The Days After: Coping with Election Grief (a short fuse)

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In this Short Fuse, we talk about how to cope with the anger you may be feeling in response to the recent presidential election.

All the Rage is a podcast from Drs. Ryan Martin and Chuck Rybak at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. From road rage to internet trolls, All the Rage covers all topics related to anger and violence. If you want to be a guest, or just have a question or an idea for an episode, call or text (920) 328-5167 or email me at martinr@uwgb.edu.


Anger is a Swing State

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This is a companion essay, written by Annie Jones and Ryan Martin, to Episode 2: Anger is a Swing State of the All the Rage Podcast.


all-the-rage-podcast-art-finalWith the presidential debates in full swing, we are no strangers to the emotions associated with them.  Like all elections, the presidential election has brought a lot of anger and disappointment for many voters. In light of all the rage, online and elsewhere, it seems like a good time to talk about why people get so angry over politics.

At the heart of it, people get angry about politics for the same reason they get angry about anything (listen here for details).  They interpret the political process or the outcome as negative, unfair, unjustified, or blameworthy.  When a candidate says something they don’t agree with, they interpret it as unreasonable.  When they find out that their friend supports a candidate they dislike, they interpret it as a disruption of their friendship.

Even though anger over politics comes from the same basic principles as other anger, there are a few reasons why politics, in particular, can lead to such intense anger:

  1. Exaggerated Claims: It’s well known that politicians tend to make exaggerated claims about their accomplishments or their opponent’s positions.  Those claims are often designed with the explicit purpose of making people angry (e.g., “my opponent voted for the largest tax increase in history”, “my opponent wants to dismantle social security”).  Thus, it isn’t surprising that those who believe the claims respond with frustration.  Meanwhile, it’s likely that those who don’t believe them respond with anger over what they perceive as dishonesty.
  2. Selective Attention: Related to these exaggerated claims, voters seem to have a habit of only paying attention to the information that supports their perspective.  They tend to believe the claims of the candidate they endorse and to perceive the claims of the other as being dishonest.  They then look only for evidence that confirms their positions and ignore the data that refutes them.  The Internet has made it all the easier to only pay attention to confirming evidence.  If people believe a certain thing, they can usually find a website to validate their position.  It’s also made the spread of these exaggerated claims even easier because anyone can post just about anything on the Internet or send it out via email without regard for truth or accuracy.  Ultimately, what this means is that people will dichotomize by lumping the candidates and their supporters into groups (e.g., completely right vs. completely wrong) and fail to understand how the other side of an issue may have some validity.
  3. Feelings of Isolation: Another interesting aspect of politics is that people find out, in a way they don’t normally, how many other people in the city, state, or country agree or disagree with them.  When one is on the losing side of an election, it’s easy to feel isolated (e.g., “I can’t believe there are so many people out there who don’t get it”).  That feeling of isolation can spawn feelings of resentment and frustration.
  4. Language Use Surrounding Politics: For a very long time, we have used war or combat as a metaphor for elections. This is evident in the language we use to describe them (e.g., battleground states, campaigns, taking shots, firing back, attack ads, gaining and losing ground).  Such language is not meaningless.  How we talk about something is a reflection of how we think of it, and if we talk about elections in aggressive terms, we likely come to think of them as aggressive and violent experiences.   Something as simple as a change in the way we discuss or describe politics could maybe have an effect on how we view it. Instead of a fight, it could be a race or even a conversation.
  5. Anger as Appropriate: Sometimes, what we perceive as an anger problem might be more of an impulse control/aggression problem.  There is actually a place for healthy and productive anger in the political process.  If we think of anger as a valuable tool in alerting us to problems and motivating us to confront those problems, it’s perfectly reasonable to get angry when elected officials and candidates act irresponsibly, endorse positions that may harm us, etc.  The decisions that are made by elected officials affect many people in very real ways.  Consequently, some are affected quite negatively and, potentially, unfairly by those decisions (e.g., decreased funding to certain programs, increased taxes) and an angry response might be both reasonable and healthy.

