Mindfulness is Associated with Lower Aggression by Lowering Rumination

Mindfulness is Associated with Lower Aggression by Lowering Rumination

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Mindfulness may restore the emotional resources needed to maintain self-control, and thus may have an important role to play in anger management by helping people to mindfully respond to provocation rather than react with anger.”- AMRA

 

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.

 

Aggression may, at least in part, be amplified by anger rumination; an uncontrollable, repetitive thinking about anger and its sources. This can produce a downward spiral where people repeatedly think about their anger which, in turn, reinforces the anger making it worse and worse. It is like a record that’s stuck and keeps repeating the same lyrics. It’s replaying a dispute in the individual’s mind. It’s going over their anger, again and again. Fortunately, rumination may be interrupted by mindfulness. This may, in part, be a mechanism by which mindfulness training reduces aggression and hostility. Hence, mindfulness may be an antidote to violent and aggressive urges by interrupting anger rumination.

 

In today’s Research News article “Both trait and state mindfulness predict lower aggressiveness via anger rumination: A multilevel mediation analysis.” See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4943669/, Eisenlohr-Moul and colleagues recruited college students and had them complete measures of overall and daily levels of mindfulness, anger, anger rumination, anger expression, aggressive inclinations, and aggressive behaviors. Daily measures were collected for 35 consecutive days. They analyzed the responses with sophisticated statistical modelling techniques.

 

They found that the higher the levels of daily the mindfulness facets of acting with awareness and non-judging the lower the levels of daily aggression, daily anger, and daily anger rumination. They also found that the higher the levels of daily anger and daily anger rumination the higher the levels of daily aggression. Hence, mindfulness predicted lower aggression while anger and anger rumination predicted higher aggression. When all three were used to predict aggression, the effects of mindfulness disappeared. With a mediation model, they were able to demonstrate that mindfulness was associated with lower aggression indirectly by mindfulness’ effects on anger and anger rumination which in turn effected aggression. So, mindfulness acted on aggression by the intermediaries of reduced anger and anger rumination.

 

These results are correlational and thus causation cannot be determined. There is a need to investigate whether mindfulness training can produce similar effects. Nevertheless, the findings suggest that the ability of mindfulness to lower anger and interrupt anger rumination may be the keys to the effectiveness of mindfulness in lowering aggression. By focusing on the present moment and not on past transgressions or worries about the future, rumination is disrupted. This in turn, lowers the likelihood of aggressive behavior. In this way mindfulness may be a means to lower the levels of aggression and violence in the modern world.

 

So, lower aggression by lowering rumination with mindfulness.

 

“The first step to managing your anger is to sit with it long enough to hear what it wants to tell you. To do this, you must turn to your body. Your body contains an abundance of information, and it never lies. By listening carefully to your body, you can build new habits for approaching your feelings. A new response strategy will replace the passive-aggressive pattern that may have dominated your life. And mindfulness is the key.” – Andrea Brandt

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Eisenlohr-Moul, T. A., Peters, J. R., Pond, R. S., & DeWall, C. N. (2016). Both trait and state mindfulness predict lower aggressiveness via anger rumination: A multilevel mediation analysis. Mindfulness, 7(3), 713–726. http://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-016-0508-x

 

Abstract

Trait mindfulness, or the capacity for nonjudgmental, present-centered attention, predicts lower aggression in cross-sectional samples, an effect mediated by reduced anger rumination. Experimental work also implicates state mindfulness (i.e., fluctuations around one’s typical mindfulness) in aggression. Despite evidence that both trait and state mindfulness predict lower aggression, their relative impact and their mechanisms remain unclear. Higher trait mindfulness and state increases in mindfulness facets may reduce aggression-related outcomes by (1) limiting the intensity of anger, or (2) limiting rumination on anger experiences. The present study tests two hypotheses: First, that both trait and state mindfulness contribute unique variance to lower aggressiveness, and second, that the impact of both trait and state mindfulness on aggressiveness will be uniquely partially mediated by both anger intensity and anger rumination. 86 participants completed trait measures of mindfulness, anger intensity, and anger rumination, then completed diaries for 35 days assessing mindfulness, anger intensity, anger rumination, anger expression, and self-reported and behavioral aggressiveness. Using multilevel zero-inflated regression, we examined unique contributions of trait and state mindfulness facets to daily anger expression and aggressiveness. We also examined the mediating roles of anger intensity and anger rumination at both trait and state levels. Mindfulness facets predicted anger expression and aggressiveness indirectly through anger rumination after controlling for indirect pathways through anger intensity. Individuals with high or fluctuating aggression may benefit from mindfulness training to reduce both intensity of and rumination on anger.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4943669/

Mindfulness is Associated with Less On-Line Reduce Dating Violence

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“The ability to restrain oneself from acting on aggressive impulses is arguably a crucial aspect of human functioning and interaction. Yet growing evidence in the literature suggests that people’s self-control resources may be limited and, at times, self-controlled regulation could even increase the association between aggressive triggers and aggressive behaviour. As an alternative, mindfulness practices encourage individuals to be aware and accept their aggression-related thoughts and emotions simply as an ephemeral state rather than to control them.“ – Cleoputri Yusainy

 

Dating should be a time for young people to get together, get to know one another and have fun. But all too often, dating involves violence or aggression. Nearly 1.5 million high school students in the U.S. experience physical abuse from a dating partner each year, 33% are victims of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner, and 10% have been purposefully hit, slapped or physically hurt. Dating violence doesn’t just occur in High School as 43% of college women experience violent or abusive dating behaviors. The abuse often occurs on-line as 36% of college students have given a dating partner their computer, email or social network passwords and these students are more likely to experience digital dating abuse sometimes called technology-delivered dating aggression (TDA). Sadly, only about a third of the victims ever tell anyone about the abuse.

