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Road Rage, Where Does it Come From?

Activity levels in specific systems in the brain are correlated with certain behaviors. When stress and frustration are affecting these brain systems, you can develop mood and behavior problems.

The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) defines road rage as aggressive or violent behaviors stemming from a driver’s uncontrolled anger at the actions of another motorist. However, did you know that there is a place in your brain where the anger associated with road rage comes from?

This area in your brain is located deep in the middle of your frontal lobes. Meet the Anterior Cingulate Gyrus, better known as the ACG.

Anterior Cingulate Gyrus (ACG)

The ACG and surrounding areas of the frontal lobes are involved in shifting your attention from one thing to another. When the ACG is working effectively you’re more able to roll with the circumstances of the day. However, if this part of the brain works too hard, often due to low serotonin levels in the brain, you have a tendency to get locked into negative thoughts or behaviors.

Road Rage and Your ACG

Something happens to many drivers when they get behind the wheel of a car; a territorial animal comes growling to the surface. When road rage begins, you don’t just express frustration, call the person a bad name, and continue with your drive.

Instead, you let the situation intensify within. You become consumed with road rage – swearing, gesturing, chasing, or harassing the other driver. This is due to trouble with shifting attention.

Some examples of attention shifting issues in the ACG brain include:

  • Getting stuck on ineffective thoughts and behavior patterns
  • Argumentativeness
  • Oppositional Behavior
  • Holding onto hurts from the past
  • Excessive worrying

A Case Study in Road Rage

Be careful when you notice yourself or another driver becoming furious with road rage. It can quickly turn into a downward spiral. At Amen Clinics, we treated a patient struggling with road rage:

A 37-year-old male attorney chased other drivers who cut him off, and on two occasions, he got out of his car and bashed in their windows with a baseball bat. After the second incident, he came to Amen Clinics. He said, “If I don’t get help for this, I’m sure to end up in jail.”

His SPECT brain imaging scan revealed two abnormal findings:

  • Increased activity in the ACG brain causing him to get locked into negative thoughts.
  • Left temporal lobe hyperactivity which correlated with his inability to control his frustration.

It is important to remember that your day-to-day thoughts and behaviors also have a powerful effect on your brain chemistry. Optimizing the ACG involves training the brain to become more flexible, by seeing options and new ideas in a healthier way.

Even incorporating smaller health changes daily such as exercising and eating a balanced diet can help.

Amen Clinics has spent the last 25 years helping people improve their brain health, receive specialized treatments and remove the stigma surrounding mental health. If you or a loved one needs professional help, reach out to Amen Clinics today online or call (888) 288-9834.

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COMMENTS

  1. Kay says:

    My son was riding with me and during a conversation got angry quickly and grabbed the steering wheel. I was able to stir my truck to the side and he jumped out and sterted running into the field. Luckly a policeman on his way home saw him and stopped. Long story short we made it home. About a week later he had another anger outburst and the police were called. Four months later he got angry with someone he thought was blocking his car in the parking lot so he sped out and driving around 80mph he missed a turn and ended up in some guide wires. He is lucky to be alive. Is this a seretonin problem?

    • Carol Bainbridge says:

      Hi Kay, Please take his situation seriously that needs processional evaluation ASAP because this type of behavior puts his life or others in jeopardy.There may be a serotonin deficiency or a neurotransmitter problem in his brain. Suggest to him to soon make a appointment to discuss these problematic situations with his Family Practitioner who will recommend tests & a Behavioral Health specialist to evaluate and diagnose him also prescribe for him a needed treatment plan.

  2. Mimi Routh says:

    you are describing me. I screamed in my car the other night when the other driver, coming straight toward me at an intersection, signaled a left turn the very moment he turned! I was both frightened and angry. Usually I love to drive and feel happy in my car. In the last few weeks I am globally angry just around home. I take offense and continue to suffer after getting my feelings hurt. I bounced a rent check in HUD housing the first time in 5-1/2 years and the manager (I hate her!) says I must pay with a money order for the rest of my life! And while HUD facilities are supposed to accept cash, she smiles and says no, company policy! Then she tells me someone with my name and SSN has been working at a pizza parlor and as a security guard. And I’m on hold for 40 minutes to ask Social Security what to do about it. I go to a knitting group where the women actually said my beautiful socks needed some color or design. They’re no-nonsense wool boot socks for people at Standing Rock. I’m not getting much respect. And I can’t afford your treatment unless I could get it as a veteran. I appreciate that you sent me the book.

  3. Jan says:

    Dr Amen -As a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist, I’ve noted anger/rage issues in various people and recognized it was just low blood sugar/hunger! In the middle of an argument, I’d give an ex a glass of OJ. 5-10 min later, he was apologizing for being a jerk/raging. Another partner would be ugly, and when I’d ask, “When’s the last time you’ve eaten?” – he’d reply, “hmmm, haven’t eaten today.” He started to recognize his own anger coming up, and would reply with, “I need to eat something!” We’d call “time out” until blood sugar went up. When it comes to road rage, think of morning and afternoon commutes. If coffee and no food =low sugar. 6 pm- maybe no food since lunch=low sugar. I strongly suggest people have a decent snack 1/2 hour before driving! I think it would reduce road rage significantly.

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