engaging in mild driver aggression, defined as intentionally harmful acts directed
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toward others in the traffic environment (Hennessy & Wiesenthal, 1997, 1999, 2001b). The five

aggressive items included horn honking out of frustration, purposeful tailgating, swearing/yelling,

using hand gestures, and flashing high beams out of frustration. Responses ranged from 0 = “not

at all” to 5 = “nearly all the time”, indicating how frequently they generally engage in each

behavior when driving. An aggregate driver aggression score was calculated as the mean

response to the five individual items. Higher scores indicated a greater likelihood of engaging in

mild aggressive driving behaviors. Hennessy (2000) found that self reported driver aggression

scores correlated highly with actual acts of mild aggression occurring in actual traffic conditions

(r = .643).

Procedure

Due to prior concerns that previous research may have overestimated the relationship

between mild driver aggression and driving vengeance (see Hennessy & Wiesenthal, in press), the

present study selected participants with greater than five years driving experience. All participants

completed the Driving Vengeance Questionnaire (DVQ) and Self Report Driver Aggression

questionnaire in private. Due to the sensitive nature of the present driving measures, all

questionnaires were completed anonymously and instructions were designed to emphasize that all

responses would be held in strict confidence.


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Results

Intercorrelations, means, standard deviations and alpha reliabilities for age, the Driving

Vengeance Questionnaire (DVQ) and Self Report Driver Aggression questionnaire appear in Table

1.

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A hierarchical entry stepwise regression was used to determine predictors of mild driver

aggression. The main effect predictors included driving vengeance, driver age and gender. All

main effects were entered forcibly and all interaction terms were added stepwise on the first run.

Any significant interactions were then entered forcibly on the second run, along with their

constituent main effects. All other significant main effects (i.e. those not part of interaction

effects) were added stepwise on the second run. However, in the event that no interactions were

found significant on the first run, significant main effects were entered forcibly on the second run.

This strategy has been reported elsewhere (e.g. Kohn, Gurevich, Pickering, & Macdonald, 1994;

Kohn & Macdonald, 1992). Table 2 contains the final model for mild driver aggression.

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Mild driver aggression was predicted by the main effect of age and the interaction of age

X vengeance (R2 = 0.35, F(3,86) = 15.45, p=.005). While the main effect of age demonstrated a

negative relationship with mild aggression, the form of its interaction with vengeance was not as

expected. As can be seen in Figure 1, the likelihood of mild aggression decreased with age only
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among low vengeance drivers. Among moderately vengeful drivers, there was little change in

mild aggression with age, however highly vengeful drivers reported an increase in mild driver

aggression with age.

To generate Figure 1, the regression equation in Table 2 was applied to 27 idealized cases

generated as follows: driver age at 5 year intervals in the range of 20 to 60 with a vengeance

score 1 SD below the mean, at the mean, or 1 SD above the mean (representing low medium and

high vengeance respectively). The 27 idealized cases thus represent 9 levels of age X 3 levels of

driving vengeance.

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Discussion

Previous research has typically found that age is negatively related to both aggression and

vengeance (Cota-McKinley et al., 2001; Daly & Wilson, 1988; Gibson & Wiesenthal, 1996; Harris

& Knight-Bohnhoff, 1996; Hauber, 1980; Lindeman, Harakka, & Keltikangas-Jarvinen, 1997;

Pettiway, 1987; McConatha, Leone, & Armstrong, 1997; Stuckless & Goranson, 1992), while

driving vengeance has been linked to elevated driver aggression (Hennessy & Wiesenthal, 2001a;

Wiesenthal et al., 2000). Consequently it was predicted that mild driver aggression would

decrease with age, but less so among those high in driving vengeance. However, the present

study demonstrated that mild aggression declined only among low vengeance drivers. Moderately

vengeful drivers showed little change in aggression with age, but unexpectedly, mild driver

aggression actually increased with age among highly vengeful drivers.

