By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“Mindfulness recognizes anger, is aware of its presence, accepts and allows it to be there. Mindfulness is like a big brother who does not suppress his younger brother’s suffering. He simply says, “Dear brother, I’m here for you.” You take your younger brother in your arms and you comfort him.” – Thich Nhat Hahn
The human tendency to lash out with aggression when threatened was adaptive for the evolution of the species. It helped promote the survival of the individual, the family, and the tribe. In the modern world, however, this trait has become more of a problem than an asset. It results in individual violence and aggression such as physical abuse, fights, road rage, and even murders, and in societal violence such as warfare. It may even be the basis for the horrors of terrorism and mass murder. Obviously there is a need in modern society to control these violent and aggressive urges.
Mindfulness training has been shown to reduce aggression and hostility. This suggests that mindfulness may be an antidote to violent and aggressive urges. So, it would make sense to further investigate the relationship between mindfulness and aggression. In today’s Research News article “Physical Aggression and Mindfulness among College Students: Evidence from China and the United States.” See:
or below or view the full text of the study at:
Gao and colleagues used psychometric measures of mindfulness and aggression in three samples of freshman college students from the United States and China and investigated the relationships between the students’ trait levels of mindfulness and their aggressive tendencies.
They found a strong negative relationship between mindfulness and aggressiveness such that the higher the levels of mindfulness the lower the levels of all four types of aggression measured, including hostility, verbal aggressiveness, physical aggressiveness, and anger. This was true for all three samples for both American and Chinese students. In other words, mindfulness was significantly related to low aggressiveness regardless of culture. This relationship may have resulted from the documented ability of mindfulness to improve emotion regulation, including improved control over anger, and fear. By being better able to control their emotions highly mindful people would be less likely to respond to them with aggression.
These results are correlational. There was no manipulation of mindfulness. So, a causal relationship between mindfulness and aggressiveness cannot be concluded. A randomize controlled clinical trial is needed to establish if increasing mindfulness decreases aggressiveness. In addition, the sample were typical college freshman and who are not particularly aggressive groups. It will be important to establish in the future if mindfulness can help control aggression in highly aggressive populations such as violent offenders.
Regardless the results are clear and suggest that aggression can be lowered with mindfulness.
“Anger is always a signal. Mindfulness helps reveal what it signals. Sometimes it is a signal that something in the external world needs to be addressed. Sometimes it is a signal that something is off internally. If nothing else, anger is a signal that someone is suffering. Probably it is you. Sit still in the midst of your anger and find your freedom.” – Gil Fronsdal
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Gao, Y., Shi, L., Smith, K. C., Kingree, J. B., & Thompson, M. (2016). Physical Aggression and Mindfulness among College Students: Evidence from China and the United States. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 13(5), 480. http://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph13050480
Background: The link between trait mindfulness and several dimensions of aggression (verbal, anger and hostility) has been documented, while the link between physical aggression and trait mindfulness remains less clear. Method: We used two datasets: one United States sample from 300 freshmen males from Clemson University, South Carolina and a Chinese sample of 1516 freshmen students from Shanghai University of Finance and Economics. Multiple regressions were conducted to examine the association between mindfulness (measured by Mindful Attention and Awareness Scale (MAAS)) and each of the four subscales of aggression. Results: Among the Clemson sample (N = 286), the mindfulness scale had a significant negative association with each of the four subscales of aggression: Hostility: β = −0.62, p < 0.001; Verbal: β = −0.37, p < 0.001; Physical: β = −0.29, p < 0.001; Anger: β = −0.44, p < 0.001. Among the Shanghai male subsample, the mindfulness scale had a significant negative association with each of the four subscales of aggression: Hostility: β = −0.57, p < 0.001; Verbal: β = −0.37, p < 0.001; Physical: β = −0.35, p < 0.001; Anger: β = −0.58, p < 0.001. Among the Shanghai female subsample (N = 512), the mindfulness scale had a significant negative association with each of the four subscales of aggression: Hostility: β = −0.62, p < 0.001; Verbal: β = −0.41, p < 0.001; Physical: β = −0.52, p < 0.001; and Anger: β = −0.64, p < 0.001. Discussion: Our study documents the negative association between mindfulness and physical aggression in two non-clinical samples. Future studies could explore whether mindfulness training lowers physical aggression among younger adults.