What About that Loud Angry Parent on the Sidelines?

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Anyone who has been to a children’s sporting event has noticed that it seems as though there is always at least one parent yelling at the kids, at the coaches, or at the referees.  Have you ever wondered why? Have you ever wondered what they are yelling about?

In a 2012 study in The Journal of Applied Sports Psychology, Omli and LaVoi examined the behaviors of angry parents at sporting events.  They surveyed over 700 parents via an online questionnaire asking them to recall a time when they were upset or showed anger at one of their children’s sporting events.  This study was able to detect what exactly was making parents to become angry.  Once all data was collected the research team coded all responses into categories.

The research team found that many parents’ responses could be put into three categories.  These three categories include unjust conduct, which means that parents showed anger because they found something to be unfair or impartial.  For example, “the referee was not being fair or the coach was not being fair because they didn’t play my son more.”  The second category had to do with a lack of care toward their child.  For example, when a coach exhibited behaviors that were cruel or unkind toward a particular child.  Finally, the third category had to do with incompetence like when the offender (e.g., referee, coach) was deemed incapable of doing his or her job.

While, this study was not able to examine the exact behavior of the parent who expressed anger, it was able to examine three situations that may provoke parents’ anger.  Therefore, moving forward perhaps future research could look at ways to reduce parents’ anger responses and to explore what kids learn when their parents become so upset.

By Rebecca Arrowood
Rebecca is a senior Psychology major and Human Development minor at the University of Wisconsin- Green Bay.  She will be attending graduate school to earn a Masters in Counseling Psychology next fall.

5 Things I Learned (or was reminded of) During My Dinner with Dr. Albert Bandura

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Last week, thanks to my good friend, Regan Gurung, I was lucky enough to sit down for a two-hour dinner with Dr. Albert Bandura.  For those of you who don’t know of Dr. Bandura’s work, he’s arguably the most famous living psychologist (or, at least, amongst the top three) and certainly the most popular.  His most famous work, The Bobo Doll Study, changed the way people thought of both learning and aggression, as it flew in the face of the accepted theories of the time, conditioning and catharsis, respectively.

The Bobo Doll Study, first done in 1961, is thought of by most psychologists to be one of the three most famous psychology studies of all time (along with the Milgram Obedience Experiments and the Stanford Prison Experiment).   In fact, if you haven’t heard of it, it’s probably because you never took an intro psych class or because you took an intro psych class a very long time ago and simply forgot (i.e., it’s unlikely it wasn’t covered).  What many people don’t realize, though, is that it wasn’t just one study.  It was a series of studies that led to two books on aggression and paved the way for a massive shift in the way psychologists thought about learning.  Consequently, his work matters to me as a psychologist, an anger and aggression researcher, and a teacher.

I don’t mind sounding a little bit star-struck by saying that this dinner was one of the highlights of my relatively young career.  It wasn’t just fun, though.  It was meaningful in other ways.  Here are five things I learned (or was reminded of) from Dr. Bandura.

1. Basic research matters.  In my research methods course, I try and drive home to students the idea that basic research is important.  Even though applied research feels more exciting and more important (wouldn’t we all rather find the cure to something than do the studies that lead up to finding a cure?), the vast majority of applied research projects find their roots in basic research.  Dr. Bandura provided me with more ammo for this discussion by reminding me that his original bobo doll study was not designed with any sort of application in mind.  This was a study on learning and aggression, pure and simple.  Yes, it was putting behaviorism to the test and, yes, it had clear implications to a host of areas (e.g., media violence, advertising).  In fact, Dr. Bandura is now working on several international projects to apply this work.  But, none of that changes the fact that it was originally carried out as a test of theory with no other intentions.

2. There’s an important place for social activism in academics. Even though his work started as basic research, his current work is clearly intended to bring about social change.  He described a book he’s writing on moral disengagement where he will tackle a variety of politically controversial topics (e.g., gun violence, climate change).  Meanwhile, he’s involved in literacy projects on at least three continents.  To those who believe that professors should avoid any sort of activism, Dr. Bandura serves as a nice example of how wrong they are.  He’s doing important work that changes the lives of people across the globe.