It is also fair to acknowledge that politicians have a vested interest in making us angry, as shown by Dr. Timothy Ryan of the University of Michigan, who took an interesting look at what makes us click on advertisements associated with politics in his 2012 article, What Makes Us Click? Demonstrating Incentives for Angry Discourse with Digital-Age Field Experiments. He was interested in look at how anxiety and anger evoking ads might make one more or less likely to click on it.

Although fear and anger are both used in political campaigns, this study shows that anger better motivated participants to click on and read political ads. In this experiment, Ryan exposed Internet users to a randomly assigned political advertisement during the course of routine web browsing. They either received a neutral text, a text evoking anxiety, or a text evoking anger.

The results confirm the idea that politicians have a strong incentive to use emotionally charged communication. It was found the anger-inducing advertisement more than doubled the click-rate of the political advertisement.  From a financial perspective, a campaign should use anger in their ads to increase the impact of those ads.

With a better idea of where all this political anger comes from, one can take precautions to reduce the negative feelings associated with the electron. A great anger management tip is to start your day in an uplifting way, try to avoid the use of social media or even television. During the election season, our news, whether via television, newspapers, or our social media feeds, tend to be full of angering information related to politics.  Waking up to these could put you in a negative mood right from the start. Avoiding this can allow you to start your day with reduced negative stimulation. Along these lines, try not to seek out things that you know will anger you.  While people should try to stay informed, they can also find ways not to invite angering stimuli into their lives.


 

Ryan, T. J. (2012). What makes us Click? Demonstrating incentives for angry discourse with digital-age field experiments. Journal of Politics, 74(4), 1138-1152. doi:10.1017/S0022381612000540


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By Annie Jones

Annie is a senior, majoring in Psychology and minoring in Human Development, Human Biology, and German. After graduating from UWGB, she plans on attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison for their Genetic Counseling Master’s program.

 

 

Episode 2: Anger is a Swing State

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all-the-rage-podcast-art-finalIn this election episode, Drs. Chuck Rybak and Ryan Martin discuss the various reasons why people get angry over politics. We also talk with Adam, a former congressional staffer, about his experience dealing with constituent rage. Finally, as always, we talk about recent rage research and provide some anger management tips.

 


All the Rage is a brand new podcast from Drs. Ryan Martin and Chuck Rybak at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. From road rage to internet trolls, All the Rage covers all topics related to anger and violence. If you want to be a guest, or just have a question or an idea for an episode, call or text (920) 328-5167 or email me at martinr@uwgb.edu.

Midwestern Psychological Association: Honor Student Research

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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:

HuckeKayla Hucke: Emotions in Sports Performance

KuchtaOlyvia Kuchta: The Influence of Free Will, Politics, and Religion on Attitudes about Mental Illness

LondoSarah Londo: Locus of Control and the Stress Response

Psychology Today: Five Fascinating Findings About Anger

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Anger is everywhere.  It influences our behavior in ways we can’t possible imagine.  Here are five examples.

1. People Really Do Associate Anger with the Color Red

According to a 2013 study published in Emotion (Young et al., 2013), the expression “seeing red” isn’t just a metaphor.

Read at Psychology Today

Psychology Today: Anger Over Elections. Breaking it Down

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I’m often asked if there is more anger over politics than there used to be. Truthfully, it’s hard to say since there aren’t really any formal means of assessing such a thing.

My best guess, though, is that there probably is not. My best guess is that the anger is more visible to people now so it seems like there’s more. We can easily capture video examples of anger and aggression at campaign rallies and post those videos on the Internet for all to see.

Read at Psychology Today

Mob Creation

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In the interest of full disclosure, I want to start by saying I have no strong feelings about Duck Dynasty as a show.  Until about three weeks ago, I barely knew what it was.  And now that I do, I still don’t really have any strong feelings other than that Phil Robertson is quite the bigot and appears to have some ridiculous opinions about a great many things.

I do, however, have strong feelings about the online mob that was created in response to his suspension.  As an anger researcher who is particularly interested in the way people express their rage online, I watched with fascination as an angry, online mob gathered their pitchforks  and went after A&E, non-Christians, and liberals.

