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How Rudeness Can Negatively Affect Your Mind

Being exposed to someone who is rude can be unsettling, especially when it is completely unprovoked. New research shows how rudeness also affects your ability to think clearly.

When was the last time someone was unnecessarily rude to you? Perhaps you were happily minding your own business while reaching for an item on a high shelf at the drugstore. Unaware of the person standing behind you, you happened to step back and bumped into their foot. It was an innocent mistake, so you couldn’t understand why this person tapped you on the shoulder and yelled at you for being so clumsy. If you were in their place, you know you wouldn’t react with such venomous rage. Unsettled by the whole episode, you find that you can’t even concentrate on what else you were supposed to pick up at the store and leave empty-handed.
Rudeness and the Ability to Concentrate
As it turns out, the mental effects of exposure to rudeness have actually been studied in the laboratory. According to Carnegie Mellon University’s Binyamin Cooper and colleagues (2022), rudeness constitutes a “low intensity negative behavior that violates norms of civility” that can actually interfere with a person’s ability to get work done (p. 481). In the extreme, rudeness can even have life-or-death consequences. Previous research shows that medical personnel exposed to rudeness not only “perform at suboptimal levels” but also could actually make poor decisions with lethal consequences.
What might account for the detrimental effects of rudeness on someone’s mental capacity? Reflecting on the shopping example, you might be able to resonate with the idea that when you’re the target of an unprovoked attack, you simply cannot think straight.
The type of mental draining that Cooper and his colleagues believe has the most negative impact on an individual relates to the process of “anchoring.” This is a mental bias that occurs when people fixate on one idea to the exclusion of other possibilities. In the words of the authors, it “appears to pose a significant risk to the quality of individual judgment” (p. 482).
In their theoretical model, rudeness has this impact on your ability to think because it engenders negative arousal (sadness, anger). This pathway is further influenced by a loss of the ability to engage in perspective-taking, where you think about a situation from someone else’s point of view. You also become unable to lay out the ordinary set of possible solutions to the problems that face you. It’s as if you zero in on one idea, fixate on that, and become unable to see any alternatives. The problem occurs when that first thought is actually wrong.
Putting Rudeness to the Test
As indicated in the title of the study, “Trapped by a First Hypothesis,” the first step in testing their theoretical model required that the research team trap their participants by exposing them to rudeness and then seeing how their thought processes evolved as a result. Across a series of three studies, as well as a pilot, a combination of medical students and online participants imagined themselves in simulated situations that, in the rudeness condition, involved someone speaking to them in a highly inappropriate manner.
For example, in one study, participants were to imagine themselves as bookstore employees when a customer complained about the advertised price of a book being too high. In the rude condition, the customer said: “What kind of bookstore is this? Are you all a bunch of idiots who work here or something? There’s a sign there saying all the books in that area are SEVEN DOLLARS. It’s not that complicated—you put the price on a book, and that’s what it costs. It doesn’t take a genius to do that, but maybe that’s asking too much from someone who works at a bookstore. Forget it; I don’t want it.”
To assess the impact of rudeness on anchoring, the researchers used several variants of a task in which participants could be led to settle on an incorrect answer without considering others. In one of these, participants answered whether Mount Everest’s height is greater or less than 45,000 feet (anchoring) and then, in the second question, simply guessed what they thought the mountain’s height is. Anchoring would be shown by the extent to which the freely given answer was closer to the anchor than the actual height (which is 29,029 feet).
To examine whether the effect of rudeness could be mitigated, the research team investigated the effects of various manipulations such as giving participants a chance to engage in perspective-taking and an exercise that challenged them to think in more depth about the problem.
In this well-controlled and imaginative study, the authors were able to tease apart the various components of their overall model. The findings were consistent with the model’s predictions and showed that although exposure to rudeness engendered such negative emotions as anger, hostility, and disgust, the effect of this negative arousal on anchoring could be offset by simple interventions. These “rays of hope” (p. 495) can therefore provide an antidote to the effect of rudeness on an individual’s ability to think rationally.
Offsetting Rudeness in Your Own Life
With these findings in mind, you may now have a better idea of what it is about being subjected to rudeness that can be so deleterious to your mental ability. The raw emotions that become triggered narrow your focus and make it difficult for you to think of anything else other than the horribleness of the situation.
You don’t have to remain trapped in those negative emotions, however. You may not feel like thinking nice things (perspective-taking) about the person who wronged you, at least not in the heat of the situation. However, you can take advantage of information elaboration by forcing yourself to stick to the task at hand and figure out various ways to tackle it. In other words, as you roam about that drugstore boiling over with anger at the person who reacted so harshly to you, pull out the list you came in there with or just stop and think about all the items you could possibly need by looking up and down each aisle.
These situations can also help you develop your own resistance to becoming a rude person yourself. Knowing how harmful this behavior can be, it might be helpful for you to consider the value of civility the next time you’re tempted to lash out at a stranger.
To sum up, positive relationships benefit interpersonal civility as well as mental agility. Rudeness is unpleasant to encounter in your daily life, but it doesn’t have to rule your rationality.

psychology today

15 replies
  1. Hannanekazemi
    Hannanekazemi says:

    It is a very difficult to endure a rude person. Wasn’t it better if everyone was gathering rude and rude and sending them to a remote island so that we wouldn’t have to deal with them anymore? Rude and rude behavior is very annoying, but I think removing ourselves from that position is the fastest and most way to prevent others from being ruthless. Even if he was still busy talking to you. 

