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Do narcissists make bad drivers?

Narcissists are well-known for their self-centered, manipulative behavior, which can negatively affect their job performance, relationships, and -- according to recent research -- even their driving habits.

Aggressive driving accounts for more than half of traffic accidents in the US. Researchers from Ohio State University and the University of Luxembourg wanted to learn more about the link between narcissism and hazardous driving. Prior studies were limited because they only focused on college students. These researchers looked at a broader population: those aged 18-86.

What is narcissism?

Clinical narcissism manifests as delusions of grandeur, a need for affirmation, and a lack of empathy. People with subclinical narcissism exhibit some degree of selfishness, feelings of entitlement and superiority, and inflated self-views.

Does narcissism pose driving hazards?

Researchers from the two universities conducted three studies to investigate the connection between narcissism and aggressive driving among those with subclinical narcissism. In the first two studies, participants answered a series of questions from the Narcissistic Personality Inventory. On a scale of 1-5, they rated how strongly they agreed with statements about their self-esteem and desire for attention and affirmation. Next, they responded similarly to statements about aggressive driving.

The third study placed test subjects in a simulated driving exercise, in which they shared "roadways" with other vehicles that they thought were controlled by fellow participants. Drivers encountered several scenarios that could lead to road rage, such as cars suddenly pulling out in front of them, construction zones with lanes closed, and long red lights followed by unbelievably brief green lights.

The researchers observed that those who scored high in narcissism also engaged in risky or aggressive maneuvers such as tailgating, speeding, off-road driving, horn-honking, driving on the shoulder, and even crossing the center line into oncoming traffic. Hostile drivers also displayed what the study authors rather euphemistically called "verbal aggression" and "aggressive gestures." Three of the highly-narcissistic drivers even collided with other vehicles.

The link between narcissism and aggression

In explaining the link between narcissism and aggressive driving, the researchers concluded that highly self-absorbed people tend to think of their own time as valuable, but have little regard for anyone else's. Believing they deserve special treatment, they respond in anger when they don't get their way. Future studies will investigate the relationship between self-esteem and narcissism, as narcissists with high self-esteem are thought to exhibit less aggression than their low self-esteem counterparts.

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