The majority of drivers do not possess a highly vengeful attitude, and most drivers appear
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to moderate aggressive behavior as they gain experience (Hennessy, 2000; Hennessy &

Wiesenthal, 2001a; Wiesenthal et al., 2000). However, a small subsample of drivers do maintain

dangerous driving behaviors and attitudes throughout life (Hennessy, 2000; Jonah et al., 1997;

Labiale, 1988). For most, greater driving experience leads to a fuller understanding of the

potential threat to the self and others as a result of extreme or dangerous actions, which typically

contributes to reduced aggression tendencies and vengeful attitudes (Cvetkovich & Earle, 1990;

Rumar, 1990). It is possible that those older drivers that continue to hold a highly vengeful

driving attitude represent a small but extreme, or zealous, group of drivers in which vengeful

aggression has become a habitual or routine problem solving strategy. Given that vengeful

individuals are more prone to perceive minor infractions as unjust treatment (Stuckless &

Goranson, 1992; Wiesenthal et al., 2000), older vengeful drivers may have had greater experience

and accumulation of perceived irritation, frustration, and transgression compared to younger

drivers, which would increase their tendency toward retaliatory aggression. These negative

experiences would serve to concurrently maintain their vengeful attitude and increase the

perceived legitimacy of aggression to deal with interdriver conflict.

In a similar respect, repeated use of vengeful aggression to deal with perceived injustice

may simply reinforce feelings of power and control, further promoting its use. Successful use of

such aggression without punishment or negative repercussion among older vengeful drivers, due

to their increased experience, may elevate its position within their typical driving behavior

repertoire. According to Walker and Richardson (1998), aggression among older individuals is

typically more indirect, representing less personal threat. The fact that the automobile provides all

drivers with a degree of anonymity, an easy means of escape from danger, and a powerful weapon

(Marsh & Collett, 1987; Novaco, 1991) may help to sustain aggressive tendencies among older
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drivers that hold a highly vengeful attitude. Consequently, they may be more inclined to view

aggression as a safe and highly functional means of protecting themselves against injustice from

other drivers.

Future Directions

The present study highlights the importance of the interaction of personal, social, and

experiential factors in understanding problem driving behavior. Specifically, while most drivers

would appear to decrease aggressive tendencies, individual characteristics such as a vengeful

attitude can maintain aggression even among older drivers. However, further research is needed

to more fully understand the experiential processes, including social and personal incentives,

which might lead drivers to maintain such destructive attitudes and personality characteristics.

Future research should also investigate a wider range of aggressive behaviors. The present study

focused on five major forms of mild aggression, but did not include more extreme actions that

might be more prevalent among younger drivers, such as roadside confrontations (see Hennessy,

2000). The actions that were included in the Aggression Questionnaire involve situations in which

the participants would have little contact with the victim, and consequently less personal risk of

danger or harm. Further, the traffic environment offers unique contextual features, such as

prolonged anonymity, ease of escape, and heightened power (Ellison, Govern, Petri, & Figler,

1995; Hennessy & Wiesenthal, 1999; March & Collett, 1987; Novaco, 1991) that may alter

aggressive responses among older vengeful drivers. Future research is needed to understand the

generalizability of this effect across different situations and contexts. Finally, further

understanding of the motivational component of driver aggression is needed. According to Buss

and Perry (1992), aggression involves affective and cognitive characteristics, in addition to

observable actions. Given that the present study did not measure intentions or motivations for
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driver aggression, there was no evidence that such actions were, in fact, intended to harm others.

Although recent research has begun to highlight the impact of unique state and trait motivations

on specific types of aggression, such as anger (Deffenbacher, Oetting, & Lynch, 1994), hostility

(Beirness, 1993), control orientation, pressure regulation, and ego defensiveness (Neighbors,

Vietor, & Knee, 2002), greater understanding of such factors is still needed in order to ultimately

confront chronic driver aggression.


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Table 1

Intercorrelations, Means, Standard Deviations and Alpha Reliabilities for Self Report Driver

Aggression, Driving Vengeance Questionnaire (DVQ), and Age

1 2 3

1. Aggression — — —

2. Vengeance .551* —

3. Age -.167 -.387*

Mean 1.23 27.20 32.88

SD .715 7.93 11.43

Minimum 0.00 15.00 21

Maximum 3.60 54.00 67

Cronbach alpha .701 .833 —

Note: n = 90; *p=.003


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Table 2

Significant Predictors of Mild Driver Aggression

Predictor b t
Age X Vengeance .0019 2.41 *

Age -.0461 -2.16 *

Vengeance -.0077 -0.29

Intercept 1.251
R2 = 0.350, F(3,86) = 15.45, p=.005

Note: n = 90; *p < .05


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Vengeance