Thursday, November 03, 2005

Cousin Anger Came To Tea

A long time ago I wrote an excellent bad poem about anger. It goes something like this:

Cousin Anger came to tea
She is petrified
She speaks of violence
in my silence
She makes me terrified

She makes me cry
(Papa knows why)
I cannot force her
to use a saucer
She is so undignified

I wish she'd end her visit
And let me close the room
Her lineage is illicit
Her manners spell my doom
She must be made to go
without my telling so.

Well, it seems that cousin Anger might have had the goods, after all. A new study (to be viewed with the same scepticism as all such studies) suggests that anger is a healthier reaction to stress than fear:

People who respond to stressful situations with short-term anger or indignation have a sense of control and optimism that lacks in those who respond with fear.

"These are the most exciting data I've ever collected," Carnegie Mellon psychologist Jennifer Lerner told a gathering of science writers here last month.

Lerner harassed 92 UCLA students by having experimenters ask subjects to count backward on camera by 13s starting with an odd number like 6,233, telling them it was an intelligence test and then telling them they weren't counting fast enough and to speed it up as they went along.

Wrong answers meant subjects had to start all over again.

Another test involved counting backwards by sevens from 9,095.

So angry …

The video cameras caught subjects' facial expressions during the tests, ranging from deer-in-the-headlights to seriously upset. The researchers identified fear, anger and disgust using a psychologist's coding system that considers the flexing of particular sets of small muscles in the face.

The researchers also recorded people's blood pressure, pulse and secretion of a high-stress hormone called cortisol, which can be measured in the saliva and collected with a cotton swab.

The people whose faces showed more fear during the had higher blood pressure and higher levels of the hormone. The findings were the same for men and women.

Lerner previously studied Americans' emotional response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks two months afterward and found that anger triggers feelings of certainty and control. People who reacted with anger were more optimistic about risk and more likely to favor an aggressive response to terrorism.

The snag is, of course, that we are not really easily able to decide if we should feel anger over fear or not. But I have decided that these news give me the permission to be angry at weird wingnuts.