, ,

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

, , ,

What COVID Can Teach Us About Stress Management

Different coping styles tell us a lot about healthy eating

Now that COVID is somewhat behind us, we have some space to stop and reflect. We can remember the days when masks were mandatory, lockdowns were frequent, and many businesses were shutting down (except, of course, hospitals).
Some of us used the time to down-regulate our lives, taking advantage of a less hectic lifestyle. Others’ lives became even more hectic as schools closed, and daycare was a non-starter. Job insecurity became a huge issue. Supply chains were questionable. Not to mention the loss of loved ones and acquaintances.
And we had no idea when things were going to improve, at least until a vaccine became widely available. That first year was quite a challenge, and there was nowhere to go. It was a worldwide health threat.
COVID Anxiety and the Consumption of Junk Foods
A couple of studies presented in a 2022 research paper (Juad and Lunardo) looked at anxiety during 2020 in adults aged 18-35 in the United Kingdom and France. Their background research showed that this age group tended to struggle more with anxiety than older adults, showing a greater tendency to feel isolated, overwhelmed, and helpless.
This particular study decided to look at the uptick in eating junk foods (high-calorie, processed foods) and sugary drinks as a coping strategy for pandemic anxiety. Juad and Lunardo also found that there were specific coping strategies used by some individuals that did not lead to continued states of anxiety and turning to compensatory eating practices.
They discovered that feelings of helplessness caused many individuals to have a lower acceptance of the situation. Helplessness indicates a general feeling of not having the ability to find a way to cope with the situation. This is known as low self-efficacy.
Individuals who felt helpless tended to eat more junk food (often accompanied by weight gain) during the first year of the pandemic. On the other hand, those who were able to accept the situation were then able to develop positive coping strategies. As a result, they did not turn to junk food as a coping strategy.
Anxiety and Self-Efficacy
Other research has explored the connection between helplessness and feelings of low-self efficacy. Low self-efficacy can lead to ignoring or rejecting positive coping strategies that a person does not feel capable of performing. The opposite would be self-efficacy, or a person’s belief in their ability to find and use coping strategies to achieve a goal or complete a task.
These same concepts are evident when designing behavior change interventions that promote a healthy eating style compatible with maintaining a healthy weight.
What do they have in common? Both have to do with conquering the negativity that comes with stress that can leave a person stuck in an unproductive belief system. Without self-efficacy on board, it is easy to stay focused on the negative, use negative self-talk, and stay in black-and-white thinking. These patterns can lead a person to think that changing the situation is impossible.
The question is, can some interventions increase self-efficacy, and if so, how?
The Role of Stress Management
A study in 2022 (Carfora, Morandi, and Catellani) identified several techniques that had a positive effect on developing dietary self-efficacy. Self-monitoring, feedback on performance, review of behavioral goals, setting up a reward system, and social support all increased dietary self-efficacy.
The kicker was that stress management was consistently associated with self-efficacy across all analyses and came out as the strongest indicator.
This finding takes us right back to what was happening during COVID with regard to turning to unhealthy foods. Anxiety is a big part of stress. Jaud and Lunardo found a huge association between being able to handle the anxiety of an uncontrollable situation like the pandemic and the ability to make healthy food choices. That association points to the role of self-efficacy when handling the stress of the situation.
Rewriting Stress
Getting back to the question of whether self-efficacy can be increased, it would appear that stress management plays a key role. Taking it a step further, what actions can be taken to respond to stress that will lower its effect on us?
As Jaud and Lunardo indicated, the ability to accept the situation could then serve as the basis for developing coping strategies leading to the ability to maintain healthy eating during the pandemic.
Other research has supported several techniques used to reduce stress and develop coping strategies when designing healthy eating interventions. These techniques have been proven effective time and again. These strategies can be applied to the successful management of stress during challenging times, such as the pandemic, as well as using behavior change interventions in healthy eating or weight-loss programs.

psychology today

, , ,

Do Introverts Really Have Less Fun?

New research traces whether introverts can squeeze joy out of their daily lives.