I watched as Twitter erupted with angry tweets from Duck Dynasty fans.  I watched people I’m friends with on Facebook, who almost never post anything, post article after article in defense of Phil Robertson.

It quickly became about much more than whether or not the show would air or whether or not his comments were appropriate. In reading through the tweets, it was clear that to his fans his suspension was an attack on hunters, the first amendment, and all Christians everywhere.

These memes flooded Twitter in the days after his suspension:

One could, of course, go through and pick these apart, as they all defy basic common sense.  Had liberals really been defending Miley Cyrus?  And were liberals the ones who suspended Robertson?   When were his constitutional rights violated, when did this become about Islam, and are you really comparing the Robertsons to the apostles?

Some of this can be explained by basic social psychology.  When members of any group (in this case, hunters, Christians, conservatives, etc.) feel attacked, they tend to lash out at the perceived attackers.  In this case, the perceived attackers were liberals, A&E and the rest of the media, non-hunters, and non-Christians.  Robertson’s supporters circled the wagons and responded the way groups that feel threatened often do.

But some of this was manufactured and that’s the part that concerns me most.  In the days after Robertson’s comments, the following was said by various Republican leaders across the country:

Former Vice-Presidential Nominee Sarah Palin (December 18th, 2013, via Facebook): “Free speech is an endangered species. Those ‘intolerants’ hatin and taking on the Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing his personal opinion are taking on all of us.”

Governor Bobby Jindal (December 19th, 2013, via a statement released by his office): “I remember when TV networks believed in the First Amendment. It is a messed up situation when Miley Cyrus gets a laugh, and Phil Robertson gets suspended.”

Senator Ted Cruz (December 19th, 2013, via Twitter): “If you believe in free speech or religious liberty, you should be deeply dismayed over treatment of Phil Robertson”

So we have three (and there have been many others) prominent conservatives who are actively working to fuel the fire.  That alone isn’t a problem.  Politicians often try to drum up anger as a way of gaining support (here’s why, by the way).  What is a problem, though, is that they are lying to their followers as they do it.  Robertson’s first amendment rights were absolutely not violated in any way and Palin, Jindal, and Cruz must know that (see here for an explanation of how free speech doesn’t guarantee you a TV show).  I supposed it’s possible their understanding of the first amendment is so limited that they actually think this is a violation of Robertson’s first amendment rights.  But I doubt it.  Their position on this is actually inconsistent with the corporate-personhood cause they have been championing these last years (i.e., if corporations have rights, why doesn’t A&E have the right to suspend an employee for voicing something that may damage the company image).

What’s more likely is that Palin, Jindal, and Cruz knew their supporters would have a knee-jerk reaction to the idea that liberals were attacking the constitution and they deliberately lied to them in order to feed the rage and create a mob.

Such behavior is shameful and dangerous.  To that point, on December 20th, A&E had to increase security at their headquarters due to death threats and “suspicious looking packages” in response to the Robertson suspension.  It’s not fair to suggest a direct link between their comments and these death threats, but it is fair to say that their dishonest comments escalated an already emotionally charged situation.  There are consequences to mob creation.

I’m not asking them to keep quiet.  They have every right to express their opinions on this and anything else.  I’m just asking them to be honest as they do it.  I’m asking them to recognize the responsibility that comes with having so many supporters and not to fan the flames of the online mob with their dishonest rhetoric.

By Ryan C. Martin

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.

5 Things I Learned (or was reminded of) During My Dinner with Dr. Albert Bandura

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Last week, thanks to my good friend, Regan Gurung, I was lucky enough to sit down for a two-hour dinner with Dr. Albert Bandura.  For those of you who don’t know of Dr. Bandura’s work, he’s arguably the most famous living psychologist (or, at least, amongst the top three) and certainly the most popular.  His most famous work, The Bobo Doll Study, changed the way people thought of both learning and aggression, as it flew in the face of the accepted theories of the time, conditioning and catharsis, respectively.

