Road rage sparks conceptual clarity: Remembering emotions are multi-faceted

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First it was a gigantic red SUV that cut over on the freeway, causing me to miss a turn and arrive late for lunch. Then a dusty semi blocked my intended off-ramp adding 10 minutes to my return trip. Finally, a white Prius refused to let me merge and I had to do my best impression of an obnoxious California driver to get onto the correct highway. As I cursed and, um, gestured to communicate my displeasure (in a largely  hidden* manner, of course. I can’t go getting shot on the freeway), a lightbulb came on.

All afternoon I’d been editing a paper, trying to best explain emotions and interaction from my airport research. The nutshell: Emotions build throughout one’s course of travel as a result of structures, processes, and people in the airport, and can significantly impact interaction. Thus, improving communication during interactions along key points of travel–hopefully reducing negative emotions–may negate negative outcomes (you know, the ones you see on Youtube lately). Although tentatively positive about the paper, the reviewers asked that I “enhance the conceptual contribution” of the essay e.g. argue a better “so what.” After “talking” at the Prius, I realized I’d been conflating emotion terms and making somewhat mushy arguments. I’ll give you an example.

You may notice I said “emotions build” earlier. Good “so what” clarifying questions: How? What “builds” exactly? Why does it matter? In my paper, I was lumping together the processes of emotion, the whats and the hows. With the last-straw Prius interaction, I realized the instant tightness in my chest, the heat on my neck, the thumping heart, those were indicators of arousal** or the physical manifestations of emotions triggered in my body. Along with increased heart rate and sweat, I’m certain my cortisol (stress) hormones spiked a bit. The result? Grumpy girl in a Corolla with a foul mouth. Although my interaction ended there, it’s easy to see how that mixture of stress and anger might impact my communication “strategies” in other contexts and have serious social implications. (Imagine road rage feelings during airport security checkpoints or boarding groups and you can see where my paper is heading.) I could go on and on about the theory bits and the so-whats, but suffice to say, I must thank the three freeway gents for their jerkitude today. It seriously helped me find conceptual clarity and oomph for the essay. Yay!

Now, if road rage would just finish writing my paper, we’d be all set…


P/S Have you flown recently? Wanna share your stories for my research project? Let me know! bluestmuse (at) gmail.

* I recognize that it makes no sense, but venting, even to myself, makes me feel better.
** Not that kind of arousal, silly

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