Science can tell you the physics of how light behaves around the event horizon of a black hole, but it doesn't tell you how not to be a total dickhead. Or at least, it didn't used to -- now science is finally turning its cold and calculating eye away from what holds atoms together, and onto why you can't get through a single childrens birthday party without calling an 8-year-old a buttwad.
Everybody knows that "bottling up" your anger will just cause it to fester and grow until you snap and wind up knocking out a mime. Common tips for letting go of anger include ranting to friends, consulting a therapist, or just unleashing a volley of punches onto a pumpkin with your boss' face drawn on it. But when psychologists set out to prove which of these methods is actually best for letting go of anger, they stumbled on a surprising discovery -- according to the study, ignoring your anger until it goes away is a lot more effective than focusing on it in any capacity, even if you're just trying to work through it.
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Gourds are temporary, but horrible bosses are forever.
Psychologist Brad Bushman discovered this after insulting volunteers until he was pretty sure they were ready to slam his balls in a car door. Then he separated the participants into three groups: The first group was given a punching bag and told to wail on it while thinking about his own stupid science face. The second was also given a punching bag, but were told to focus instead on getting fit. The third was given jack and told to suck it up.
"If you absolutely need to punch something, you've got a skull."
When asked later to describe how angry they still were, the first group reported that their cathartic punching session had little or no effect on their mood. The second group reported some improvement. But the best results in terms of getting past their anger came from the third group, who did nothing whatsoever.
That may put a spanner in the burgeoning field of "punch therapy," but surely there's a lot to be said for talking it through with someone rather than lying in bed and letting it ferment until it explodes like bathtub moonshine. But in another study, Jennifer Parlamis of University of San Francisco pissed off another test group and then had them write a letter about their feelings to either a mediator, a therapist, a friend, the offending party, or nobody. Again, the group who experienced the biggest reduction in negativity was the group who didn't write a letter. Maybe don't whip out this little theory the next time somebody starts road raging on you, though. Telling an angry person that the best way to deal with it is to just shut the fuck up about it would probably only make the situation worse.
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From browsing our phones on the bus to pretending to soil ourselves at the zoo, it seems like we go to an awful lot of effort every day to deliberately avoid talking to the people around us. Researchers decided to see what happens when we do away with the taboo of conversing with strangers on public transportation. They achieved this by offering commuters a $5 gift voucher to strike up a conversation. Apparently many bus passengers cannot spot an obvious trap, and accepted. Participants in the study were asked to do one of three things -- either carry out their daily commute as normal, deliberately avoid other people, or purposefully try to strike up a conversation with somebody. At the end, everyone filled out a survey about how positive they felt.
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Shockingly, the group that got paid in fucking bananas recorded little confidence.
When they tallied up the results, they found that those commuters who had been forced to interact with some stranger recorded the most positive experiences. Somehow, social interaction with other humans was more satisfying than leveling up in Fruit Ninja. We know, we're totally stumped, too.
Wasted food, wasted life.
Interestingly, this result also contradicted most of the participants' expectations. When asked beforehand how they felt about the experiment, the volunteers forced to interact with their fellow filthy busmongers expected awkward conversation at best, and to wind up in little pieces in a garbage bag at worst. Happiness experts -- which are, adorably, a real thing -- believe that this discrepancy is because we just don't tend to remember positive interactions with strangers -- we only remember the negative ones, which is why we generally avoid them.
Huh. Maybe next time we'll leave our Zoo Diapers at home. Maybe.
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Three universities did a joint study over five years in which they followed 846 people and recorded how stressful their lives were (tallying stuff like financial hardship or deaths in the family) and how much time they had spent helping others. Then they basically waited to see how many of the study participants died over the next five years. Science isn't all snuggle surveys and puppy immortality serums; it gets pretty damn bleak sometimes.
According to my calculations, if patients "accidentally" fall headfirst into a mineshaft, we can go home early."