The Bobo Doll Study, first done in 1961, is thought of by most psychologists to be one of the three most famous psychology studies of all time (along with the Milgram Obedience Experiments and the Stanford Prison Experiment).   In fact, if you haven’t heard of it, it’s probably because you never took an intro psych class or because you took an intro psych class a very long time ago and simply forgot (i.e., it’s unlikely it wasn’t covered).  What many people don’t realize, though, is that it wasn’t just one study.  It was a series of studies that led to two books on aggression and paved the way for a massive shift in the way psychologists thought about learning.  Consequently, his work matters to me as a psychologist, an anger and aggression researcher, and a teacher.

I don’t mind sounding a little bit star-struck by saying that this dinner was one of the highlights of my relatively young career.  It wasn’t just fun, though.  It was meaningful in other ways.  Here are five things I learned (or was reminded of) from Dr. Bandura.

1. Basic research matters.  In my research methods course, I try and drive home to students the idea that basic research is important.  Even though applied research feels more exciting and more important (wouldn’t we all rather find the cure to something than do the studies that lead up to finding a cure?), the vast majority of applied research projects find their roots in basic research.  Dr. Bandura provided me with more ammo for this discussion by reminding me that his original bobo doll study was not designed with any sort of application in mind.  This was a study on learning and aggression, pure and simple.  Yes, it was putting behaviorism to the test and, yes, it had clear implications to a host of areas (e.g., media violence, advertising).  In fact, Dr. Bandura is now working on several international projects to apply this work.  But, none of that changes the fact that it was originally carried out as a test of theory with no other intentions.

2. There’s an important place for social activism in academics. Even though his work started as basic research, his current work is clearly intended to bring about social change.  He described a book he’s writing on moral disengagement where he will tackle a variety of politically controversial topics (e.g., gun violence, climate change).  Meanwhile, he’s involved in literacy projects on at least three continents.  To those who believe that professors should avoid any sort of activism, Dr. Bandura serves as a nice example of how wrong they are.  He’s doing important work that changes the lives of people across the globe.

3. The support of your institution matters. One thing I was completely unaware of was that there had been many attempts to discredit Dr. Bandura early in his career.  The Bob Doll Study, which he completed as an untenured professor at Stanford, was seen as a threat to some fairly powerful groups (television networks, advertising agencies, etc.).  At one point, he was asked to testify at a congressional hearing on television violence and, as a result of his work, advertising standards were changed to cut out acts of violence.  Not surprisingly, some groups worked to find fault with his research, and he even described turning on the news to find a special on him and the flaws in his research.   I asked him if it bothered him and, though he didn’t answer that question directly, he did tell a story about being invited to a meeting with a Stanford administrator at the height of all this.  The administrator said, “They’re saying some pretty bad things about your research [pause].  Don’t let the bastards get you down.”  I can only imagine that for an untenured professor who found himself somewhat unexpectedly in the public eye, that sort of support would go a long way toward giving him the courage to carry on.  I also found myself wondering if that sort of thing would happen again today.

4. So does passion. Before we even entered the restaurant, he started telling us about his upcoming book.  And it didn’t stop there.  He talked us through almost every chapter- not just the content, but why he was interested in it and how he arrived at his conclusions.  As he talked about his work, there was an excitement in his eyes unlike anything you would expect from someone who has been doing this for 50-plus years.  He is genuinely passionate about this book.  He is not doing it for the money (“the sales will take care of themselves,” he said.).  He’s writing it to leave at least one more mark on the world he’s already influenced so greatly.

5. Take pictures. As I said before, most psychologists will tell you that there are three studies in Psychology that stand out as the most famous:  The Milgram Obedience Experiments, The Stanford Prison Experiment, and Bandura’s initial Bobo Doll Study.  Regan asked him why he thinks these three studies became so well known.  He pointed to three things: (1) each had social implications. (2) each involved aggression and included findings that were surprising to people, and (3) each had photo and video evidence of their findings.  We spent a lot of time on this last one and how, in a visual world like the one we live in, video/photo footage goes a long way toward helping ideas stand out to people.  In fact, some of the other famous studies in psychology (Mischel’s Marshmallow Test, Asch’s Conformity Experiment, and Chabris and Simons Invisible Gorilla Study) all include video footage that helps drive the point home for students and the public at large.