3. The support of your institution matters. One thing I was completely unaware of was that there had been many attempts to discredit Dr. Bandura early in his career.  The Bob Doll Study, which he completed as an untenured professor at Stanford, was seen as a threat to some fairly powerful groups (television networks, advertising agencies, etc.).  At one point, he was asked to testify at a congressional hearing on television violence and, as a result of his work, advertising standards were changed to cut out acts of violence.  Not surprisingly, some groups worked to find fault with his research, and he even described turning on the news to find a special on him and the flaws in his research.   I asked him if it bothered him and, though he didn’t answer that question directly, he did tell a story about being invited to a meeting with a Stanford administrator at the height of all this.  The administrator said, “They’re saying some pretty bad things about your research [pause].  Don’t let the bastards get you down.”  I can only imagine that for an untenured professor who found himself somewhat unexpectedly in the public eye, that sort of support would go a long way toward giving him the courage to carry on.  I also found myself wondering if that sort of thing would happen again today.

4. So does passion. Before we even entered the restaurant, he started telling us about his upcoming book.  And it didn’t stop there.  He talked us through almost every chapter- not just the content, but why he was interested in it and how he arrived at his conclusions.  As he talked about his work, there was an excitement in his eyes unlike anything you would expect from someone who has been doing this for 50-plus years.  He is genuinely passionate about this book.  He is not doing it for the money (“the sales will take care of themselves,” he said.).  He’s writing it to leave at least one more mark on the world he’s already influenced so greatly.

5. Take pictures. As I said before, most psychologists will tell you that there are three studies in Psychology that stand out as the most famous:  The Milgram Obedience Experiments, The Stanford Prison Experiment, and Bandura’s initial Bobo Doll Study.  Regan asked him why he thinks these three studies became so well known.  He pointed to three things: (1) each had social implications. (2) each involved aggression and included findings that were surprising to people, and (3) each had photo and video evidence of their findings.  We spent a lot of time on this last one and how, in a visual world like the one we live in, video/photo footage goes a long way toward helping ideas stand out to people.  In fact, some of the other famous studies in psychology (Mischel’s Marshmallow Test, Asch’s Conformity Experiment, and Chabris and Simons Invisible Gorilla Study) all include video footage that helps drive the point home for students and the public at large.

Anger and Intimate Partner Violence

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Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a widespread problem.  Due to the aggressive nature of these acts, it stands to reason that anger would contribute to IPV.  A recent study by Dr. Sara Elkins and colleagues in Psychology of Violence sought to evaluate the link between recent anger and likelihood of IPV.  According to Elkins, “[a]nger interventions fell out of favor in partner violence intervention programs in the mid-90’s in response to claims that anger management interventions for domestic violence infer blame on the victim, promote perpetrator denial because they don’t account for abuse related to exerting power and control, and may place female partners at greater risk for revictimization.” Many local and state advocates for victims of domestic violence have removed anger-focused treatments in a reaction to these assumptions – but this decision may have been too hasty.

No act is committed in a vacuum and as such there are multiple factors that contribute to IPV perpetration.  IPV is most likely when the individual possesses strong instigation (exposure to behaviors by a partner that typically “provoke” an urge to aggress), strong impellance (trait or situational factors that prepare the urge to aggress when meeting an instigating factor), and weak inhibition (trait or situational factor that will increase the likelihood that the individual will suppress the urge to aggress).  Past research has also suggested that younger age, greater relationship dissatisfaction, and shorter length of relationship have been related to increased rates of IPV.  To add to this research, Elkins also examined any possible gender differences that existed.

In Elkins’ current study, participants were given a handheld computer on which they completed a daily-electronic diary assessment for two months.  It measured relationship satisfaction, daily anger, and occurrence of aggression toward intimate partners (i.e., psychological, physical assault, and sexual coercion).  Recent anger was correlated with all forms of IPV.  Younger individuals are more likely than older individuals to engage in psychological aggression at moderate levels of anger.  Individuals in longer relationship were also more likely to use psychological aggression than physical aggression or sexual coercion. The rates of IPV occurring in the presence of anger were comparative between genders. The study also found that even though recent anger and relationship dissatisfaction increased the likelihood of IPV, the combination of both of these factors does not have a cumulative effect.

Studies such as these have important information for the social policies we create.  Anger is related to IPV in some cases and as such, should be part of intervention programs for those who may benefit from anger management strategies.  According to recent research, about half of the states with imposed guidelines for intervention programs for domestic violence prohibit anger-focused interventions.  The Alabama Counsel against Domestic Violence (2009) states that “men who batter use anger, alcohol/drug use, and stress as excuses for their abusive behaviors.”  Statements such as this may close possible avenues to prevent future IPV.  Elkins also adds that “[b]ased on anger ratings, electronic momentary technology could be used to provide in-the-moment coping for anger through scheduled behavioral and cognitive strategies.”

By Sarah Bohman
Sarah is a senior with a major in Psychology and a minor in Human Development at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.  After graduation, she plans on attending graduate school to earn a PhD in Clinical Psychology after graduating.