Sometimes Expressing Anger Can Help a Relationship in the Long-Term

ScienceDaily (Aug. 2, 2012) — It is not always best to forgive and forget in marriage, according to new research that looks at the costs of forgiveness. Sometimes expressing anger might be necessary to resolve a relationship problem — with the short-term discomfort of an angry but honest conversation benefiting the health of the relationship in the long-term. The research is part of a larger effort to better understand the contexts in which some relationships succeed and others fail, and also to understand how close relationships affect our health.

(Credit: http://rodneyhunt.wordpress.com/2011/10/03/taking-a-time-out-when-anger-and-frustration-rise/)


A popular research trend in recent years, positive psychology has offered the promise that with forgiveness, optimism, kindness, and positive thinking, people can turn around their relationships even after a serious transgression. But as James McNulty of Florida State University investigated positive psychology and well-being, he began to see a different trend: “I continued to find evidence that thoughts and behaviors presumed to be associated with better well-being lead to worse well-being among some people — usually the people who need the most help achieving well-being.”

McNulty therefore set out to examine the potential costs of positive psychology. In a set of recent studies, he found that forgiveness in marriage can have some unintended negative effects. “We all experience a time in a relationship in which a partner transgresses against us in some way. For example, a partner may be financially irresponsible, unfaithful, or unsupportive,” says McNulty, who is presenting his research at the APA annual convention this week in Orlando. “When these events occur, we must decide whether we should be angry and hold onto that anger, or forgive.” His research shows that a variety of factors can complicate the effectiveness of forgiveness, including a partner’s level of agreeableness and the severity and frequency of the transgression.

“Believing a partner is forgiving leads agreeable people to be less likely to offend that partner and disagreeable people to be more likely to offend that partner,” he says. Additionally, he says, anger can serve an important role in signaling to a transgressing partner that the offensive behavior is not acceptable. “If the partner can do something to resolve a problem that is likely to otherwise continue and negatively affect the relationship, people may experience long-term benefits by temporarily withholding forgiveness and expressing anger.”

“This work suggests people need to be flexible in how they address the problems that will inevitably arise over the course of their relationships,” McNulty says. “There is no ‘magic bullet,’ no single way to think or behave in a relationship. The consequences of each decision we make in our relationships depends on the circumstances that surround that decision.”

How attachment affects our health

Psychologists have known for decades that close relationships are critical to a person’s health and well-being. However, the exact processes that govern these health effects have not been well understood. Recent studies show that the attachment processes between two individuals in a close relationship dramatically affect health domains ranging from pregnancy and birth defects to cancer and chronic disease.

“We know that having relationships in general and being socially integrated is associated with a reduced risk of mortality,” says Paula Pietromonaco of the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, who is also presenting at the APA convention. “Our research follows from attachment theory, which suggests that there is one primary person that people turn to for comfort when they are distressed or frightened.”

In adulthood, that person is often a romantic partner or spouse, she says. “These sorts of relationship partners are especially important when people are faced with a stressful event because they have the potential to comfort and calm the person who is experiencing distress or to hinder that person’s efforts to feel better.”

In an ongoing longitudinal study of 225 newlywed couples, for example, Pietromonaco’s team is finding that the way people feel attached to each other affects cortisol levels in response to stress — and can possibly predict depression or anxiety over time. Funded by the National Cancer Institute, the study has preliminarily shown that among couples that include a wife who is more anxiously attached — who desires a great deal of intimacy and seeks reassurance and support — and a husband who is more “avoidantly attached,” cortisol levels spike in anticipation of a conflict discussion followed by a sharp decline in cortisol. “In addition, these same anxious wife/avoidant husband couples appear to have more difficulty in discussing the conflict, and their behavior suggests greater disengagement from the discussion.”

