Congratulations to Two New Lab Alumni

Michelle Augustin and Greg Futral both graduated with their doctorates in Counseling Psychology this month. They were valuable members of the lab, and their contributions will be missed even as we wish them the best moving ahead with their careers.

Michelle's dissertation, "A Psychometric Investigation of the Young Adult Social Behavior Scale (YASB)," was a confirmatory factor analysis and validation of a self-report measure of relational aggression suitable for college students. Greg's dissertation, "Increasing Readiness to Change Anger: A Motivational Group Intervention," involved a treatment study in which a brief motivational enhancement group was compared with a no-treatment control.

How to Choose an Anger Management Program

angry man
Although the scientific study of anger has received less attention than other emotional problems (e.g., anxiety or depression), there is evidence that some anger management programs are effective in reducing unhealthy anger and improving adaptive coping skills. Unfortunately, the quality of anger management programs is variable. Some are based on solid scientific research; others have not been subjected to study and may rely on unproven or even potentially harmful methods.

Anger Management

The best anger management programs are based on a cognitive-behavioral framework. Briefly, cognitive-behavioral theories tell us that our emotional reactions are often influenced by how we interpret events, rather than the events themselves. For example, when I become angry because the car in front of me is going too slow, the anger I experience is more closely tied to my beliefs about how others should drive (i.e., as quickly as I want them to) than it is to the situation itself.

Cognitive-behavioral anger management programs tend to focus on teaching individuals how to reduce their emotional and physiological arousal, think in less anger-provoking ways, and/or express their anger in more productive ways. Such programs often emphasize the development of self-control strategies.

Tips for Selecting an Anger Management Program

When selecting an anger management program, here are some things to consider:
  • Cognitive-behavioral programs tend to have the most research support and are both brief and cost effective. Many of these programs can be completed in as few as 8-12 counseling sessions.
  • Some practitioners still use methods that have been discredited and may cause harm. Programs that involve the uncontrolled, aggressive expression of anger (e.g., punching pillows or using foam bats to strike objects) may provide short-term relief but tend to increase the likelihood of future problems, including aggressive behavior.
  • Just because some anger management programs have research support does not mean that all practitioners will use them skillfully. It is important to be comfortable with the treatment provider you select.
  • Anger management is not designed to eliminate one's angry feelings or control others' behavior. Instead, it is aimed at helping the client reduce the intensity and frequency of their angry feelings and learn to express anger in more positive ways.

Gender and Sex Role Egalitarianism in Dating Relational Aggression

Emily Prather, a third year doctoral student working in the lab, defended her thesis today. Emily's thesis was titled Sex Role Egalitarianism and Relational Aggression in Intimate Partnerships.

Surprisingly little is known about relational aggression among college students. Emily's thesis explored the role of sex role egalitarianism, gender, and acceptance of couple violence in college students' dating relationships. She found that acceptance of couple violence predicted the perpetration of relational aggression, independent of trait anger and sex role egalitarianism. Although both respondent gender and sex role egalitarianism predicted relational aggression, there was no evidence that gender moderated the relationship between sex role egalitarianism and relational aggression. For both male and female students, more traditional (i.e., less egalitarian) sex role attitudes were associated with a greater tendency to engage in relationally aggressive behaviors.

Psychopathic Traits in Relational Aggression Among College Students

We recently had a manuscript accepted for publication in Aggressive Behavior based on Kate Czar's master's thesis:

Czar, K. A., Dahlen, E. R., Bullock-Yowell, E., & Nicholson, B. C. (in press). Psychopathic personality traits in relational aggression among young adults. Aggressive Behavior.

The paper addresses the potential role of psychopathic personality traits in relational aggression among college students. Findings showed that psychopathic personality traits predicted peer and romantic relational aggression, even when controlling for physical aggressiveness. Neither the frequency with which relationally aggressive behaviors were reported nor the link between psychopathic traits and relational aggression differed by participant gender.

Kate is an advanced doctoral student working in the lab, and we are proud of her efforts. She proposed her dissertation recently and will begin collecting data soon.

Unhealthy Anger

Despite its positive effects, anger also can get out of control, fueling aggression and leading to problems with one’s health, relationships, occupational performance, and overall quality of life.

In determining whether someone is experiencing the sort of anger that might lead to these problems, psychologists often assess the intensity, frequency, and duration of angry episodes, how someone expresses anger, and the type of consequences anger has produced. Such an evaluation can be very helpful in planning an effective course of treatment.

Of course, some people who have an anger problem already realize it. They may feel out of control or act in ways that seem uncontrolled or frightening to others. They may experience negative effects of their anger in important relationships, work, or other roles. And they have often had others express concerns about their anger.

