About Our Research

Dr. Dahlen's initial research focused almost exclusively on the assessment and treatment of clinically dysfunctional anger; however, a secondary focus on clinical traffic psychology soon emerged. For the first few years of the lab, most of our work fell into one of these two domains, explaining our name. While we had been studying overt aggression in a driving context (i.e., aggressive driving), we soon became interested in overt and relational aggression in other contexts. For example, we began to wonder about the potential impact of relational aggression on college students. Our work on aggression led us to examine a number of personality and individual difference variables, recently leading us to incorporate a number of "dark personality" traits (e.g., psychopathy, narcissism). These areas of focus are described below.

Dysfunctional Anger

Anger is a common emotion that can become problematic when it is experienced too intensely, too frequently, or is expressed in destructive ways. Dysfunctional anger is associated with a number of adverse health-related problems (e.g., coronary heart disease, hypertension, reduced social support, domestic violence, occupational burnout, substance misuse). Although it is becoming more common for people to seek help for problem anger, many clinicians are unprepared when it comes to working with angry clients. In part, this is likely due to the paucity of research on anger as compared with emotional problems (e.g., depression or anxiety). This can pose a challenge, but it also means that now is an ideal time to advance our understanding of anger and expand what we know about the prevention and treatment of anger problems.

Examples of our work on anger include:
  • the identification of individuals at risk for developing problems with anger and the development of prevention and early intervention strategies
  • assessing attitudes toward seeking help for anger problems and overcoming barriers to effective care
  • developing and evaluating innovative approaches to anger management
  • investigating the psychosocial costs of problem anger (e.g., loss of social support, loneliness, burnout)

Overt and Relational Aggression/Victimization

Overt forms of aggressive behavior (i.e., physical and verbal aggression) have received considerable attention in the research literature; however, surprisingly little is known about relational aggression, a form of aggression aimed at harming victims' relationships, reputation, and/or sense of belonging (for more information, see 'What is Relational Aggression?'). Much of our recent work has focused on relational aggression in the peer and dating relationships of college students. This continues to be an attractive area where more research is needed.

Examples of our work include:
  • the Five Factor model of personality and social anxiety as predictors of relational aggression
  • parenting style and parental psychological control in relational aggression and prosocial behavior of emerging adults
  • the identification of adverse correlates of relational aggression and victimization among college students
  • relational aggression and dating violence in college students' romantic relationships
  • relational aggression and the Dark Triad of personality
We have also recently started to explore electronic aggression (also known as cyber aggression when it occurs in adults and cyberbullying when it occurs in children) and expect to continue this line of work, as our initial findings have been encouraging.

Clinical Traffic Psychology

aggressive driving
Despite improvements in automobile and roadway safety, motor vehicle accidents remain a serious public health problem. Traffic psychology is concerned with the investigation of driver behavior and the psychological factors associated with it. For example, an impressive body of research demonstrates the importance of driver personality in contributing to a variety of risky driving behaviors (e.g., speeding, failure to use safety belts, driving while distracted, etc.) and accident-related outcomes.

Most of our traffic psychology research overlaps with our work on anger and aggression, as we tend to focus on driving anger and aggressive driving. However, we have also examined constructs such as spirituality, forgiveness, boredom proneness, sensation seeking, and impulsivity in the broader context of driving behavior and accident-related outcomes. Of particular interest is the quest to identify personality factors which would permit the identification of high-risk drivers and inform driver's education and traffic safety efforts.

Dark Personalities

Although we have long been interested in using broad models of normal personality (e.g., the Five Factor model) in our research, we have become increasingly interested in "dark personalty" constructs over the last few years. The starting point for this work has been the Dark Triad (i.e., psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism). We have found these constructs to be useful in advancing our understanding of aggressive and other anti-social behaviors and plan continue research in this area. We are also planning to incorporate additional dark personality variables and closely related constructs in some upcoming projects.
Anger and Traffic Psychology Lab
The Anger and Traffic Psychology Lab is directed by Dr. Eric R. Dahlen, and the content of this website represents his views (see disclaimer). Doctoral and master's students in the Counseling Psychology graduate programs and undergraduate students in the Department of Psychology at the University of Southern Mississippi work in the lab. Together, we study overt and relational aggression/victimization, dysfunctional anger, traffic psychology, and related areas. To learn more about the lab and the work we do, please explore this website.