In this month’s issue of The Psychologist Bath University’s traffic specialist Dr Ian Walker believes this hatred is a manifestation of more than just hatred against an “out group”:
“A report from the Transport Research Laboratory and University of Strathclyde a few years ago led by Lynn Basford suggested that there’s some classic social psychology at work here – cyclists represent an outgroup such that the usual outgroup effects are seen, particularly overgeneralisation of negative behaviour and attributes – ‘They all ride through red lights all the time’. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that something of this sort is going on.
“However, there has to be more to it than just this. For a long time I wondered if the outgroup status of cyclists was compounded by two other known social psychological factors: norms and majority vs. minority groups. Not only are cyclists an outgroup, they’re also a minority outgroup. Moreover, they are engaging in an activity that is deemed slightly inappropriate in a culture that views driving as normative and desirable and, arguably, views cycling as anti- conventional and possibly even infantile.
“But even adding these factors into the mix does not explain all the anger that cyclists experience. It’s easy to identify other minority outgroups whose behaviour similarly challenges social norms but who do not get verbally and physically attacked like cyclists do: vegetarians, for example. So there’s clearly one or more important variables that we’ve not identified yet. Any social psychologists looking for a challenge are very welcome to wade into this.”
Hatred isn’t confined to social media, of course. Shockjocks and columnists in national newspapers also like to take potshots at cyclists. There’s a huge number of such diatribes and columns, way too many to list here but here’s a fresh one, from today. It’s by Helen Martin in The Scotsman. It’s a “I’m not a racist but…” piece.
An interesting question. Thoughts?