All the Rage: A New Blog on the Science of Anger

Dr. Ryan Martin, a previous student of mine who is now an Associate Professor of Human Development and Psychology at the University of Wisconsin - Green Bay, has put together a new blog. Titled All the Rage, Dr. Martin's blog deals with the science of anger. He plans to use it as a vehicle for disseminating information to the public about the scientific study of anger. There is even a form that readers can use to submit questions.

I am happy to be an invited collaborator at
All the Rage. Misinformation about anger is so widespread that I think this could be a great resource.

The Driver Stress Profile

Michael Moore, a doctoral student from the Anger and Traffic Psychology Lab who is now on internship at the Memphis VA Medical Center, successfully defended his dissertation last week, "Further Validation of the Larson Driver Stress Profile." Congratulations soon-to-be-Dr. Moore!

The Driver Stress Profile (DSP; Larson, 1996) is a 40-item self-report measure of four constructs thought to be relevant to aggressive driving: competitiveness, anger, impatience, and punishing other drivers. Michael's dissertation provided initial evidence of the construct validity of a version of this measure after refining it through exploratory factor analysis. Although additional work is needed before this modified version of the DSP can be considered complete, initial results are promising. The revised DSP was found to predict motor vehicle accidents, aggressive driving,risky driving, and driving anger expression. In fact, the DSP was able to explain an additional 20% of the variance in aggressive driving even after accounting for gender, miles driven/week, driving anger, and sensation seeking.

Dr. Howard Kassinove Explains the Psychology of Anger

This is a great overview of the psychology of anger that is likely to be helpful for anyone wanting to gain a better understanding of how anger works and what effective anger management programs typically involve.


Culture and Relational Aggression

Kate Czar, a doctoral student working in the Anger and Traffic Psychology Lab, successfully defended her dissertation proposal last week. Congratulations to Kate!

Although relational aggression has been widely studied among children and early adolescents, much less is known about it among older adolescents and adults. One particular area which has received little attention to date concerns the role of culture in relational aggression. Kate's dissertation, "Regional Differences in Relational Aggression: The Role of Culture," will focus on examining potential regional differences (i.e., North-South) in the U.S. Differing norms and expectations governing aggressive behavior, particularly among women, are expected to manifest themselves in different rates and perceptions of relational aggression. Relational aggression, normative beliefs about relational aggression, and gender role egalitarianism are among the variables which Kate will examine.

Healthy Anger

healthy lifestyle
Anger is a common emotion experienced by everyone. Surveys of college students and community adults show that most people feel at least mildly angry several times a week and that approximately 33% experience daily anger. Mild to moderate anger can energize individuals to address injustices, assert themselves, and solve problems. These positive effects remind us that the goal of anger management programs should not to eliminate one's experience of angry feelings. Without the ability to experience anger, one would be poorly equipped to meet many basic needs.

New Data on Youth Violence

A new study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides some interesting data about the problem of youth violence. Based on 2004 to 2008 data, 30.9% of U.S. adolescents between 12 and 17 reported having engaged in at least one of the following violent behaviors during the past year: being in a serious fight at school or work, participating in a group-vs.-group fight, and/or attacking someone with the goal of inflicting serious harm.

Distracted Driving PSA

It is nice to see the problem of distracted driving receiving more attention. Check out this new public service announcement.


Article on Driving Anger and Boredom Proneness Makes AAP's Top 20 Most Cited List

I was just informed by Elsevier that a 2005 article published in Accident Analysis and Prevention was one of the top 20 most cited articles from this journal published between 2005 and 2010. The citation of the article is:

Dahlen, E. R., Martin, R. C., Ragan, K., & Kuhlman, M. M. (2005). Driving anger, sensation seeking, impulsiveness, and boredom proneness in the prediction of unsafe driving. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 37, 341-348.

It is great to know that others have found it useful in their research.

What is Anger?

Anger is an emotional state that ranges from minor frustration and annoyance to intense rage. It involves characteristic physiological, cognitive, and behavioral components.

At the physiological level, anger involves arousal of the autonomic nervous system. This is typically experienced as a rush of adrenaline, muscle tension, increased heart rate, and other sensations which are how our bodies prepare us for action.

Cognitively, anger involves the perception of some sort of threat to ourselves, our property, our self-image, or other areas with which we identify. During an angry episode, we are likely to perceive even neutral events as being intentional, unfair, and undeserved, making us even angrier.

The behavioral component of anger includes the manner in which anger is communicated. Some people tend to suppress their anger, holding it inside until they feel like they are going to boil over; others express their anger outwardly in uncontrolled displays yelling, slamming doors, or even threatening others.

Lab News

Greetings! I plan to use this page to share news from the Anger and Traffic Psychology Lab. Some of the information and resources from what used to be the Anger Research Consortium will now be relocated here. In addition, I will share information relevant to those seeking to understand anger, aggression, and traffic psychology.