Five Questions with Dr. Ryan Martin

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Dr. Ryan Martin is an associated professor in the Departments of Human Development and Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.  He has a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Southern Mississippi and has been studying anger for about 11 years.  You can learn more about Dr. Martin by visiting his website at: www.uwgb.edu/martinr

1. What motivated you to start studying anger in the first place?

When I was an undergraduate student at the University of St. Thomas, I worked at an adolescent shelter, run by the Salvation Army, called Booth Brown House.  The shelter was a place for kids who didn’t have anywhere else they could stay and were awaiting placement in a group home, a foster home, or even back with their parents.  Most of them were considered “at-risk” for one reason or another and I noticed during my work there that difficulty controlling their anger was a fairly salient problem for the vast majority of them.  For that reason, along with my own experiences with anger when I was growing up, I decided I wanted to study anger in graduate school.  I was fortunate that the same year I started at the University of Southern Mississippi, Dr. Eric Dahlen was starting as a new faculty member with a research program in anger.  He and I started working together on various projects during that first year and have continued to collaborate.   

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

My doctoral dissertation was the creation of an assessment tool, the Angry Cognitions Scale, that was designed to measure the types of angry thoughts that are associated with anger.  Since then, I have done several follow-up studies to validate the scale’s usefulness as a predictor of angry responses and anger consequences.  However, my new line of research looks at how anger is expressed online.  I am currently working on studies designed to explore how people express their anger in anonymous venues, such as online discussion forums, as compared to non-anonymous venues like Facebook or email.  Similarly, I recently collected data on how people use rant-sites, websites where people can rant about any topic they choose (see www.justrage.com for an example).  This is an exciting area because we know so little about it.

3.  What do you think are the most important questions that anger researchers have yet to answer?

Anger is an understudied emotion compared to others and most of the research that’s been done seems to focus on the negative side of anger (e.g., the consequences of maladaptive anger).  Little research has been done on the positive value of anger when it’s being expressed in a healthy way.  There are many people who make their anger work for them and don’t see the sorts of consequences that others experience. I think it would be helpful to learn more about such individuals.

4.  What do you think are some of the most common misconceptions about anger?

To me, there are two primary misconceptions.  First, that anger is always harmful or problematic.  People fail to recognize that anger is normal and healthy but that, like any emotion, it can become problematic if experienced too often or in extremes.  Second, many people still believe that venting their anger through catharsis is the best way to get rid of it.  The catharsis myth has been debunked many times but still seems to hang on.  It’s too bad because one of the things we know about catharsis is that, not only does it not help people get rid of their anger, it usually makes the problem worse. 

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

I would like to help people understand the upside of their anger and to learn to use it as a tool.  I think if people can recognize the feeling states associated with anger and learn to express it in a healthy way, through appropriate assertiveness, problems solving, etc, they’ll be better off.