These patterns, Pietromonaco says, may signal difficulty with emotion regulation, and it is possible that individuals in these couples will be at greater risk for symptoms of depression and anxiety over time. The researchers are following these couples over the first 3 to 4 years of marriage, and will be examining the extent to which the patterns they see now predict changes in emotional health over the early years of marriage. Pietromonaco and colleagues also recently conducted a review of studies that examine the effects of two-person relationships on a range of health topics in order to create a better framework for future investigations. For example, they point to several studies that show that greater prenatal social support predicts more optimal fetal growth, higher infant birth weight, and reduced risk of low birth weight. But, they caution that such studies need to be replicated and expanded to take into account both perceived support as well as actual support interactions among both partners.

In general, Pietromonaco says that relationship science studies must look at the expectations, beliefs, and experiences of both partners in predicting emotional and physical health. “Although research on psychology and health has begun to consider these sorts of ‘partner effects,’ they are often not incorporated into studies designed to intervene to help people cope with chronic diseases such as cancer or diabetes,” she says. “As Lynn Martire [Penn State] and her colleagues have noted, many couple intervention studies include both partners but assess psychological adjustment for the patient only. Yet how the patient’s caregiver, who is often a spouse, is adjusting and coping may be very important in predicting how patients themselves cope.”

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Mindreading Hormone? A Better Judge of Character With Nasal Spray?

ScienceDaily (July 30, 2012) — Ingesting the hormone oxytocin via nasal spray improves the ability to read people’s facial expressions. These findings hold great promise for treatment of mental health disorders and drug addiction.

An instrument was used to measure dilation of the pupils and how test subjects focused their gaze while solving tasks on a computer screen in front of them. (Credit: Olga Chelnokova)


In other contexts, oxytocin is already well-known as the “bliss hormone.” The hormone is secreted upon stimulation by touch and is known to result in a feeling of calm and physical relaxation. It is also used to induce labour in childbirth and as an aid for women experiencing difficulties in breastfeeding.

Oxytocin has also been referred to as a “mindreading” hormone. Recent research findings show that there may be some truth to these claims — although the mindreading component may have a more down-to-earth explanation.

Angry people seemed angrier

As part of a research project carried out by Siri Leknes, a research fellow at the Department of Psychology at the University of Oslo, 40 healthy students were administered nasal spray containing a dose of either saltwater or oxytocin. They were subsequently shown photographs of faces displaying angry, happy or neutral expressions. Some of the photos showed individuals displaying more “hidden” emotional expressions which tend to be picked up at a more subconscious level.

“We found that oxytocin intensified test subjects’ awareness of the emotions present in the photos. Faces expressing anger stood out as angrier and less happy, and correspondingly, faces expressing happiness were happier,” explains Dr Leknes.

“We know that people express feelings in other ways than through facial expression alone, for example, by means of body language and vocalisation. We presume that our findings also apply for these modes of expression,” she adds.

The study receives funding under the Research Council of Norway’s Alcohol and Drug Research Programme (RUSMIDDEL).

Greatest effect on those who need it the most

There were two rounds to the experiment to ensure that all student subjects were tested using both salt water and oxytocin — without letting them know which dose they would be receiving each time.

“It turns out that those with the lowest aptitude for judging emotional expression properly — that is, those with the poorest scores during the saltwater round — were the ones who showed the greatest improvement using oxytocin. This is really fascinating; the people who need it the most are thus the ones who get the most out of using the hormone,” Dr Leknes points out.

Based on previous research along with her own findings, Dr Leknes believes in oxytocin’s potential as a supplementary treatment for people suffering from mental health disorders or drug-dependency. In fact, nearly all mental health disorders involve a diminished ability to recognise the feelings of others. The same applies for drug abusers.

“Oxytocin will not be a cure-all for mental illness or drug addiction, but it may be of use as a supplementary treatment. It may make individuals better equipped to interpret the signals of others around them, which may improve how they function in social settings,” Dr Leknes explains.

