SUS­PI­CIOUS MINDS New re­search has found that 70% of cy­clists think mo­torists are out to hurt them. How can such a high figure be explained?

Cycling Plus - - FIRST RIDE -

(Most) mo­torists aren’t try­ing to hurt us. Rather, we co-ex­ist in a road net­work that’s rarely in our favour

Cy­cling makes you para­noid. Well, at least ur­ban cy­cling in Lon­don does, ac­cord­ing to a study pub­lished in the Psy­chi­a­try Re­search jour­nal. The au­thors of State Para­noia and Ur­ban Cy­cling, (El­let, Kingston & Chad­wick), stud­ied 323 Lon­don cy­clists, us­ing an on­line sur­vey to mea­sure lev­els of both state and trait para­noia (state refers to para­noia in spe­cific sit­u­a­tions; trait is mea­sured in gen­eral terms). Re­sults showed that 70% of those sur­veyed dis­played state para­noia and that there was “no as­so­ci­a­tion be­tween state and trait para­noia.” That means this bunch weren’t a para­noid lot in gen­eral, but their para­noia was sparked by cy­cling in Lon­don.

This isn’t just a case of anx­i­ety caused by cy­cling in a stress­ful en­vi­ron­ment, even though that is at work here. This goes fur­ther - to be classed as para­noia there needs to be a per­cep­tion that other road users in­tend to cause harm. 70% of par­tic­i­pants agreed with at least one of these state­ments - ‘hos­tile to­wards me’ (58%); ‘wants to up­set me’ (45%); ‘wants to harm me’ (29%) and ‘has it in for me’ (50%). The study also ex­am­ined state/trait para­noia on the Lon­don Un­der­ground - a mode of trans­port that, while has a his­tory of ter­ror­ist atroc­i­ties, is a lower threat en­vi­ron­ment. It showed lower state para­noia and a cor­re­la­tion be­tween state and trait para­noia - ie peo­ple who had high para­noia gen­er­ally were also para­noid about tube travel.

So aside from cy­clists be­ing more para­noid about car driv­ers than ji­hadis, what can we take away from the study? How can we ex­plain com­ments, such as one made by a par­tic­i­pant, that “I hon­estly view ev­ery driver as if he’s try­ing to kill me”?

That 70% find­ing seems high - surely, only a small mi­nor­ity could ever wish to in­flict pain on an­other hu­man be­ing. But then it only takes one bad encounter - the sort where the driver, in fact, is wildly para­noid about cy­clists - to colour a per­son’s en­tire per­cep­tion of mo­torists. The 70% tells a story of the great stress Lon­don cy­clists - and UK cy­clists in gen­eral - are un­der on our roads, where anx­i­ety morphs into para­noia. As the au­thors say, “far from be­ing a patho­log­i­cal re­sponse, ob­served state para­noia is an un­der­stand­able re­sponse to an ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment con­tain­ing sig­nif­i­cant and very real threat.”

Rather than be­ing a neg­a­tive, might para­noia ac­tu­ally be a use­ful state for us to be in? “[Fu­ture] re­search might also ex­plore if high lev­els of state para­noia in­crease safety when cy­cling in ur­ban en­vi­ron­ments – and if so, is there an op­ti­mal level of state para­noia, be­yond which it ceases to pro­tect the agent and is even detri­men­tal?” the re­port says.

(Most) mo­torists aren’t try­ing to hurt us. Rather, we co-ex­ist in a so­ci­ety that wor­ships the car and a road net­work that’s rarely in our favour. Un­til that changes, para­noia feels like a ra­tio­nal re­sponse to the sta­tus quo.

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