What looking inside a road rager's brain can teach us about humanity.

So you're driving along, sipping on a chai tea latte and listening to the dulcet tones of Ira Glass.

Or maybe your jam is the BBC or Prairie Home Companion or that new favorite whale song/world music/Buddhist chant remix. But whatever you're listening to, you're driving along all easy-peasy.

And then, around a corner, you encounter ... them.


The literal incarnation of evil.

The one person who can shatter your nebula of car calm and awaken the elemental fury within you: a person going three miles an hour under the speed limit.

And they're in front of you in a nonpassing zone.

GIF from Disney's "Hercules."

A lot of us get road rage sometimes. Like, pretty much everybody.

According to AAA (you know, the folks who'll come and get you if your car breaks down), nearly 80% of drivers were significantly angry behind the wheel at least once in the last year. About half tailgated or yelled at other drivers and about a quarter admitted to purposefully trying to block another car from changing lanes.

Haven't you ever heard of zipper merging?! Photo from iStock.

Road rage isn't just an American problem, either — it's been seen pretty much everywhere cars are used.

So what snaps in our brains when we throw up a middle finger or honk aggressively or scream at someone we don't even know?

If we can figure out why our brains freak out behind the wheel, maybe we can fight back and stay calm.

There isn't a simple answer, but scientists and researchers have a few ideas about what contributes to that road-fueled rage you feel burning inside you. Those road rage factors reveal a few interesting quirks in human psychology, too — quirks that, once we know about them, we can possibly turn around.

Road rage reason number one: Cars don't have faces. And that matters more than you'd think.

No matter what nickname you give to your car (Ol' Jeepy Joe), no matter what funny bumper stickers you add, no matter how many weird fake eyelashes you attach...

Car eyelashes. Car. Eyelashes. Photo from Hazel Nicholson/Flickr.

... a car just isn't the same as a living breathing human being. And our brains just don't know how to handle that.

Eye contact is one of the most important ways people learn to empathize with each other. But, really, when was the last time you were able to make eye contact with someone on the road? If you're lucky, you might get a half-second glance over while you're passing them (after all, you're supposed to keep your eyes on the road, not ogling other drivers).

For the most part, driving anonymizes us. And that makes us jerks.

Studies have found that being anonymous not only makes us more aggressive drivers, it makes us more likely to bully people online, and even cheat at video games.

OK, so we just have to paint giant faces on all our cars, right? And then we can go back to sipping on chai and listening to public radio?

Well, we're not done, 'cause our brains love to jump to conclusions too.

We've got left and right turn signals down (theoretically ... kind of ... not really), but what's the signal for "I've got a screaming infant in the backseat" or "I've been at work for 18 hours pulling shifts at emergency care" or "my dog literally just threw up in my lap"?

'Cause there's no way to tell people on the highway that. No way to explain our mistakes or why we're suddenly distracted. And this might lead to something psychologists call the "fundamental attribution error."

Yeah, you look real happy now, bub, but just wait until she starts crying, pooping, and throwing up all at the same time at 60 miles an hour. Then we'll see if you're so dang chipper. Photo from iStock.

Basically, when we do something bad ourselves, we explain it away as a reaction to the situation. But our brains aren't wired that way for the actions of other people. Instead, we blame whatever that person is doing on who they are, not the situation.

I mean, obviously, when I speed it's because I drank a 64-ounce Big Gulp and need to find a bathroom, like, 10 minutes ago, but when they speed it's because they're a horrible speed-demon with poor impulse control!

What's worse, we all tend to think we're above-average drivers too, which means we tend to assign blame to everyone but ourselves.

And those quirks combined might make it a lot easier to blow our lid. Nobody wants to yell at the exhausted doctor or mom, but we almost never get to see the real person behind the wheel until it's too late, so our brains are only too happy to jump to conclusions.

OK, one more road rage factor: Maybe it's that we really, really hate losing. And traffic feels like losing.

Our brains are wired with a concept known as loss aversion. Basically, we're predisposed to hate losing, even more than we love winning. And traffic feels like losing.

For one thing, heavy traffic can mean it takes longer for us to get to our destination, which makes us feel like we're losing time.

Truly, this is the winter of our discontent. Photo from iStock.

And for another, the traffic in and of itself can be a problem. In Tom Vanderbilt's book "Traffic," Richard Larson, an engineer and design expert at MIT, points out that seeing people get ahead of us in queues or lanes tends to irritate us, even if our rivals are in a completely separate lane!

I know that, for me, there's always a microsecond of annoyance when people pass me on the highway — even if they're in a completely different lane. Seeing someone get ahead of us feels unfair. It feels like they're cutting in line.

And when it's in standstill traffic, and I see the next lane start to move, but not mine...

Add to this that driving can be inherently dangerous and stressful for many people, and is it really a surprise we blow up?

Road rage might seem funny because how it comes about or maybe even a little silly, getting upset at stuff on the highway. But it's no big deal, right? Driving gives our brains every reason to get mad and no reason to stop.

The thing is, though, road rage isn't really funny.

In those same estimates from AAA that identified 80% of drivers experienced anger or road rage, they also estimated that 8 million drivers engaged in "extreme examples of road rage, including purposefully ramming another vehicle."

In fact, one study found that aggressive driving was a factor in more than half of fatal accidents from 2003 to 2007. So we should probably do some work to stop road rage while we're ahead.

Now that we know why our brains act this way, maybe we can do something about it.

It's OK to feel your hackles raise at being stuck behind a slow driver or to feel stressed out in the car. It's OK to want to avoid bad drivers or be scared or angry if someone comes out of nowhere into your lane. And it's obviously OK to have a bad day — we can't always control how our brains process the information around us.

But we do have some degree of control over our own actions in the car. Muting your road rage could be as simple as trying to empathize with a new mom driver who's baby is screaming, even if you can't see her face. Or maybe it's trying to give that Prius the benefit of the doubt when it makes a mistake in your lane because you never know what kind of day that driver's had. Or maybe it's just remembering that driving isn't a race and a few extra minutes in traffic probably won't kill you.

Maybe — if we stay mindful about the tricks driving can play on our brains and cut each other a little bit of slack — we can all stay calm and safe on the roadway.


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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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