Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Psychological strategy ought to reduce aggression

Human beings almost universally agree that aggression and threats of violence are bad. However, it seems impossible to get rid of such behaviour, because it seems rather entangled with the human mind. Nevertheless, there are ways to reduce the level of aggression. Obvious examples include the employment of police to enforce social security, but there are other ways. Scientists came up with a way to help people reduce one's own level of aggression, by embracing a technique called 'self-distancing'. According to a study with a group of participants, this little trick seems to help.

The idea
According to the scientists, working at Ohio State University, the trick is to detach yourself from the situation that is causing you to be aggressive. It calms down feelings of anger, because you no longer focus on how you are feeling and on the particular thing that is hurting you. This technique is called self-distancing, and the scientists conducted a study to assess whether this is not just all talk.

In an experimental setup, a total of 94 participants were subjected to a series of puzzles, while the researchers used techniques developed in order to provoke aggression and irritation. At the same time, some of the participants were told to "move away from the situation to a point where you can now watch the event unfold from a distance, and watch the situation unfold as if it were happening to the distant you all over again".

When assessing the participants' aggressive thoughts, the scientists found that those adopting the self-distancing technique were effective in regulating and reducing their feelings. A second study confirmed the findings, by showing that when two people were partnering in experimental circumstances, they showed less aggression towards each other.

Everybody gets annoyed, irritated or perhaps even aggressive once in a while, and society tells us to control those feelings. Society does not teach us how to reduce those feelings, however, but the technique developed by Ohio State University may help us with that. Nevertheless, it is unlikely it will help the truly aggressive people, as adopting the self-distancing technique requires some form of sensibility that aggressive people often lack.

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