Five Facts About Guns, Anger, and Violence

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Gun policy debate appears to be heating up across the country, prompting much discussion about the relationship between guns and violence.  Unfortunately, such discussions are rarely data-driven and typically reflect sound bites of the “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” and the “more guns, more crime” variety.

To counter that, below are five facts about guns, anger, and violence.

Seeing a gun increases aggression.  It may sound strange but researchers have known since a 1967 study by Berkowitz and LePage that the presence of a weapon increases aggression.   It is an example of a psychological phenomenon referred to as priming whereby, because we associate weapons and violence (due to prior experience), seeing a weapon activates our aggression script.  Priming occurs in a variety of contexts.   In fact, it is a well known concept in advertising because certain stimuli encourage certain behaviors (e.g., just as seeing a weapon activates our aggression script, seeing food activates our eating script).  The findings from the 1967 study have been replicated many times including a 1998 study by Anderson and colleagues that asked “does the gun pull the trigger” and found that “extant research suggests that it does” (p.313).

Holding a gun increases testosterone. The above findings on priming along with research suggesting that testosterone is associated with aggression in humans and animals prompted Klinesmith and colleagues (2005) to look at the relationship between guns, testosterone, and aggression.  Remarkably, what they found was that when participants (all males) interacted with a gun for 15 minutes, their testosterone levels increased and they were more likely to engage in an aggressive act than those participants who interacted with a children’s toy.  The authors state that, though their study is “far from definitive, its results suggest that guns may indeed increase aggressiveness partially via changes in the hormone testosterone” (p. 570).

Possessing a gun increases the chance of dying in a gun related assault.  An often cited reason for owning a gun is the need for protection.  Though this has received considerable attention in the literature on gun violence, the most recent and, arguably, the most thorough is a 2009 study by Branas and colleagues exploring the link “between being shot in an assault and possession of a gun at the time” (p. 2034).  The authors found that those in possession of a gun were more than 4 times more likely to be shot in an assault than those not holding a gun.  In those instances when the victim had the opportunity to fight back, those in possession of a gun were more than 5 times more likely to be shot.  The authors conclude that “although successful defensive gun uses can and do occur, the findings of this study do not support the perception that such successes are likely” (p.  2037)

When people are angry, they are more likely to think a neutral object is a gun.  A 2010 project explored the impact of our emotional state on threat detection.  The researchers, Baumann and DeSteno, induced various emotions and asked participants to quickly identify whether or not an object was a gun.  Across several tests, participants who were angry were more likely to misidentify a neutral object as a gun, suggesting that in an emotionally heated situation (like a potentially violent encounter), people are likely to error in the perception of the situation.  Specifically, they are likely to assume the person they are in conflict with has a weapon when he or she does not.

The data on right-to-carry laws are inconclusive.  Those in favor of concealed carry laws often point to a series of books by John Lott, including the 1998 book titled More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws (the third edition was published in 2010).  His books argue that crime rates go down when states pass concealed carry laws.  Lott’s explanation is that criminals are deterred from violence for fear of being shot by a legally armed citizen.  Consequently, the more gun owners in a community, the less violent crime in that community.  Not surprisingly, his books have been criticized by gun control advocates for a variety of reasons including using a limited sample, ignoring important variables, and ignoring data from other samples with contrary findings.  Later editions of the book have sought to address these criticisms.  However, in a 2004 review of the literature on gun violence, which included Lott’s data (found here), Wellford and colleagues conclude that “with the current evidence it is not possible to determine that there is a causal link between the passage of right-to-carry laws and crime rates” (p. 150).  Likewise, they argue that “additional analysis along the lines of the current literature is unlikely to yield results that will persuasively demonstrate a causal link between right-to-carry laws and crime rates” (p. 151) and they call for different types of research on this question.

By Ryan C. Martin