Why an Anger Researcher Decided to Make a “Happy” Video

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Over the last month, my coworkers, students, and I filmed one of the MANY “Happy” videos inspired by Pharrell Williams’ song and video  (watch it here). Capture

We had a lot of fun and the responses from other coworkers and students have been really positive.  This particular response from a friend stood out, though: “I love the fact that anger specialist Ryan Martin frames the happiness.”

I too noticed the juxtaposition of having the “anger guy,” as I’m often called, featured in a happy video.  The truth is, though, that it isn’t a coincidence.   My interest in anger and my awareness of anger problems really did feed into my desire to make this video.

First, by way of a backstory, here’s how the video came to be.  A few months ago, a student told me that she saw me in the hallway most days but never said hi because I always seemed like I was in a bad mood.   I knew exactly what she was talking about.  I tend to be a little bit type A at work and had been accused of scowling in meetings or on my way to class in the past.  The next morning, I thought it would be funny to post a Vine- a six-second-video of me walking extra-happily to class.  I got a friend to tape me whistling, smiling, and pointing at people as I walked to class.  We tweeted the video out from the department twitter account and people seemed to love it.  For a few days, whenever I walked to class, students would see me, start whistling, laughing, pointing, etc.  A few weeks later, we decided to do the “Happy” video as a follow-up to the “happy” vine we had posted and feature the rest of the psychology department and lots of students.

In other words, the video was borne out of the fact that the “anger guy” also had a reputation, at least amongst some, of being the “angry guy.”   There’s a bigger connection than that, though.  My campus has been host to a fair amount of frustration as of late.  Like many public institutions, low pay, rising tuition, difficulty finding work after graduation, etc. have given my colleagues and students a lot to be angry about.  I consistently find students who wonder if college is worth it or who have to make tough financial decisions that students just ten years ago didn’t regularly have to make.  Those are real problems and work has been a little less fun for many of us because of them.

I can’t fix those problems, though.  So, instead, I wanted to do something fun for all of us; something the brilliant and talented people I work with and teach would remember for a long time.  I wanted to give them a present.

So we made this video.  We got the psychology faculty, our provost, our social media director, and about 60 students involved to make our version of the video that, admittedly, has been made over and over again by colleges and universities across the country.

To make it our own, we loaded it up with references to famous psychologists and psychology research.  If you look closely, you’ll find Little Albert, Milgram, the invisible gorilla, a couple of famous happiness researchers, and a lot more.  In fact there are twelve references to psychology research along with twelve Sigmund Freud action figures hidden throughout.

In the days since it went live, I’ve seen a lot of nice posts about it on Facebook from our current students and alumni.

This made my night.  Cannot believe I get to learn from the amazing psych professors at UWGB.

This makes me love my psychology professors even more than I already do.

This is amazing!!!! My professors at UWGB were the best and obviously are still awesome!!

Why did they wait until after I left to do this?!?!?!?!?!?

Regarding this last one, I have two thoughts on this: First, I wish we had done this earlier.  It would have been a lot of fun.  Second, I’m not going to make that mistake again.  We’ll do more stuff like this.

Finally, I’m not ignorant of the fact that some people think I have too much time on my hands and should just get back to work.  I have two thoughts on this as well.  First, if that were true, I wouldn’t be writing this at 4:00 am.  Second, and much more importantly, my job is to create an inspiring, engaging, and fun environment that my students and colleagues are excited to be part of every day.  Creating this video was an attempt at doing just that.  Every minute I spent on this was work… and like any good project, it was also a lot fun.

By Ryan C. Martin

 

Tuesday Tip: Don’t Deny It

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Anger is an important emotion to feel.  It alerts you to the fact that you’re feeling provoked or wronged in some way.  Thus, it’s bad to deny that you’re angry.  Telling yourself or others you are “fine” only minimizes whatever the problem is that caused the anger in the first place.

What should you do instead?  Be honest with yourself and reflect on what is causing the anger.  Admit to yourself that you are mad, think about why you are mad, think about the consequences of acting on that anger, and try and address the issue.  This is all part of what it means to be emotionally intelligent.

Five Questions with David Boudreaux

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APADavid Boudreaux is a doctoral student in the Counseling Psychology program at the University of Southern Mississippi, working with Dr. Eric Dahlen.  For his dissertation, he is further validating a measure he created in earlier research which is intended to assess attitudes toward anger management.  He is also developing a questionnaire designed to assess an individual’s level of intended engagement in controlling his or her anger (i.e., Reading self help books, viewing a video documentary on anger, investigating anger on the internet, seeking out professional therapy, etc.).  He is pursuing a career as a psychologist at a Veterans Affairs Hospital.

