Answers to Seven Questions About Anger

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Last week, I asked people on Facebook and Twitter seven quick questions, including one about how they handled things the last time they were angry (those stories are scattered throughout) about their anger via an anonymous survey. More than 100 people responded.

Here’s what I found:

1. Most People Get Angry Once a Week or More.

Get Angry


 Anger Story: Drunken (both of us) argument with my wife. I yelled a lot and punched a hole in a door.


2. Physical Fights Are Common.

Phyical Fights


Anger Story: Being hurt by someone very close to me. I vented about the situation to my close friends, but I often find myself ruminating over the thoughts as well. Eventually I just sucked it up and moved on without this person in my life anymore.


 3. Most People Don’t Argue Online.

Argue online


Anger Story: I held it in.


4. People Ruminate More Than Anything Else.

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Anger Story: The only incident I can recall is from a month ago. I found out my ex-boyfriend had been dishonest with me about something (which has been a pattern) so I texted him immediately. I expressed that I was very upset and that I was tired of him repeatedly being thoughtless about my feelings and being disrespectful toward me. That was about the extent of it….I really try to stay calm and express myself in a neutral, calm way when I am angry.


5. But Plenty of People Seek Out Support Too.

Family


Anger Story: Someone at work second guessed be despite me being a supervisor. Talked it out with her. It was awkward as hell, and I wish I could have beat her ass.


6. About 1 in 6 People Think They Have an Anger Problem.

problems


Anger Story: At my husband, I gave myself space within our home (went upstairs) to cool off and we talked it through a few hours later.


One More Reason Why Suppressing Anger is Bad For You

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Anger suppression, when we feel angry but don’t express it, has long been associated anger_mainwith a variety of psychological and physical health problems.  Recent research, though, shows that it also might be associated with aggression and violence. A 2015 study in Psychology of Violence looked at 64 criminal offenders who were asked to complete measures related to anger, other emotions, verbal attention, and past aggression.  The findings showed “that participants reporting difficulty attending to their emotions had more extensive histories of aggression than those who did not report such difficulties” (Robertson, Daffern, & Bucks, 2015, p 74).  In other words, those participants who suppressed their anger rather than finding some healthy outlet were more likely to be aggressive or violent.

According to the authors, a failure to attend to emotions (what they call “overregulation”) leads to violence in several ways including an increase in general negative affect, encouraging a more superficial thought process, decreasing the quality of interpersonal relationships, preventing resolution of any problems, and leading to an increase in physiological arousal.

What then is the solution?  The authors suggest that an important way to control aggressive behavior while angry is to attend to the anger rather than attempting to avoid it.

Psychology Today: How Pixar’s Inside Out Gets Anger Right

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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.

Read at Psychology Today

Fact check: Does anger always lead to aggression?

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1When we’re in situations that make us angry, we often want to respond by doing things like yelling, throwing something, or hurting someone. It’s not unusual for those things happen, but does anger always lead to aggression?

Although anger and aggression are terms that are often used interchangeably, they’re not actually the same thing. In fact, the two can operate independently; people can be aggressive without being angry, and angry without being aggressive. Reidy and colleagues (2010) provide evidence this when they investigated the relationship between narcissism and aggression. They found that the higher people scored in narcissism, the more likely they were to aggress toward people without provocation. In other words, when narcissistic people sense an ego threat, they may respond with aggression as a way to protect themselves from being seen in an unfavorable manner, rather than aggressing as an expression of anger.

Perhaps more common than unprovoked aggression, though, is anger not accompanied by aggression. Research indicates that a major predictor of whether anger will lead to aggression is the individual’s ability to control his or her emotional expression. A study by Roberton and colleagues (2015) found that people who have more control over their behaviors are less likely to respond with aggression. Such people don’t necessarily feel less angry, but have better control over how that anger is expressed. One way to help control aggressive behavior is to practice controlling the anger itself, which allows the situation to be dealt with in a less reactive manner. As is explained by Lohr et al. (2007), anger can be reduced in a number of ways, such as relaxation, reappraisal, and distraction.

Considering these studies together, what we find is that while anger and aggression often go hand-in-hand, anger does not always lead to aggression.

By Allie Nelson
Allie is a senior with majors in Psychology and Human Development. She graduates in May of 2015.
References:

Lohr, J. M., Olatunji, B. O., Baumeister, R. F., & Bushman, B. J. (2007). The psychology of anger venting and empirically supported alternatives that do no harm. The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, 5(1), 53-64.

