Seeing Red?

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4800831_ccc91cf769_qWe’ve all heard the expression “seeing red.” As it turns out, though, it’s not just a metaphor. People really do associate the color red with anger and, according to a 2013 article in Emotion, the color red influences whether or not we perceive anger in a particular situation.

The authors conducted two experiments to test the hypothesis that “the psychological meaning implied by the color red biases the processing of anger expressions” (Young et al., 2013, p. 380). In the first experiment, they found that participants were more likely to perceive anger in faces that were viewed on a red background. In the second, they found that the color red did not generalize to other negative emotions like fear. In other words, the emotional impact of the color red was unique to anger.

Photo Courtesy: Lorentey

Do Feelings of Entitlement Lead to Anger at God?

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According to 2013 study in Psychology of Religion and Spirituality anger at God is tied to entitlement. The study, titled I Deserve Better and God Knows It! Psychological Entitlement as a Robust Predictor of Anger at God, was conducted by Dr. Joshua Grubbs and colleagues at Case Western Reserve University and the University of Georgia.

They argue that people get angry at God in response to negative events like natural disasters, diseases, and deaths of loved ones. While these experiences differ in important ways, they have a common trigger. According to Dr. Grubbs and colleagues, “Perceptions of divine injustice are often associated with anger at God, as are perceptions of being wronged or unfairly victimized by a deity.” Such anger is not unimportant as it is associated with depression, anxiety, and poor physical health.

They predicted that anger at God would be tied to psychological entitlement, which they defined as “the belief that one deserves or is entitled to more than other people.” In fact, that is exactly what they found with anger at God being associated with psychological entitlement. As for why, they write that “entitled individuals carry with them an attitude of deservingness. This predisposes them to greater perceptions of being wronged when they are denied those things they think that they deserve.”

For other research on anger at God, see Anger at God.

By Ryan C. Martin

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

 

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.

Masculinity, Sexual Prejudice, and Antigay Anger

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It will come as no surprise to most that gay men and women are often the targets of aggression ranging from verbal abuse to crimes against property to physical assault.  In a 2011 study published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, researchers Wilson Vincent, Dominic Parrott and John Peterson investigated why people commit such crimes against sexual minorities.

Dominic Parrott, a clinical psychologist and researcher at Georgia State University, suggests that “aggression toward sexual minorities stems from extreme expressions of dominant cultural values.” Past research has demonstrated that the values of masculinity and religious fundamentalism are strongly associated with sexual prejudice.  However, the link between these values and actually perpetrating aggressive acts against sexual minorities is still unknown.

In order to find out if and how masculinity and religious fundamentalism lead to aggressive acts, they asked male participants questions about masculinity, religious fundamentalism, and anger and aggression toward lesbians and gay men. The relationships between participants’ responses provided some insight as to how internalizing dominant cultural values translates into aggression.

High levels of masculinity directly affected aggression towards gay men and lesbians.  In particular, anti-femininity, a subscale of masculinity, was associated with increased sexual prejudice and anger in response to sexual minorities, which in turn was linked with higher acts of aggression towards sexual minorities.

The link between religious fundamentalism and aggression was a bit more complicated. Although religious fundamentalism was associated with aggression towards gay men and lesbians, there were other mitigating factors. The relationship was only found when religious fundamentalism was combined with sexual prejudice and/or antigay anger. “These data suggest that religious fundamentalism is a risk factor for aggression toward gay men and lesbians inasmuch as it fosters sexual prejudice,” states Dominic, “otherwise, religious fundamentalism could potentially serve as a protective factor for aggression toward gay men and lesbians. “ He concludes,

“Anger in response to sexual minorities is a critical mediating variable linking the internalization of certain cultural values…sexual prejudice, and aggression toward gay men and lesbians. In other words, these values lead to anger in response to sexual minorities, and that anger facilitates aggressive acts.”

This study begins to untangle the sometimes confusing relationships between certain mainstream values, anger, and aggression. It also demonstrates how there is not one quality or belief that predicts behavior and that people with similar beliefs don’t necessarily engage in the same types of behaviors.

By Kate Darnell
Kate is a recent graduate of the Psychology Department at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

An “A” in Aggression may lead to an “F” in College Relationships

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It is far from uncommon to hear of dating aggression among college couples. Recently, a research team led by Erica Woodin, an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Victoria and a registered Clinical Psychologist in British Colombia, Canada, published a study on dating aggression in emerging adulthood.

Their study looked at the roles of relationships along with individual attitudes and emotional states to predict the probability that one will commit an act of dating aggression during emerging adulthood. The researchers predicted that there would be a link between depressive symptoms and attitudes that condone aggression with individual’s relationship bonds and acts of partner aggression. More specifically, they measured cooperation, psychological aggression, physical assault, sexual force, and injury.

Sixty-five college couples completed a two-hour assessment on the history and route of their relationship. Fifty couples were placed under the category of “aggressive couples,” and showed more psychological and mild physical abuse in comparison to the “non aggressive couples”. Characteristics of these “aggressive” couples included lower female relationship satisfaction, weaker relationship bonds, higher condoning attitudes of aggression from males, and greater symptoms of depression in females. The “aggressive couples” also participated in an intervention designed to reduce partner aggression while the “non-aggressive couples” did not have to complete any further tasks.

