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

Is anger what makes us click? Emotion and political opinion

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People like to believe that their political opinions are founded in rational assessment of the facts and that emotions play only a small role, if any, in determining their attitudes. Despite this commonly held belief, a 2012 study conducted by Timothy J. Ryan published in the Journal of Politics revealed that anger can be a tool for politicians to encourage information seeking and therefore influence the formation of opinions. Ryan states that, “Political scientists have drawn from a strong literature in psychology showing that emotions are not just the end result of thinking about politics. Emotions can actually guide thinking about politics. For instance, several studies show that feeling anxiety motivates citizens to vote and think more carefully about political issues”.

Ryan’s article explored the behavior of Internet users when confronted with anger inducing political advertisements. The participants, while surfing Facebook, were over 2 times more likely to click on a political advertisement designed to evoke anger than an advertisement with a neutral message. It seems that our emotions, particularly anger, can help determine what we are drawn to.

Even the most uninterested citizens are subjected to political advertisements through almost every media avenue. Ryan warns, “Politicians — in their speeches, advertising, and other messages — can evoke emotions in ways that are subtle, but that powerfully influence how we interact with the political world”. Political scientists have a great incentive to motivate potential voters to feel anxious or angry, as it is associated with increased political behavior. Specifically they can increase the odds of a person gaining access to heavily biased political material with which they may alter their opinions.

It makes sense that advertisements and political media that create anxiety would encourage a person to engage in more active research on political topics and create more informed opinions. Gaining information on the topic is one key way to ease anxiety. Ryan’s research adds to this notion that anger also can play a vital role. Though anger may draw people into a website to look for more political information, it does not guarantee that the quality of the information found will be very good. Partisan political groups can entice susceptible Internet users to look at their political messages by utilizing controversial taglines to draw attention. The Internet can be a powerful tool for spreading political information, but users must be aware of the role their emotions play in what they read.

By Katie Ledvina
Katie is a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay with majors in Psychology, Public Administration, and Political Science and minors in Human Development and Global Studies. Following graduation Katie plans to begin work in administration or research for a public or nonprofit human service provider in the field of public health.

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.

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.

The Value of Forgiveness

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As children, we are consistently taught to apologize after our wrongdoings, and to accept an apology from someone who has acted wrongly against us. This simple construction of behavior based on the concept of forgiveness, we are taught, will ultimately heal all wounds and mend all hurts. Later, as adults, we learn the common saying, “forgive and forget” as a way of dealing with distress or suffering. Both concepts rely largely on marketing the importance of forgiveness in an effort to overcome hardships and heal ourselves. As it turns out, both assertions may have merit.

According to a 2012 study by Daniel Goldman & Nathaniel Wade, forgiveness is important in reducing anger and increasing one’s overall well-being following a hurtful act or situation. The study they conducted looked at the outcomes of people working through an angering event, comparing whether or not the participants worked specifically on finding forgiveness or merely on anger-reduction strategies (e.g. deep breathing, relaxation methods, etc.) against a control group. The study found that the group working with a forgiveness-related focus ultimately ended up with a greater reduction in (desires for) revenge, levels of hostility, and psychological symptoms as compared to the group focusing on anger-reducing strategies. Additionally, the forgiveness group members showed a lasting effect in increased empathy that was not present in the anger-reduction or control groups.

One of the researchers, Nathaniel Wade, states, “[Forgiveness] Interventions seem to be very effective at helping people not only cope with anger and work through those negative feelings, but also to move the person to a ‘better’ place of acceptance and even human flourishing.” Wade’s study emphasizes the importance of achieving forgiveness after being wronged because it does not only reduce unconstructive or potentially damaging thoughts and behaviors but also works to increase positive behaviors and feelings within oneself. This research serves an important tool to spread the message of forgiveness, in that it may not be entirely beneficial to simply work on reducing anger. In the future, when trying to cope with a hurtful experience of some kind, it may be valuable to keep in mind that you do not always have to forget, but research shows you should definitely work on forgiving.

By Lauren Vieaux
Lauren is a junior Psychology and Human Development major with a minor in Women and Gender Studies at the University of Wisconsin- Green Bay.  She plans on attending graduate school to earn a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology.

More Guns, Less Crime? Nope.

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Since the Sandy Hook shootings on December 14th there has been considerable discussion of gun violence in the United States.  As often happens with discussions of policy-making, though, very little of the conversation has been driven by the research on gun-related crime.  Gun-enthusiasts, in particular seem to gravitate toward anecdotal evidence of how legal gun ownership is the only way to prevent gun related crime.  In fact, just days after the shooting, Executive Vice President and CEO of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre, argued that “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

Of course, as has been addressed before, the data on the impact of concealed carry laws has been difficult to interpret and has allowed for differing conclusions.  However, the relationship between gun ownership in a community and gun-related crime in that community can be tested empirically.  This was what Dr. Anthony Hoskins set out to do in his 2011 article in Criminal Justice Studies where he found, quite simply, that when it comes to murder and aggravated assault, more guns equal more crime.