Testing for treatment of drug abuse up next

Oxytocin nasal spray is available via prescription and is relatively safe when used as directed. Side effects are extremely rare. According to Dr Leknes, doctors are already allowed to prescribe oxytocin for the treatment of various problems associated with social functionality such as autism.

“In such cases, however, it’s a matter of isolated treatments which are not evaluated as a whole. It is important that we research this to gain greater insight into the effect,” she points out.

Siri Leknes and her colleagues are now hoping to take their efforts a step further and examine how well oxytocin works as a supplementary treatment for drug abusers.

“If it turns out that our assumptions are correct, then we may be able to come up with a simple treatment that would mean a great deal for people who find it difficult to pick up on the social cues of their peers,” says Dr Leknes.

 

Link:

http://www.forskningsradet.no/en/Newsarticle/A_better_judge_of_character_with_nasal_spray/1253978889915/p1177315753918

Citation:

The Research Council of Norway (2012, July 30). Mindreading hormone? A better judge of character with nasal spray?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 31, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2012/07/120730094909.htm

Psychologists Discover Links Between Angry Thoughts and Displaced Aggression in Male Gang Affiliates

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ScienceDaily (July 12, 2012) — Research conducted among pupils in three London schools has shown that male street gang affiliates who engage in angry rumination (i.e. think continuously about provoking or negative events and situations) have the greatest tendency towards displaced aggression against innocent others.


This is partly because angry rumination can provide an opportunity for revenge planning and fantasizing, as well as justifying the anger that a person feels, which can make provoked persons feel better. As a result, the desire and motivation for revenge is maintained, prolonged or exacerbated, and ruminating individuals are more likely to be primed with aggressive tendencies.

The research, which was conducted by psychologist Dr Eduardo Vasquez and colleagues at the University of Kent, also concluded that angry rumination could be the psychological path that links gang affiliation to displaced aggression. In other words, if rumination did not occur, displaced aggression might be reduced in gang affiliates. Furthermore, their study showed that rumination is an important predictor of displaced aggression above and beyond other personality characteristics such as trait aggression, anger, hostility, and irritability.

Dr Vasquez, an expert on aggressive behavior and inter-gang violence, explained that ruminating about provoking incidents ‘can prime individuals for aggressive responding and facilitates not only direct retaliation against a provocateur, but also displaced aggression toward innocent targets. This is because aggressive priming makes individuals perceive more hostility from others and increases the motivation to lash out, especially if they encounter a safe target, such as a sibling or romantic partner, who might not retaliate in a severe manner.

‘Therefore, gang-affiliated youth may be at an increased risk of engaging in displaced aggression as they are more likely to encounter provoking situations and spend more time thinking about aggression-related ideas, such as revenge and getting even.’

Dr Vasquez, who lectures in forensic psychology at the University’s School of Psychology, also explained that the team’s findings suggest that gang affiliated youth might not aggress simply as a function of highly aggressive personalities. ‘Rather, they may be part of a population that is more likely to experience situations that produce a wide range of aggressive behaviors,’ he said. ‘For instance, their tendency to experience aversive events and to ruminate increases the likelihood that gang-affiliated youth will aggress, even in the absence of proper subsequent justification.’

This research by Dr Vasquez and colleagues is important in that it has also revealed that one promising route for reducing aggression and violence within male street gang affiliates involves developing interventions that focus on decreasing rumination. This may include ‘distraction techniques’ such as exercise or sporting activity and listening to music. Other types of activities that might prove useful against ruminating include meditation and relaxation techniques, hobbies or reading. ‘Such distractions,’ he said, ‘regulate negative affect by keeping negative thought from being readily accessible and/or by drawing the focus of attention away from negative moods.’

Journal Reference:

  1. Eduardo A. Vasquez, Sarah Osman and Jane L. Wood, School of Psychology, University of Kent. Rumination and the Displacement of Aggression in United Kingdom Gang-Affiliated Youth. Aggressive Behavior, Volume 38, pages 89%u201397 (2012)