Woodin shared, “The primary message of this study is that aggression in college dating couples is most likely when the relationship bond is weak and partners are experiencing symptoms of depression, but that when men in particular believe that it’s ok to be physically aggressive against women, they are at even greater risk of being physically aggressive against their partners. She continued, “There may be a gender difference in which men’s aggression can be predicted by their pro-aggression attitudes whereas women’s aggression is better predicted by their mood state and the quality of their relationship.”

In addition, Woodin felt passionate about the necessity of educating young men in particular. She illustrated this feeling by saying that, “Hitting women is never ok and that we also need to help young men and women learn healthy strategies for handling emotions in their relationship so that fights don’t escalate into aggression.”

There is good news that came from this study as well. The researchers found that by following up on the couples who received feedback and a brief assessment regarding their aggression were “significantly less physically aggressive with their partner in the following nine months.” They also concluded that “it is possible for men and women to become less aggressive in their relationships if there is awareness and motivation to change the aggressive behaviors.”

By Amarra Bricco
Amarra is majoring in Psychology and minoring in Human Development and Spanish. A senior, she plans on graduating in the Spring of 2014 and attending graduate school to earn a Ph.D in Clinical Psychology.

A Look at How our Thoughts Influence Aggressive Driving

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It has long been a mystery why aggressive and non-aggressive drivers handle hostile situations differently. Sundé Nesbit, Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Northern Iowa, recently published an article in the Journal of Transportation Research examining this very question.  Specifically, Nesbit looked at the cognitions, or thoughts, of aggressive and non-aggressive drivers.

About the article, Nesbit wrote that, “I tend to view behavior (of any kind) as a consequence of how people think about and interpret their world.” This opinion was illustrated through Nesbit’s research as she questioned and surveyed participants about their past driving experiences, and how they would react in various driving situations. It was expected that the drivers who typically expressed their anger outwardly would be more likely to be aggressive drivers. Likewise, it was expected that those who were more able to control their anger would drive more safely.

Nesbit found that the data supported her hypothesis saying that, “The majority of participants in the higher aggression group had been in at least one collision (72%) and had received a speeding ticket (63%). In comparison, participants reporting fewer aggressive acts also reported fewer collisions (49%) and speeding tickets (34%).” In addition, it was found that those who were maladaptive thinkers were more likely to be aggressive drivers than those who laid out the consequences before they acted on a situation.

Clearly, the way we think and act regarding a certain situation, such as driving, can have an impact on the consequences of the situation. Nesbit believes that, “how we think about these situations (i.e., if we think about our driving circumstances and other drivers in a hostile and retaliatory way) will increase the likelihood that we will become angry and will react in aggressive ways while driving.” This research suggests that drivers should think positively about the provocations on the road, in order to prevent accidents and speeding citations. Remember, the way you think will most likely influence the way you act.

For questions about this research, contact Dr. Sundé Nesbit at sunde.nesbit@uni.edu.

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.

Youth Violence: Normal Rebellion, Mental Illness, or Both?

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Most would argue that youth violence is becoming a growing concern in today’s society. A recent study by Jennifer Wareham and Denise Paquette, published in the Criminal Justice and Behavior Journal, explored whether or not youth are just being defiant, or if they also may suffer from some sort of mental health problem.

Wareham and Paquette hypothesized that mental health problems, those listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), would be linked to violence frequency among adolescents. Wareham indicated, “The co-morbidity of mental health problems and antisocial behavior (e.g., delinquency) presents a serious challenge for treatment and prevention initiatives.  We hope that our work contributes to the growing body of research that is helping to elucidate the link between mental health problems and delinquency and inform public policy.” They also hypothesized that mental health problems would intensify the effects of other risks on violent behavior.

Wareham and Paquette did find that mental health problems were associated with violence in adolescents.  Wareham states, “This effect remains significant even when controlling for a variety of individual demographic characteristics, prior violent offending, peer problems, family problems, and neighborhood conditions.”  With this link, it is important that those teens that exhibit oppositional defiant behaviors see a professional who can help address these concerns, possibly preventing violent behaviors from becoming serious matters.

The DSM is the resource that psychologists and other mental health professionals use to help diagnose mental illnesses. Though the DSM-5 was released in May of 2013, the DSM-IV was used for this research.

It is normal and healthy for adolescents to rebel against their parents a times, but most will not complete violent acts due to wanting to be “independent.”  Wareham states, “Certainly, not all youth demonstrating oppositional defiant problems will become violent, but, on average, such youth are at risk of demonstrating future violent behaviors.  This means it is important to direct youths experiencing such problems to professional persons and resources to adequately address the underlying issues associated with oppositional defiance and aggressive behaviors.” Parents and other professionals should keep a close eye on this to ensure that adolescents are getting the proper help they need when dealing with mental health issues.

By KaNisha Flemming
KaNisha is a double major in Psychology and Human Development who plans on graduating in Spring of 2014. She then plans on attending graduate school to earn a Masters in Counseling and hopes to work in the prison system or with juvenile delinquents.

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Dr. Jennifer Wareham is an Associate Professor in the department of Criminal Justice at Wayne State University in Detroit, MI.  She possesses a doctorate degree in criminology from the University of South Florida.  She can be reached at jwareham@wayne.edu

Dr. Denise Paquette Boots is an Associate Professor in the program in Criminology at the University of Texas at Dallas, TX.  She possesses a doctorate degree in criminology from the University of South Florida.  She can be reached at deniseboots@utdallas.edu