1.  What motivated you to want to study anger in the first place?

I could have easily joined our nation’s armed forces as a career path, but life took a different direction.  Being that I still maintain a deep respect for the men and women serving our country, I decided to embark on a career that would help me serve the military population.  I decided to go to work as a clinician treating our nation’s veterans.  Therefore, I would have to build a vita that would support being hired by the Veteran’s Health Administration.  With anger playing a prominent role in the presentation of many veterans suffering from PTSD, I thought becoming an expert on anger would place me in an excellent position for my career goal.

2.  How do you think that studying anger now will help you with your future career plans?

We are always looking for better objective tests to help guide our treatment with various populations of interest.  By helping to do this with the college population while obtaining my education, I’m hoping to prepare myself for such endeavors with the Veteran population.  Instrument development can be an arduous process, and the unique factors of assessing anger have implications that may make the process somewhat more complicated.  For instance, the typical individual presents to therapy for distress that he or she is experiencing.  Due to the nature of problem anger, the individual experiencing that problem may or may not experience any distress or awareness that a problem exists.  Instead, he or she may perceive others as having the problem.

3.  What would you say is the most important research you have done on anger?

I have worked to help develop and validate a measure of an individual’s attitude toward anger management.  Research supports the idea that our attitude toward a behavior helps predict our motivation to engage in said behavior.  The literature also tells us that, despite the need for anger management, very few individuals with that need present to anger management.  If we can assess an individual’s attitude towards receiving professional aid with treating their anger, we may have a better chance of understanding how to motivate that individual to engage or remove barriers to treatment.

4.  What do you think are some of the most common misconceptions about anger?
I think the largest misconception about anger that I have experienced is the thought that a well-directed cathartic release of anger is somehow therapeutic.  In other words, conventional wisdom may tell an individual that, when angry, punching a pillow is a good way to “release” that tension.  No research on anger I have seen or conducted supports this type of behavior as a way to reduce the experience of problem anger.

5.  If there was one thing you would like people to understand about anger, what would it be?

Anger is a natural emotion, and it can be a functional emotion.  Just like physical pain tells us something is wrong with our body and should be addressed, anger tells us something is wrong with our cognitive and emotional experience of the world.  To alleviate pain, we do not encourage the practice of more pain.  Instead, we look for the source of that pain and do our best to remove it.  The same could be said of anger.  Practicing anger does not address the source of that anger.  Anger is just an initial signal for a problem that should be identified and addressed, usually through relaxation techniques and proactive communication strategies.

Tuesday Tip: Forgive

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I’ve discussed forgiveness here a few times (Five Questions with Forgiveness Expert, Dr. Everett Worthington; Anger at God; The Value of Forgiveness) so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I think it’s a valuable anger-reduction strategy.

The most important thing about forgiveness is that it helps you stop ruminating.  Continuing to think about the provocation, or ruminating, is a big part of what makes anger so problematic for some people.  Forgiving the person who has wronged  you is an important step toward letting go of those angry thoughts.

It’s Madness All Right….

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Right now, Guns and Ammo is running a March Madness themed ad campaign on its website.

Here’s how it works.  Like the NCAA tournament, there are four divisions: Handguns, Rifles, Modern Sporting Rifles, and Shotguns.  Within each division, there are 16 types of guns listed that face off against one another.  They are seeded.  For instance, in the first round, the “Smith & Wesson M&P 10” is a 1-seed, facing off against the 16th seeded “Salient Arms Tier 1.” (Presumably, the seeds are based on how they did in the regular season?)  Fans vote on their favorite and the winner moves on to the next round until we get to the final and can finally learn the answer to the question we’ve all been waiting for… most popular gun.

I want to mention first that I’ve never seen so many advertisements on one website.  The contest is brought to you Galco Gunleather.  The rifles are brought to you by Burris; handguns by Laserlyte, and so on.  There’s a banner for Smith & Wesson at the top (maybe that’s why they’re a 1-seed), another banner for a thermosight at the bottom, and ads for various magazines on both sides.  It’s almost as though advertisers have found the perfect place to target an overly-devoted and obsessive group of consumers.

Aside from wandering into an advertising nightmare, the entire contest is weird as hell.  Guns are tools.  This is a contest where people go vote for their favorite tool.  I’m pretty sure Bosch isn’t sponsoring a March Madness-themed contest where people vote for their favorite power-drill or sander.  I did go check, though, just to be sure and, no, they’re not.  And if they were, I’m pretty sure no one would go vote because there are very few power-drill enthusiasts out there.

