Expert: Psychologists work to understand how traffic disruptions affect stress during commutes
The collapse of a section of I-95 in North Philadelphia following a tanker truck fire has created headaches for not only city and state officials, but also drivers. An estimated 160,000 automobiles take the route daily. How the new congestion will affect drivers psychologically and potentially influence other experiences at work and home is a hot topic of discussion amongst psychologists.
Philadelphia work commuters and vacationers heading to the City of Brotherly Love or the Jersey shore are nearly a week into grappling with and sitting in stand-still traffic after a tanker truck fire collapsed part of a I-95 bridge in the northern part of the city. The fire also heavily damaged the southbound lane of I-95. How all this stress and time-waste affects commuters and their workday performance and/or their behavior at home after the commute is part of larger phenomenon that psychologists call “commuting spillover.”
"Do the experiences that we have during our workday affect our behavior and perhaps even influence our safety when commuting home? Can a difficult commute to the office undermine our ability to have a happy, healthy, and productive day at work? Questions like this reflect a phenomenon referred to as "commuting spillover," which is when workday experiences affect experiences during the commute and vice versa,” said Charles Calderwood, a Virginia Tech associate professor of psychology. “It is essential that we understand connections between our commuting and work experiences to evaluate critical inputs to our health, wellness, and productivity inside and outside of the workplace.”
Calderwood added that the science of commuting spillover illustrates numerous and important findings that enhance our understanding of how our lives at work and during the commute connect. Recent research by Calderwood suggests that encountering workday demands that are challenging, interesting, or engaging may help boost your energy and attention to devote to safe driving on the way home.
“One issue that remains poorly understood is whether and how major disruptions to commutinginfluence commuting spillover. On the one hand, when the commuting conditions we face are more unpredictable, this tends to be one of the most reliable recipes for stressful commuting,” Calderwood said.
“However, it is possible that some adaptation to these commuting conditions may occur over time that allows commuters to feel more in control of their commute, such as different route choices and altering commuting times,” he added. “To the extent that we feel in control of the conditions of our commute, that tends to reduce the commuting stress we experience.”
Charles Calderwood is an associate professor in the Virginia Tech Department of Psychology. His research focuses on studying how employees perceive, react to, and recover from work stress both at home and during the workday, including how commuting spillover (the carryover of workday stress reactions into the commuting environment) affects drivers.
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