New study suggests anger is key when handling stress
How would you feel if you were pressed for time and you had to finish a 10-page paper while studying for an exam that was worth 35 percent of your grade? Stressed? Freaked out? Well, have no fear. The solution to being stressed is getting mad!
Jennifer Lerner, an associate professor of psychology and decision science at Carnegie Mellon, led a study on how facial expressions and stress correspond to a person?s health. Lerner and her team attempted to challenge the assumptions that the biological consequences of stress are identical, and that emotions like fear and anger trigger the same psychological reactions.
In this new study, Lerner related facial expressions to stressful circumstances. People who responded to stress with fearful facial expressions were at a higher risk of health problems like high blood pressure and high stress hormone secretion than people who responded with angry facial expressions. The study has revealed that understanding the relationship between emotions and judgments based on emotions or pleasantness is not enough. In addition, the study addressed ?incidental? emotions like anger, sorrow, or fear that can linger with people after they have experienced a stressful situation.
In the study, 92 participants were asked to complete mathematical exercises, such as counting backwards by sevens from 9095 and doing arithmetic problems from an intelligence test. The experimenter, dressed in a white lab coat, had to make sure the participants were sufficiently stressed: Those involved were harassed and were told of every mistake they made. The participants? hormone levels, pulse, heart rate, and blood pressure were measured during the experiment. The results indicated that those participants who expressed anger had lower heart rates and pulses than participants who expressed fear.
Translated: people who got mad had lower stress levels and felt better about themselves.
A significant portion of Lerner?s research focused on initial reactions to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The experimenters analyzed the responses of participants when shown pictures that induced anger, like Arabs celebrating the attacks, or fear, like postal workers wearing masks to protect themselves against terrorist attacks.
?Hopefully they will develop a more nuanced and accurate understanding of stress,? Lerner said, with regard to how this could affect future studies in the social and decision sciences field.
Roxana M. Gonzales, a doctoral candidate in psychology and behavioral decision research, is a collaborator on various projects that involve understanding how emotion and cognition work together to shape judgment and choice. ?[Lerner] and I have
addressed everything from how specific emotions like fear and anger, while both negative emotions, elicit distinct effects on risk perception and behavior, to how the experience of sadness and disgust influences an individual?s economic decisions,? Gonzales said.
Although their paper was rejected by their first-choice journal, Lerner and her team were persistent. The results of the study are controversial and will need to be analyzed and tested by other researchers.
However, Lerner has received numerous speaking invitations, including the Today Show and Good Morning America, to discuss stress and its impact on everday situations.
The study opens a window to the effects of stress and emotions on health. Lerner said, ?potentially down the line, it can lead to useful insights for helping people to experience stress in more adaptive ways.?
So the next time you feel stressed out, have no fear and let the smoke come out of your ears instead.