Here’s the thing, though.  It would be less weird for people to go vote on their favorite power tools.  Power tools are not designed with the explicit purpose of killing people like many of these guns.  The Smith & Wesson M&P 10 is designed for “multiple uses” but at least two of those uses, tactical and defensive, include killing people.  I can’t find as much information about the Salient Arms Tier 1 (I’m beginning to understand why it was a 16-seed) but it would appear to have a similar purpose.  What qualities are people voting on?

On top of all that, though, there’s strangeness in the fiery passion with which people are trying to defend their choices.  On Facebook, where the campaign is being advertised, people are taking to the comments to defend their choice and sway others.  Respondents are angry over how few people appreciate their preferred gun.  Some are indignant over even being asked which they prefer, as though they are being forced to decide which child they love most.  How dare you even ask?  These guns are each special in their own way!

I’m not trying to make light of it.  I’ve often found the culture of gun-enthusiasm a bit haunting.  I remember once listening to two kids in the bookstore of an airport arguing over which assault rifle was better, the same way two kids might talk about whether or not Michigan State had a chance to win the east as a 4-seed.  Unlike basketball, though, this isn’t a game.  It simply can’t be healthy to think about guns this way yet, right now, there are tens of thousands of people doing just that and several massive companies making millions by promoting it.

By Ryan C. Martin

Adolescent Mental Health and Gang Violence

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It is not uncommon to hear about gang violence in many areas throughout the United States, including rural and urban areas. According to Dr. Sarah Kelly, a Registered Nurse at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey, “Almost 30% of cities with more than 2,500 people have reported problems with gangs, and more than 80% of cities with more than 50,000 people have reported these problems.” Dr. Kelly and her colleagues sought to discover the link of exposure to gang violence, its effects on adolescents’ mental health, and their increased interest in illegal activities. According to Kelly, “there is a lack of research on adolescents’ exposure to gang violence and the effects it can have on their mental health.”

Exposure to gang violence or being an active gang member can have multiple effects on one’s mental health. In a recent study published in Issues in Mental Health Nursing, Kelly used multiple methods to collect data from adolescents, their parents, and their community caregivers, to determine the effects of being exposed to gang violence. Interviews were conducted with the adolescents asking about their direct or indirect exposure to gang violence and how it had affected their lives. Following that, adolescents were asked to complete a Trauma Symptom Checklist for Children (TSCC), which included subscales for anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress, sexual concerns, dissociation, and anger. The study found a positive correlation between anger and depression and anger and dissociation for the adolescents. This suggests that anger can manifest itself in a variety of ways such as the victims or witnesses of gang violence expressing their anger as depression or utilizing a safeguard for themselves by becoming dissociated and not remembering the traumatic event.

In addition to the checklist that the adolescents filled out, the parents and caregivers filled out the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL), which asked about the behavior and mental health of their adolescent(s) including things such as rule-breaking, aggression, anger, anxiety, depression, dissociation, and posttraumatic stress disorder . They found that the parents and/or caregivers stated that their children were experiencing either a mixture of many of the listed behaviors on the CBCL or just a couple.

Finally, they asked community center employees, teachers, and administrators to complete the Teacher Report Form (TRF), which asked about the same behaviors as the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) . They found a negative correlation between dissociative symptoms on the TRF and externalizing symptoms on the CBCL which is an interesting finding since dissociation is usually correlated with amnesia or hysteria. Dissociation is also a common coping mechanism for victims of traumatic events, which is why it is interesting that it would be correlated with symptoms such as anxiety and depression.

The current study shows that exposure to gang violence can have numerous side effects on adolescents, which creates a growing concern for the youth that live in gang occupied neighborhoods. Many adolescents cannot avoid the dangerous situations in these neighborhoods, which is causing drastic effects on their lives while living in these dangerous cities. Also, many of the youth that live in these cities cannot afford to move, which makes them more prone to gang violence. According to Kelly, “Adolescents deserve to live in a supportive nurturing environment and we need to help them achieve that vision.”

By Timothy Zietz
Tim is a Psychology and Human Biology Major with a minor in Chemistry.  He plans on graduating in 2015 and attending medical school to obtain his MD and PhD and specializing in neurosurgery.

Tuesday Tip: Take Deep Breaths

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When people are angry, they are physiologically aroused (their heart-rate is increases, their muscles are tense, etc.).  One way to address that is to take long, slow, deep breaths, using the diaphragm rather than the just the chest.  Deep breathing is one of the best ways for people to relax, especially in a tense moment.