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.

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.

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