Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Minnesota 2012: Emotional health?

I tend to think bad driving is contagious. Not contagious as in passed from parent to child, but contagious as in a short-lived virus passed from driver to driver. When conditions are right, perhaps in bad weather or after tax filing, one bad driver angers another who angers another ...

So when I'm in my car and I see two people driving badly, I give everyone extra space. The virus is short-lived, typically things are back to normal within a few hours. [1]

Lately, however, it seems as though Minnesota drivers are persistently distracted, irritable, maybe angry. I see it when I'm driving, but especially when I'm walking or bicycling. It's not a mobile device problem; if anything I see less mobile use while driving. It could be demographics; Minnesotans are getting older (certainly I am), and old drivers are not happy drivers.

It's not just drivers though. I watch faces, and pedestrians too seem unhappy and distracted. That would be normal in February, but it's odd in a mild Minnesota spring.

On the other hand, a recent Gallup poll suggests a stable US emotional health index (The difference between 78.3 and 79.8 seems small, but US presidential elections are decided by less margin than that):
... Gallup's U.S. Emotional Health Index score was 79.9 last month, slightly above the previous high of 79.8 recorded in March 2008 and May 2010. Americans' emotional health has generally been improving since September, when it dropped to its lowest level in more than three years (78.3)...
So no conclusions for now, but I do wonder if Americans are starting to weary of economic stress, uncertainty, and increasing inequality. I'll be tracking this meme.

[1] I used to think there were similar epidemics of murder, perhaps with non-linear or chaotic peaks, but so far that theory hasn't held up.

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