Telling yourself that an angry person is just having a bad day and that it's not about you can help take the sting out of their ire, a new study suggests.
This strategy of finding another way to regard an angry person is an approach commonly suggested in cognitive behavioral therapy. For example, you can tell yourself that the angry person has just lost his dog or received bad news and is taking it out on you.
Stanford University researchers conducted two experiments to examine the speed and efficiency of this process of reappraising others' emotions.
In one experiment, participants were upset when they were shown a picture of an angry face. But when some of them were told to consider that the person had had a bad day and saw the same angry face again, it had less impact.
Participants who were told to just feel the emotions triggered by the angry face continued to be upset when they saw it again.
In the other experiment, the researchers monitored participants' brain activity and found that reappraising another person's anger eliminated the electrical signals associated with negative emotions when seeing angry faces.
The study will appear in an upcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science.
"You can see this as a kind of race between the emotional information and the reappraisal information in the brain: emotional processing proceeds from the back to the front of the brain, and the reappraisal is generated in the front of the brain and proceeds toward the back of the brain where it modifies emotional processing," researcher Jens Blechert said in a journal news release.
"If you're trained with reappraisal, and you know your boss is frequently in a bad mood, you can prepare yourself to go into a meeting," Blechert suggested. "He can scream and yell and shout but there'll be nothing."
(HealthDay News, November 2011)