Out of 846 people, 134 of the participants died within the window. Researchers cracked open their records to see whether there was any connection between being especially nice to people and meeting an untimely end. That's pretty intuitive: Nice people finish last, right? If you're always out there helping people, one of them is eventually going to throw you in a van and use your mutilated corpse as a prop in a twisted tableau about the fate of sinners. Everybody knows that.
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Only Rick understood "twisted ankle" was code for "fresh victims wanted."
The others would have to learn the hard way.
Shockingly, it skewed the other way: People who helped out less experienced increased mortality. Of course, freak accidents do occur, and altruists aren't all Ned Flanders Highlanders, but it seems that there is some correlation after you correct for those who randomly fell down mineshafts. The theory is that if you're actually participating in society in a positive way, you're more inclined to stick around in that society a little longer. When stressful situations occur, your body is less likely to implode if you have positive social connections. Basically, it helps if you have a reason to live aside from seeing how Game of Thrones ends. In fact, the researchers suggest that, according to their study, a life of good deeds may mean up to a 30 percent reduced level of mortality due to stress.
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Actually, maybe us misanthropes better prepare for the inevitable rise of the HighFlanders ...
Death is an inevitable fact that every human being faces. How you go through life depends a lot on your reaction to the concept of your own end. For most of us, an endless cycle of diversions -- some good, some meth -- helps alleviate the dread. But some folks just aren't concerned. So what's the secret to accepting death without fear? According to research from the University of Wisconsin, it has a lot to do with your massive, massive ego -- or rather, the lack of it. Five studies examined the effects of humility on death anxiety. Humility being formally defined here as the "willingness to accept the self and life without comforting illusions, and by low levels of self-focus," and informally defined as "people who wouldn't drive a bright yellow Hummer, if given the chance."
More than likely, not the only hummers they have paid for.
Some crafty surveys designed to remind us that death is inevitable were handed out to volunteers, who then went on to agree or disagree with morally dubious ideas, like "people who get mistreated have usually done something to bring it on themselves." The researchers referred to these morally questionable attitudes as "terror management defenses," and they tend to appear more prominently when egotistical people are faced directly with the question of their own death.
"Walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death? Hell no; ashes and dust are terrible for my pores."
However, when confronted with the lurking claw of the reaper, the volunteers less likely to wear a T-shirt with their own face on it were largely unafraid.
The researchers theorize that personality traits like racism, intolerance, and other prejudices might actually be manifestations of an inability to handle the fact that we're all going to die. Which totally explains why goths make for such super pals.
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There's nothing wrong with being a shy person who keeps to himself, as opposed to breaking out the acoustic guitar at every party you invite yourself to, but for many people, social anxiety is an affliction that they would much rather do without. Fortunately, researchers believe that there is a way to relieve anxiety: just be charitable and giving.
Goddammit. We were hoping they'd say "six glasses of whiskey," or "blow on your thumb," or something else attainable.
Note: They didn't say anything against drinking six glasses of whiskey.
In one study, volunteers suffering from social anxiety were asked to report on their experiences after four weeks of initiating random acts of kindness. And that could mean anything from holding open doors for people, helping to carry groceries, or just listening to some dude on the subway rant without telling him to watch what he says because the CIA has a radio in his teeth. The participants not only experienced an improvement in mood, but a decrease in social avoidance and more satisfaction in their current relationships. In other words, helping Granny carry her shopping makes you less inclined to hide under the table if someone asks you what you do for a living.
"I, uh ... teach 1950s safety drills."
The results aren't exactly conclusive, and it's far from a cure for anxiety, but like most entries on this list, the theme is that if you do good stuff for people, the world will not only be a better place, but you personally will benefit from the results. And that's what we were all waiting for, isn't it? A totally selfish reason to be kind.
Paul K Pickett is a Canadian writer who talks to strangers. He can be contacted at email@example.com. You can also check out his novel for free right now at JukePop.com.
For more scientific reasons for why people act the way they do, check out 6 Obnoxious Old People Habits (Explained by Science) and 5 Scientific Reasons People Act Like Assholes.
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