Reappraisal Of Stimuli Can Reduce Feelings of Anger

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Have you ever had to deal with someone who was in a bad mood, and it left you feeling bad afterwards? According to a new study, to be published in an upcoming edition of Psychological Science, changing the way you think about the person’s mood can prevent bad feelings from taking over your day.

The study,  headed by Stanford researcher Jens Blechert, examined the link between emotional processing and reappraising the conditions. In the experiment, one group of subjects was shown pictures of angry male faces, and told to take in the emotion. When the photos were shown again, the negative feelings persisted. The second group was told that the person was not angry at the test subject, and given some ideas of what the individual was told about. When the photos were shown again, the second group did not experience anger or bad feelings about the photo.

The implication of this study is that people are able to control how they react and perceive a situation. Reappraisal of the situation by telling yourself that the individual is upset at their dog, job or any other event, rather than at you leaves you with no ill feelings following the encounter.

Emotional Study Insights

Decoded Science spoke with Jens Blechert about the study this week. The results reported were the first in a series looking at which emotions can be avoided from transferring through the reappraisal method.

 “I would bet that using fearful instead  of angry faces would work just the same. Maybe similarly with happy faces. Regarding social status I don’t know. I would be interested to study this in social phobics or depressed patients where I would predict poorer reappraisal skills (stronger emotion and weaker reappraisal effects).”

Blechert also let Decoded Science know the working hypothesis at the beginning of the study.

 “We were looking for a way to apply what we know about reappraisal to a social context (away from the non-social stimuli typically used in this research). We were also interested in a way to make reappraisal quicker, easier and more efficient. What we showed is that good preparation and some practice in reappraisal can prepare someone well for unpleasant social interactions.”

Future Studies to Understand Emotional Responses

The brain can process emotional responses in less than a millisecond: Photo by Jens Langner

The test was conducted using male faces because male expressions are stronger and more intimidating. The use of male expressions was used in this study to remove as many variables as possible from the testing data.

Future studies in this area of reappraisal are to include fearful faces, happy faces, and female faces. These studies are designed to give a better understanding of how our brains interpret stimuli and how we can counter-act it.

According to Blechert, the most surprising aspect of the study to him was, “That the brain can modify deeply rooted emotional systems and can do so within a few hundred milliseconds.

Avoid Stress with Preparation

When asked what to take away from this study, Blechert responded, “Prepare yourself for a stressful/frightening encounter. Leave the negative emotions where they come from: the other person, not yourself.

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