When people provoke you, try distancing yourself from them and look at the provocation objectively to stay calm, says a new study.
“The secret is to not get immersed in your own anger and, instead, have a more detached view,” said Dominik Mischkowski, lead author of the research and a graduate student in psychology at Ohio State University.
Mischkowski suggests that you have to see the whole situation "as a fly on the wall would see it."
The research was based on two studies. In the first study, 95 participants were told that they were taking part in a study on how music affects problem solving abilities. These people were asked to listen to music while they solved anagrams. But, the twist was that the experiment was actually designed to provoke the participants. To achieve this, participants were regularly interrupted during the task and were asked to speak loudly into the intercom.
After this, the participants were told that they will be participating in a study on music and feelings. They were asked to replay the anagram test scene in their minds.
These participants were then divided into three groups. First group was asked to think about how they felt; second group was asked to see the scene as it happened from a distance and the third group was a control group and wasn't given any direction.
The researchers then conducted tests to determine which group was most aggressive. They found that people who distanced themselves from the situations were less likely to be aggressive.
“The self-distancing approach helped people regulate their angry feelings and also reduced their aggressive thoughts,” Mischkowski said.
“The fact that those who used self-distancing showed lower levels of aggression shows that this technique can work in the heat of the moment, when the anger is still fresh," Mischkowski said.
In the second study, 93 participants were asked to solve anagrams while listening to music, only this time they had to work with another unseen student. The student was actually one of the researchers who annoyed the participants while they were doing the task, again to provoke the participants.
“These participants were tested very shortly after they had been provoked by their partner,” Mischkowski said.
Next, they were assigned to three groups and one group asked to analyze their feelings using self-distancing technique while another was told to think about their feelings. The third group acted as control.
The participants were then told that they would be competing against their annoying partner. If they won, they could punish the person with noise through headphones - and the winner chose the intensity and length of the noise blast.
People who focused on their emotions were more aggressive than people who distanced themselves from the situation.
Researchers say that thinking about your anger makes you more prone to aggressive behavior. Thinking about neutral or happy thoughts makes you less angry but it doesn't work on a long-term basis. Self-distancing, however, helps you think objectively and thus lowers your anger.
“Many people seem to believe that immersing themselves in their anger has a cathartic effect, but it doesn’t. It backfires and makes people more aggressive,” Brad Bushman, a co-author of the study and professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State.
“But self-distancing really works, even right after a provocation - it is a powerful intervention tool that anyone can use when they’re angry," Mischkowski said.