Reidy, D. E., Foster, J. D., & Zeichner, A. (2010). Narcissism and unprovoked aggression. Aggressive Behavior, 36, 414-422. doi: 10.1002/ab.20356

Roberton, T., Daffern, M., & Bucks, R. S. (2015). Beyond anger control:  Difficulty attending to emotions also predicts aggression in offenders. Psychology of Violence, 5(1), 74-83. doi: 10.1037/a00037214

Hunger, Anger, and Intimate Relationships

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voodoo-dolls-largeCan being “hangry” (hungry and angry) have an effect on intimate relationships? In a recent study done by Bushman and colleagues (2014), researchers looked at glucose levels and aggression levels. Their research suggests that glucose levels affect aggressive impulses and behaviors. Over the course of 21 days, 107 couples took part in a four part experiment. Initially participants took a 10 item questionnaire. Then for 21 consecutive days, the couples measured the glucose levels before breakfast and before bed. The participants were also given a voodoo doll that represented their spouse along with 51 pins. After the 21 days the couples returned to the lab to compete against their spouse, actually a computer; in this competition the winner got to blast their spouse with loud uncomfortable noises, in which they controlled the intensity and duration.

Their findings: lower levels of glucose predicted and increase in aggressive impulses (i.e., more voodoo doll pins and louder and longer uncomfortable noise). Ultimately, this has to do with self-control, the ability to resist an urge or desire.  Self-control is a limited resource that depletes over time when you have to resist or override aggressive impulses.  One way to prevent depletion of this self-control tank is to keep your glucose levels up.

By Katie Bright
Katie is majoring in Psychology and Human Development. A senior, she plans on graduating in Spring of 2015 and taking some time off school before returning to earn a Masters degree.

Fact-Check: Do Video Games Lead to Violence?

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We’ve likely all heard the arguments about video games and their role in violence. The grand_theft_auto__vice_city_by_homel001-d4al0zlquestion of whether or not video games have a part in aggression is an ongoing and complicated debate.

It’s not a new question either.  It’s been studied by psychologists, not to mention scholars from other disciplines, for decades.  Dr. Albert Bandura, along with countless other researchers, showed us that being exposed to aggressive behavior, even at a young age, results in imitation (Bandura, Ross and Ross, 1961).

A more recent study by Hollingdale and Greitemeyer (2014), compared aggression levels in response to a violent video game (Call of Duty: Modern Warfare) and in response to a neutral video game (LittleBigPlanet 2), both played online and offline. Participants in the online group played against human components, whereas the offline group played against computers, each for 30 minutes. They predicted that playing a more violent video game would increase aggression, and (surprise!) they were right. Not only do violent video games increase aggression, according to Hollingdale and Greitemeyer, but there is also no difference based on whether the game is played online or offline Call of Duty increased levels of aggression regardless of where it was played (online or offline). The authors also noted that there may have been other factors, such as the competitiveness of each game, which may have attributed to the increased aggression levels.

In addition to violence and competitiveness, there are other factors.  For example, games can be frustrating, which may increase aggression.  Plus, from a research perspective, how we define violence is also a complicating factor.  Do we only consider games like first person shooters or Grand Theft Auto to be violent, or are games like Mario Kart or Super Smash Bros included?

To make matters even more complicated, if video games lead to increase violence, then why do violent crimes decrease when new game comes out as noted by Ward (2011)? Ward argues that people playing violent video games are inside playing the game, not out and about causing trouble.  Ward calls this  “voluntary incapacitation” and noted that in areas where gaming is more popular, the violent crime rate goes down, which is the opposite of what people might expect (Ward, 2011). In fact, Ward’s (2011) results showed that there were reductions in arson, car theft, and robbery at the time of a new release for a game. This voluntary incapacitation most affects youth (ages 15-25) and draws them away from criminal or violent activity.

Taking all this into consideration, it would appear that playing violent video games does increase aggression. But, the relationship is much more complicated when you take into account are the other factors that attribute to the aggression. In saying so, I would have loved to write a piece that included definite answers, but the truth is, I don’t know and I’m not sure that we’ll ever know.

By Katie Bright
Katie is majoring in Psychology and Human Development. A senior, she plans on graduating in Spring of 2015 and taking some time off school before returning to earn a Masters degree.

 

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.