Finding joy in everyday experiences is an important way to keep yourself stressless and carefree. It may be something as simple as a young relative taking your hand as you walk down a hallway. That immediate boost helps shine a little light on your day. Known as an “uplift” in the psychological literature, such events are known to help reduce stress. Uplifts can counteract the effects of “hassles,” which are equally small events that, through wear and tear, can impact your mental and physical health.
As described in a new study by Pennsylvania State University’s Natasha DeMeo and colleagues (2023), “uplifts and hassles not only make up the topography of daily life…but these experiences… have implications for health and well-being” (p. 355). Importantly, though, people differ in their propensity to and resistance to such impacts.
Why Introverts Might Have Fewer Uplifts
Previous research has established that extraverts seek out and relish joyful experiences, even those tiny ones that qualify as uplifts. Introverts, with their greater inner focus, may be less likely to take advantage of these stress-buffering effects. However, they may also be more affected by hassles. Laboratory studies provide compelling evidence that introverts show greater emotional and physiological reactivity to external stressors. They may also be less likely to see themselves as successful copers and even take a bleaker view of a stressful situation than people high in extraversion. These self-perceptions, seen as critical in the so-called “cognitive” model of stress, can further exacerbate the deleterious effects of stress on health.
The Penn State authors note that, despite the strength of these prior studies, they may fail to capture the nuances of the personality–stress relationship. A lab study is useful for experimentation purposes, it but lacks the so-called “external validity” of seeing how people react in the context of their daily lives. Furthermore, prior studies rely on people’s memories for their hassles and uplifts, making the data subject to a retrospective bias. You can appreciate this problem if you think about the way you recall an event from several days or even hours ago. The details fade and, worse, become colored by the emotions the event arises after the fact.
Testing the Personality–Stress Link
Taking the approach that hassles and uplifts are best studied as they occur in real time, DeMeo and her collaborators used the method known as “ecological momentary assessment” (EMA). Their 242 participants ranging in age from 25 to 65 years lived in housing development in the Bronx and were part of a larger study on aging through which the EMA data were collected. Racially and ethnically diverse, nearly two-thirds were non-Hispanic Black, and a quarter were Hispanic; three-quarters either had a college degree or had at least some college courses.
Each participant was beeped through a smartphone app five times a day for 14 days. At each assessment, they reported on “any event, even a minor one, which affected [the participant] in a positive way.” If they did report an uplift, follow-up questions asked them to rate its intensity on a 1-to-100 scale. To measure introversion, the Penn State researchers administered a standard 10-item questionnaire, and the research team also measured hassles at the same time as they assessed uplifts.
The sample appeared relatively fortunate in the sense of experiencing relatively few hassles (less than 1 per day on average) and on the 0-to-100 scale, the average hassle amounted to about 67 points in intensity. Also fortunately for the sample, they reported about 19 uplifts over the 14-day period, and these qualified for a rating of nearly 80 in intensity.
Although prior research indicated a tendency for introverts to derive less joy out of their days, DeMeo et al.’s analyses hinged on the findings with respect to uplifts, based on the idea that introverts would be less sensitive to rewards. Consistent with prediction, those scoring higher on introversion reported fewer uplifts on a daily basis and they rated those uplifts as less enjoyable than did their less introverted counterparts. In round numbers, this amounted to only 15 uplifts over the two weeks that were rated as 76 rather than 79 out of 100.
Introversion alone, however, wasn’t the only factor affecting uplift ratings. When neuroticism, depression, and anxiety were taken into account, the effect of introversion remained only for frequency of uplifts, not intensity.
In terms of predictions regarding the ways that introverts would perceive their own coping abilities, the finding did emerge of a tendency for them to regard “miscellaneous” hassles (i.e., not specific to situations such as finances or traffic) as higher in intensity. As the authors concluded, “we found some preliminary evidence of person-environment interactions—where the occurrence or experience of an event depends on the characteristics of both the situation and the person” (p. 361). In other words, whether people high in introversion believe an event to be a hassle may be specific to the given situation and the match between the way they see themselves and the nature of the hassle itself.
How Introverts Can Extract More Joy From Life
As the Penn State study suggests, people who tend to focus on their inner life appear to be more resistant to the possibility that an ordinary experience, however small, could produce a rush of positive feelings. Although the authors didn’t explore this particular line of reasoning, it may very well be that this focus on an inner state may not only inoculate them from hassles but also stand in the way of the simple pleasures that are so much a part of everyday life.
Given the high stakes in terms of mental and physical health associated with achieving a favorable pleasure–pain balance, the DeMeo results suggest that it would be worth the effort for people high in introversion to find ways to let the sun shine in on a more frequent basis.
To sum up, successful coping is more than a matter of fending off the bad. Finding joy in the seemingly insignificant experiences in life can help build not only resilience but also fulfillment.

psychology today