Psychologists examine reasons behind gas hike outrage


When gas prices rise, so does our blood pressure and with unleaded now running $4.25 a gallon, many people are more than a little frustrated.

As Johnna Jones said, "It's crazy...I've never known gas to get that high."

The recent jump was a big one and it pretty much happened overnight. But what is it about gas prices that upsets us so much? For many of us, any increase is irksome.

Mike Copple, who works from home and drives very little, said, "People do tend to get pretty angry...they have to pay more so they have less to spend on other things, so it makes sense."

Blaire Reichenbach offered, "Nowadays everyone travels and you're in your car more often getting from place to place, so you're using more fuel."

By why gas prices? Why not the same outrage when other products or services go up.

As Kami Ward said, "I don't think I'd have the same reaction if milk goes up, so it's kind of weird."

Maybe not.

Kimball Richardson, a licensed social worker at the St. Vincent Stress Center, said, "We're reminded of it constantly, every few blocks there's a gas can't miss the prices."

The prices are displayed prominently on huge signs. Then, as you fill up, you watch the numbers spin and your dollars siphoned away.

Danny Scott said, "It could take $80 to fill up a tank and I don't like it. It's been a long time since they've been this high."

A spokesman for Kroger said gas and milk are their two "most closely watched" items. They're the items that are most "price sensitive," meaning customers will often seek out the lowest prices, even if the savings isn't that great.

So, why not the same outrage over, say, beef, which has also soared in price? Probably because you have more options. You can buy a smaller portion, a cheaper cut, wait for a sale or eat chicken or something else instead.

As Jones said, "I'm pretty sure people want gas to be low because the kids have to get to school and you have to get to work."

And when gas is high, many people will drive the extra mile, if only to save a buck or two.

Reichenbach said, "If I could save 10 cents a gallon? It all adds up."

Cornelious White is not so sure.

"Ten cents a gallon? I wouldn't go out of my way, but I'd pass one place to get to another," he said.

Richardson said for some people, including himself, it becomes a game to find the cheapest price even if you burn more gas trying to find it.

"I'll text or call a buddy and say you won't believe where I found this price today," he said.

For many reasons, it seems Americans are obsessed with gas prices.

Richardson said for many people, a jump in cost means less money for other things and tough decisions to make. For others, it's the unpredictability and feeling there's nothing you can do about it, to which Richardson also relates.

"I was so frustrated I did not get gas the other day when it was $3.99, which I thought was a high price and now it's $4.25. Ugh, I was thinking about it all morning," he said.

Just like the rest of us, hedging our bets on when to fill up - today at $4.25 or tomorrow when it could be lower or - ouch - perhaps even higher.