His paper used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (a telephone survey conducted every year) and was designed to explore the relationships between percentages of homes with a gun in particular counties with the rates of murders, robberies, and aggravated assaults in those counties, while controlling for a host of demographic variables (e.g., total population, unemployment rate).  Ultimately, he was evaluating three different theories on gun ownership and crime: (1) that gun ownership rates are unrelated to violent crime, (2) that gun ownership rates are associated with a decrease in violent crime (the view held by LaPierre and other gun enthusiasts), and (3) that gun ownership rates are associated with an increase in violent crime.

In the end, his evaluation found support for the third hypothesis, that the more guns in a community, the higher the violent crime rate.  Specifically, what he identified is that the “introduction of a gun into a violent incident raises the risk of injury or death” (p. 127).  In other words, yes, you can kill someone with a hammer or a baseball bat, but you cannot kill them from as far away or in rapid succession the way you can with a gun.  It should also be noted that these findings run completely contrary to what LaPierre and other gun advocates have been arguing.  They would argue that a higher percentage of gun owners in a community would be negatively correlated with all three forms of violent crime.  Instead, it was positively correlated with two types of violent crime (murder and aggravated assault) and uncorrelated with the third (burglary).

By Ryan C. Martin

Context Explains Divergent Effects of Anger on Risk Taking

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Becoming angry is inevitable.  It happens to everyone.  However, the decisions that people make when angry often vary. While in a negative angry mood, do people have a tendency to make negative decisions? What factors go into this process? Past research has revealed that positive events are more likely to occur when positive emotions are expressed, while negative events are more likely to occur when negative emotions are expressed. However, a recent study in Emotion by Jolie Baumann and David DeSteno found that prior studies may not tell the full story.

Their study found that angry individuals make riskier decisions than those in a more neutral emotional state when they are in situations where they learn information they do not necessarily need to have or know. However, when circumstances favor the use of learned information, individuals tend to make less risky decisions. When individuals experience anger, they are more likely to take fewer risks, because their already negatively affected state of mind indicates that a negative outcome is more likely to occur.

The primary author of this study, Jolie Baumann, was compelled to complete this study when she found some inconsistencies in past literature on how anger influences risk perception. She states that the study, “demonstrates that the framing or context of a decision can influence whether anger ultimately leads a person to take greater or fewer risks.”

Although anger has a negative connotation with aggressive and impulsive behavior, this study shows that an increase in risk taking is not always associated with an angry mood. Baumann continues on to say that how anger influences decision making is a topic not very well understood. “This study was a first pass at exploring the complicated relationship between anger and risk taking, and it has really raised more questions than it has answered.”

Baumann and colleagues are excited to continue exploring questions on the topic in the future, such as, how anger influences behavior and what features of the decision are most important when determining whether anger will increase or decrease risk taking.

Does Experiencing Violence Lead to Violent Behavior?

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While psychologists cannot prove that viewing violent media causes violent behavior, there is a body of evidence that suggests a relationship between viewing violent media and aggressive behaviors.  This research, while important, does not cover the multitude of ways that someone can witness violence. There are thousands of children who witness or are victims of violence in their home or neighborhood.  In fact, a 2009 study of over 4,500 adolescents in Pediatrics revealed that over 60% had been exposed to violence within the past year as either a victim or a witness. These circumstances can contribute to the cycle in which the victim of violence becomes the producer of violence.  More recently, Dr. Eva Kimonis examined the relationship between anger, exposure to violence, and the likelihood of perpetrating violent crimes.

The 2011 study, in Child and Youth Care, explored a sample of male juvenile offenders between 14 and 17 years old to examine a possible link between anger and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms and its relation to violence perpetration.  Participants’ level of violence exposure, anger, PTSD symptomology, and violence perpetration both prior to and while inside the facility was assessed. Anger was found to mediate violence perpetration but PTSD symptomology did not show this same correlation.

According to Dr. Kimonis, “violence exposure can result in problematic outcomes” such as PTSD and anger.  Her research focused on juvenile offenders because “they have extremely high rates of violence exposure.”  She also states that this exposure, if severe enough, can lead to changes in the brain in areas that respond to threats and stressors.  As a result, children that are exposed to large amounts of violence respond stronger and in more aggressive ways than children who are not exposed to violence. 

Dr. Kimonis’ research has shown that anger can, at least partially, provide a link between being a victim of violence and committing violent acts. It is important to realize that this study was correlational, so we cannot conclude that being a victim or witnessing victimization causes any one person to victimize others. However, it is important to note that we can try to identify those individuals who are at risk for becoming violent offenders or those who are already violent offenders. 

Dr. Kimonis’ research seeks to “understand why adolescents act violently. Gaining this knowledge can be helpful to developing prevention and treatment programs to intervene with violent youth or youth at risk for violence.”  Early intervention in young children may be able to save countless lives from violent crimes.  If problem behaviors are addressed early, interventions can be implemented before more severe problem behaviors arise.

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.