- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 3, 2007

That old-fashioned stiff upper lip that kept Americans calm during times of crisis may be coming back, replacing the notion that men and women alike should vent frustrations rather than maintain their composure.

University of Arkansas researchers are challenging the validity of theraputic hue and cry popularized in recent years by therapy groups, women’s magazines and talk shows.

Put a lid on it, they say.

“While it is a common assumption that an angry person needs to blow off steam or risk going through the roof, research in psychology shows just the opposite,” said psychologist Jeffrey M. Lohr, who concluded that “venting anger is at best ineffective and in some cases is even harmful.”

Mr. Lohr did not mince words.

“Expressing anger does not reduce aggressive tendencies and likely makes it worse,” he said.

With colleagues at Vanderbilt University and the University of Michigan, Mr. Lohr analyzed dozens of medical and academic studies of “anger expression” published since 1959.

The team combed through accounts of people who took out their anger on inanimate objects, relatives, bystanders, employers and teammates. The results? The researchers discovered that those who had given into their hostility remained far more resentful in the aftermath than those who managed to stay calm.

Even people coached to vent by hitting pillows or shouting did not fare well. The desired mental “catharsis” was not achieved, the researchers found.

The anger index is way up in America, meanwhile, fueled by road rage, workplace stress, family spats and ideological differences. Assorted surveys reveal we consistently rail against gas prices, the press, the judiciary, the health system, computers, weight loss, consumer culture and failed romance. We seethe over Hollywood, co-workers and the threat of terrorism.

Some 16 million of us have “explosive rage disorder,” according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Underlying public anger has become so pronounced, in fact, that Men’s Health magazine identified the 100 most angry cities in America in August, rating them by behavioral risk factors, plus health, traffic, labor and crime statistics. Orlando — home to Disney World — was the angriest city; Manchester, N.H., the least angry. Washington was rated the 25th most angry city; New York, the 57th.

Folks literally need to take a deep breath, Mr. Lohr said, adding that anger fades when people take deep breaths, relax or just take a timeout. Any action that “makes it impossible to sustain the angry state” can help defuse anger.

“What people fail to realize is that the anger would have dissipated had they not vented. Moreover, it would have dissipated more quickly had they not vented and tried to control their anger instead,” he added.

Other research supports the idea. Cardiologists at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles found that women who outwardly express anger may be at increased risk for heart disease, according to a study released Jan. 15.

In a study released last year, researchers at Ohio State University found that the public is showing an increased tendency to “use the news media to manage anger” by selectively choosing what they read or watch according to their mood at the moment.

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