As an anger researcher, a teacher of a Psychology of Emotion course, and a parent, I couldn’t have been more excited to go see Inside Out, the latest Pixar movie about emotion, this weekend. The movie takes place mostly in the mind of a young girl, where each emotion is a character that controls her memories, thoughts, and personality. It did not disappoint and, most importantly, it really did a great job of providing a fun, entertaining, and powerful message about the value of emotions.
My three honors students, Kayla Hucke, Olyvia Kuchta, and Sarah Londo, presented at the Midwestern Psychological Association Conference in Chicago last week (April 30th and May 1). They did brilliantly.
Here’s a sample of their work:
One of the worst things that can happen when someone gets angry is for them to say something they regret. It happens all the time. They become overwhelmed with anger and their desire for revenge overtakes everything else. Boom, they say something cruel or hurtful that can’t be taken back.
It’s a difficult thing to do but people need to find a way to stop, think through how they are feeling and how the other person is feeling, and then decide if and how they want to respond. Learning to do that can be the difference between letting your anger get the best of you and using your anger in a positive way.
Anger isn’t caused directly by things that happen around us. It’s caused by our interpretation of those things that happen around us. Imagine if someone cuts in front of you in line at the grocery store. You can interpret that a couple of different ways: intentional (“he saw me and just didn’t care that he was cutting in front of me”) or unintentional (“he must not have seen me”).
Sometimes, considering alternative interpretations of the provocation can be a nice way to alleviate anger. Ask yourself what evidence you have to support your angering interpretation. Try to consider other ways of looking at the situation and maybe even try to test those alternative interpretations. What would happen if you, for example, were to say politely to the person that they accidently cut in front of you?
Sometimes anger results from expectations that are too high. We expect everything to go smoothly and perfectly and then, bam, something goes wrong and we get angry. If we just adjust our expectations a bit to include the fact that things are complicated and don’t always go as we hope they will, we’re likely to feel less anger when things go wrong.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.