True Cause of Road Rage: Exposure to Gas Fumes?


Photo via Shane in NYC

A lot of things can make people angry when they head to the gas station: the outrageous prices, having to wait in an awkward car-line, bad smells, and so on. But there's actually one thing that may be making you really mad without your even knowing it: exposure to the gasoline itself. A recent study has revealed that exposure to fumes from unleaded and leaded gas can cause heightened aggression. So could there be another reason for road rage besides plain old frustration at the world or pent up anger? It seems there could.

According to Science Daily, Amal Kinawy, from Cairo University in Egypt, recently completed a study focusing on the "emotionally incendiary" properties of gasoline fumes. She exposed three different groups of rats to fumes from unleaded gasoline, leaded gasoline, and clean air. In addition to looking at the emotional and behavioral results, she also monitored the neurological developments as well.

So guess which ones came out the happiest?

Yes, by far the healthiest were those exposed only to clean air--no real surprise there. But the surprise lays in just how much of a change the fumes brought about. Science Daily reports that the "research demonstrates that rats exposed to either kind of fuel vapor showed increased aggressive behavior, such as more time spent in belligerent postures and increased numbers of actual attacks." Exposure to the fumes literally enraged the rats--but that's not all.

The fumes were found to change the very makeup of their brains as well:

Rats exposed to unleaded gasoline showed indications of increased damage caused by free radicals and altered levels of neurotransmitters in the brain cortex region, in comparison with the control or leaded gasoline groups.
It's a scary thought--just think how much people are exposed to gasoline fumes directly at gas pumps and to air polluted by fumes from automobiles. And her research has lead Kinawy to suggest that this disturbing link could be very real indeed. So in addition to the already known ill health effects, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions caused by gasoline--its fumes may be actually making us angrier and more aggressive.

As Kinawy concludes, "Heightened aggression may be yet another risk for the human population chronically exposed to urban air polluted by automobile smoke." Yet another reason to look forward to electric cars.

More on Auto Pollution
Tailpipe Tally - Car Pollution Database
Check Your Car Emissions Before Obama Does

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