 

Compounding the problem youth who experience dating violence are more likely to experience depression and anxiety, abuse tobacco, drugs, and alcohol, and consider suicide. Hence it is important to find ways to prevent dating violence. A first step is to investigate the factors that may be predictive of dating aggression and conversely of safe dating. This could lead to methods to better address the problem. In today’s Research News article “Technology-Delivered Dating Aggression: Risk and Promotive Factors and Patterns of Associations Across Violence Types Among High-Risk Youth.” See:

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1385942084763047/?type=3&theater

or see summary below or view the full text of the study at:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4997710/

Epstein-Ngo and colleagues recruited youths 14-20 years old, who came to an emergency room for any reason and administered a survey on a tablet computer measuring demographics, substance use, physical dating violence, nondating violence, community violence exposure, technology-delivered dating violence (TDA), victimization and/or aggression, mentors, religious support, self-esteem, and mindfulness.

 

They found that the youths who had a dating partner in the past 2 months, 48.1% reported technology-delivered dating aggression (TDA) while 44.3% reported physical dating violence. A culture of violence was found to be an important risk factor as having experienced physical violence and/or been exposed to violence in the community were significantly associated with TDA. Alcohol use was also significantly associated with TDA. Finally, they found that high levels of mindfulness were associated with low levels of TDA.

 

Hence, in this sample of dating youths, technology-delivered dating violence (TDA) was prevalent and associated with alcohol and other violent experiences. Significantly, mindfulness was negatively associated with TDA. This suggests that exposure to violence may be an important promotive factor that could lead to a cycle of violence, where violence leads to more violence. Importantly, the results suggest that mindfulness may be an antidote. They further suggest that mindfulness training in youths may help to prevent TDA and dating violence in general. Obviously, much more work needs to be done. But, mindfulness training may be an important strategy to reduce the scourge of dating violence.

 

 “Mindfulness training is a technique that shows great promise as a tool for the development of healthy and constructive management of negative emotions. Mindfulness can reduce anxiety, depression, and stress. It has been used with success in populations as diverse as cardiac patients, prison inmates, police officers, and children. It incorporates deep breathing, heightened attention to one’s internal state, and the acceptance of internal discomfort. One can observe one’s own thoughts without identifying with them and acting on them.” – Laura Hayes

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts

 

Study Summary

Epstein-Ngo, Q. M., Roche, J. S., Walton, M. A., Zimmerman, M. A., Chermack, S. T., & Cunningham, R. M. (2014). Technology-Delivered Dating Aggression: Risk and Promotive Factors and Patterns of Associations Across Violence Types Among High-Risk Youth. Violence and Gender, 1(3), 131–133. http://doi.org/10.1089/vio.2014.0018

 

Abstract

Increasingly, technology (text, e-mail, and social media) is being used in dating relationships to stalk, control, threaten, and harass dating partners. This study examines risk and promotive factors associated with technology-delivered dating aggression (TDA) and relations between types of violence (physical dating/nondating, community violence, and TDA). Participants (14–20 years old) self-administered a computerized survey as part of a larger study at an urban emergency department. The study includes 210 youth who reported having a dating partner in the past 2 months. About 48.1% of participants reported TDA in the past 2 months. Mindfulness was negatively associated with TDA. Youth reporting TDA were more likely to report physical dating violence and community violence exposure. TDA is not an isolated occurrence and is positively associated with in-person violence among adolescents. Associations between TDA, risk and promotive factors, and other forms of violence can help identify avenues for targeting interventions.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4997710/

 

Settle Down Out-of-Control Teens with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“In the last few years, mindfulness has emerged as a way of treating children and adolescents with conditions ranging from ADHD to anxiety, autism spectrum disorders, depression and stress. And the benefits are proving to be tremendous.” – Juliann Garey

 

The last component of the nervous system to develop is the higher cortical areas that underlying behavioral inhibition; the ability to hold back responses. As a result, the adolescent brain is fully developed to produce behavior and react to the environment, but is defective in the ability to withhold or restrain behaviors when inappropriate. So, adolescents are often impulsive, take unnecessary risks, and can be inappropriately aggressive, leading to disciplinary problems.

 

This late development of higher level control of behavior is responsible for some troubling statistics. Young people ages 15-24 represent only 14% of the U.S. population, but they account for 30% of the total costs of motor vehicle injuries among males. Regarding youth violence and aggression, 46% of males, and 26% of females reported they had been in physical fights, one million U.S. students took guns to school and six thousand were kicked out of school for packing weapons, the annual death toll from school shootings has more than doubled, the youth homicide rate increased by 168 percent, and juvenile arrest for possession of weapons, aggravated assault, robbery, and murder have risen more than 50 percent.