  2. شیدا عباسی
    شیدا عباسی says:

    I think rude people also affect friends or acquaintances. Rude people are at a lower level rationally, and it may also cause a lack of confidence and therefore more problems.

  3. Kimia Ahmadvand
    Kimia Ahmadvand says:

    Hello professor, good time, so we can conclude that impoliteness is a type of mind emptying that can have negative effects on a person’s mind and negative emotions can limit our concentration. Thank you for your useful content.

  4. zahra moradi
    zahra moradi says:

    In Iranian proverbs, it is clearly mentioned that hanging out with a person who does not have education and intelligence will definitely affect your behavior, so under no circumstances should you talk to rude and rude people and leave them alone.

  5. Omid Takook
    Omid Takook says:

    Omid Takook

    As the student of the Feeling and Perception Course on Fridays at 12:30, my opinion and comment about this essay is:

    Rudeness can have significant negative effects on a person’s ability to think and act effectively in various situations.
    Rudeness can impair a person’s cognitive function, including their ability to concentrate, remember information, and make decisions. When people are exposed to rude behavior, they tend to become more rigid in their thinking and less creative. Rudeness can decrease a person’s motivation to perform well and achieve their goals.
    Being exposed to rudeness can increase a person’s stress levels, which can negatively impact their ability to think clearly and act effectively. Rudeness in the workplace can lead to lower job satisfaction and decreased productivity.

  6. Farzaneh jornabian
    Farzaneh jornabian says:

    If someone wants to be rude, you cannot respect him. In fact, if you force him to change, he’s more likely to sulk and behave worse. In many cases, your best bet is to accept that it’s not your fault or rudeness, and let her make up her own mind about her behavior.

  7. sara.samani
    sara.samani says:

    Unfortunately, rudeness and obscenity can be seen in all ages and we are witnessing this issue more than ever. Sometimes we insult someone while angry and we feel that we have calmed down and this matter is registered in our mind that obscenity and rudeness are It helps us to calm down if we feel embarrassed when we think about our words when we calm down. The best thing to do is to control anger and think about the consequences before saying anything, especially when talking to children.

  8. nasrin shojaee
    nasrin shojaee says:

    Being exposed to someone who is rude can definitely be upsetting, especially when you don’t expect it from that person. Rudeness affects our ability to think and this can affect our actions and how we treat people

  9. hamidreza taheri
    hamidreza taheri says:

    sir ,
    in my opinion sometimes being rude is gonna help our anger and chill us but always being rude is so bad and its gonna make us a bad person.

  10. fatemeh zare
    fatemeh zare says:

    Hello dear professor. It was an informative article, especially since in today’s society people use profanity for no reason. We should prevent their influence on our clear thinking by controlling our anger and ignoring their rudeness. And we should try not to repeat their behavior out of anger. Because a person who gets angry and says obscenities does not know what he is saying at that moment, but he cannot take back what he said. According to Saadi, Words once spoken,cant be recalled .

    Thank you, I am Fatemeh Zare, a student at Iranian University

  11. Hasti Razzazchian
    Hasti Razzazchian says:

    Amazing! I hope we humans can control rudeness in different situations, at least to calm our own minds and make the right decision.

  12. Fateme Alijanpoor
    Fateme Alijanpoor says:

    Good time, dear Professor Malehi, unfortunately, all people are sometimes treated with rudeness and arrogance, but reading your valuable article will make people aware of how to deal with anger in the face of rudeness.

  13. Hasti Razzazchian
    Hasti Razzazchian says:

    Great! I hope we humans can control rudness in different situations, at least to calm our own minds and make the right decision.

  14. Niloofar Khoshdel
    Niloofar Khoshdel says:

    Good time, dear teacher: Dr. Malehi I am niloofar khoshdel from Iranian University. Unfortunately, everyone is subject to rudeness from time to time, and at that moment, they may immediately show similar behavior because of your excellent explanation. But reading this article is very valuable because it makes people aware of the process of not concentrating and creating anger while facing rudeness. And after reading this article, only this beautiful poem was evoked in my mind: Where did you learn politeness from? From the rude!


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