Thursday, February 25, 2010

The anger myth: Read this before blowing up

Emory psychologist Scott Lilienfeld, author of "50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology," and his co-authors write in Scientific American Mind about the bewildering mix of fact and fallacy in pop psych lore:

"Popular media assure us that anger is a monster we must tame by 'letting off steam,' 'blowing our top' and 'getting things off our chest.' In the 2003 movie Anger Management, the meek hero (played by Adam Sandler) is falsely accused of 'air rage' on a flight, causing a judge to order him to attend an anger management group run by psychiatrist Buddy Rydell (played by Jack Nicholson). At Rydell’s suggestion, Sandler’s character tosses dodgeballs at schoolchildren and throws golf clubs to purge his anger.

"Rydell’s advice echoes the counsel of many self-help authors. One suggested that rather than 'holding in poisonous anger,' it is better to 'punch a pillow or a punching bag. And while you do it, yell and curse and moan and holler.'

"Yet more than 40 years of research reveals that expressing anger actually amplifies aggression. In one study, people who pounded nails after someone insulted them became more critical of that person than did their counterparts who did not pound nails. Other research shows that playing aggressive sports, such as football, actually boosts self-reported hostility. And a review of 35 studies ... suggests that playing violent video games such as Manhunt, in which participants rate assassinations on a five-point scale, heightens aggression in the laboratory and in everyday social situations."

Read the full article.

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