Why does public transport sometimes bring out the worst in us?

Your good mood, your empathy and your tolerance fly away as soon as you walk through the doors of a metro, bus or train? The slightest incivility puts you in a rage and you no longer recognize yourself, even you are ashamed of your behavior at the end of the journey? The magazine Stylist UK conducted the survey (source 1), and rest assured, you are not alone!

“Transient non-social behavior”: when empathy flies away

Those passengers who don’t get off fast enough, who monopolize the seats, who yell on the phone… sometimes tear you away a dark look, a curse or a push ? This is not abnormal, and does not necessarily make you a bad person.

“Public transport can bring out the worst in us, as we often face endless queues to get onto crowded buses or trains at peak times. It’s stressful, especially if we’re latesays Dr. Sarah Brewer, medical director of Healthspan, to Stylist.

Psychologists talk about “transient non-social behavior“:

We’re surrounded by strangers we don’t need to impress and who we’ll probably never see again, so our natural frustration and anger comes out more easily.

In other words, our living space is invaded by strangers, and that irritates us. “We become socially disengaged and can act in ways we wouldn’t dream of doing in other situations, pushing and shoving to get away from the crowd and find personal space. It also leads us to try to ‘monopolize’ the seat next to us on a bus or train and take steps to prevent someone else from sitting there.

Mark Winwood, Head of Psychological Services at Axa PPP Healthcareevoked the concept of “deindividuation” to explain the fact that we lose our sense of self in stressful situations. To show oneself unpleasant in transport would simply be out a defense mechanism “Our stress response is often associated with threat – and our natural response to threat is aggression,” he explains. It is therefore easier to “disindividualize” while remaining anonymous. If you push your neighbor, no one will know who you are. “Thus arises the perception that you are beyond reproach, which can lead to more aggressive and less inhibited behaviors.

Depending on your position and the space you have, several options are possible to channel our moods:

  • focus on a podcast or the latest album from your favorite artist;
  • immerse yourself in reading a book or magazine;
  • play a game or watch a movie on your smartphone;
  • close your eyes and meditate, or practice breathing exercises to bring the pressure down;
  • etc

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