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Horn Honking

Mixed Messages

Some CED readers might well have been involved in a study like this given the number of psych. majors at your average college or university. Here is how the experiment works [Baron 1976: J. of Appl. Soc. Psych. 6:260-274]. A "confederate" in his car slips in front of another driver and comes to a stop at a traffic light. The light turns green and the "confederate" sits through the green light. The near-by, mean-spirited researcher with his clipboard records the latency to horn honking. Baron found that people in air-conditioned cars were slow to honk compared to those who have sworn off Freon.

Kenrick and MacFarlane's 1984 follow-on study was more elaborate [Environment and Behavior 18:179-191]. The measured latency to honk, number of honks and total time spent honking at "confederates". This work was done in Phoenix and temperatures ranged from 84 F to 108 F. Temperature and horn honking were indeed correlated (p < .02). The correlation was best (r = 0.75) for cars without air-conditioning. For air-conditioned cars the correlation was only 0.12. Latency, number of honks and time spent honking were inter-correlated indicating that the more latent you are the more you honk and the longer it takes.

The experimental design for horn honking latency would appear to be right out Candid Camera’s playbook. I recall one set up with four bank-teller-windows, three of which always made it to a teller while one never did. No matter his skill in line-jumping, he was always near the end. The camera recorded the latency of frustration.

My current perspective is that horn honking is that it has become rather rare these days. A simple honk usually means – jus where is my car or did I remember to lock my car? Extended honking-episodes usually means that someone tried to break into a car or even to get to close to the car’s motion sensor.

Road rage, however, has not gone away. It is just that the meaning of honking has been stripped of its content. Tailgating with hand signals sees to be all the rage!

Confederates in this study did not involve Civil War re-in-actors.


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