 

It is important for society to control violent and aggressive behavior and late adolescence and young adulthood are periods when the likelihood is high. Mindfulness has been shown to reduce violence and aggression in adults. So, it would seem reasonable to investigate whether mindfulness training may be effective in helping to control the aggressive tendencies of youth. In today’s Research News article “Effect of a Mindfulness Training Program on the Impulsivity and Aggression Levels of Adolescents with Behavioral Problems in the Classroom.” See:

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1367699476587308/?type=3&theater

or see summary below or view the full text of the study at:

http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01385/full?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Psychology-w40-2016

Franco and colleagues recruited 12-19 year old youths who had multiple incidents of misbehavior in school. The students were randomly assigned to either receive 20-weeks of 15 minutes per day, 5 days per week, of open monitoring meditation, or to a wait list control condition. Before and after training the youths were measured for aggression and impulsivity with self-report psychometric scales.

 

They found that the meditation group, but not the control group, had significant reductions in overall impulsivity (14%), including significant reductions in cognitive (19%), motor (13%), and non-planned (10%) impulsivity and also significant reductions in physical (14%) and verbal (24%) aggression, and hostility (19%) and anger (16%). All of these effects had large significant effect sizes. Hence, meditation training produced marked reduction in impulsivity and aggression in these troubled adolescents.

 

These are impressive results and suggest that meditation may be very effective in helping adolescents control their impulsivity and aggression. Gaining control over their behavior may allow them to engage in their education without distraction. Meditation may have this impact as a result of its ability to improve emotion regulation, providing the youths with the ability to cope with emotions in a more positive and adaptive way. It may also act by decreasing rumination and worry and thereby reduce the effects of past issues and worries about the future to intrude on present behavior. Regardless of the explanation, the results are exciting and suggest that meditation practice should be tried for troubled youth in other settings.

 

So, settle down out-of-control teens with mindfulness.

 

“It is suggested here that there is a difference between knowing about emotions and knowing your own emotions as they are experienced. In addition to learning about emotions, there is a distinct advantage in learning how to notice what’s happening in the present moment. Attending to and identifying emotions can mitigate the emotional reaction and increase emotional balance and clarity.” –  Tina Barseghian

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts

 

Study Summary

Franco C, Amutio A, López-González L, Oriol X and Martínez-Taboada C (2016) Effect of a Mindfulness Training Program on the Impulsivity and Aggression Levels of Adolescents with Behavioral Problems in the Classroom. Front. Psychol. 7:1385. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01385

 

Objective: The aim of the present study was to analyze the effects of a mindfulness training psycho-educative program on impulsivity and aggression levels in a sample of high school students.

Methods: A randomized controlled trial with pre-test–post-test measurements was applied to an experimental group and a control group (waiting list). The Barratt Impulsivity Scale (BIS-11) Patton et al. (1995) and the Aggression Questionnaire (Buss and Perry, 1992) were used.

Results: Statistical analyses showed a significant decrease in the levels of impulsivity and aggressiveness in the experimental group compared with the control group. These results have important implications for improving the level of academic engagement and self-efficacy of students and for reducing school failure.

Conclusion: This is one of the first studies showing the effectiveness of mindfulness training at reducing impulsive and aggressive behaviors in the classroom. The efficacy of mindfulness-based programs is emphasized.

http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01385/full?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Psychology-w40-2016

 

Tamp Down Impulsivity and Aggression in Youth with Mindfulness

 

“When you are angry, when you feel despair, you practice mindful breathing, mindful walking, to generate the energy of mindfulness. This energy allows you to recognize and embrace your painful feelings.“ – Thich Nhat Hahn

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

It is a sad fact that late adolescence and young adulthood are dangerous times in life. The body is either fully developed or close to it, but the brain lags behind, especially the frontal areas that inhibit and control basic instincts and reactions. As a result, youth often react aggressively and impulsively without higher level control of these behaviors. This is responsible for some troubling statistics. Young people ages 15-24 represent only 14% of the U.S. population, but they account for 30% of the total costs of motor vehicle injuries among males. Regarding youth violence and aggression, 46% of males, and 26% of females reported they had been in physical fights, one million U.S. students took guns to school and six thousand were kicked out of school for packing weapons, the annual death toll from school shootings has more than doubled, the youth homicide rate increased by 168 percent, and juvenile arrest for possession of weapons, aggravated assault, robbery, and murder have risen more than 50 percent.

 

It is important for society to control violent and aggressive behavior and late adolescence and young adulthood are periods when the likelihood is high. Mindfulness has been shown to reduce violence and aggression in adults. So, it would seem reasonable to investigate whether mindfulness may be effective in helping to control the aggressive tendencies of youth. In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness-Based Program for Management of Aggression Among Youth: A Follow-up Study.” See:

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1280433211980602/?type=3&theater

or below, Sharma and colleagues investigate this idea. They provided training in mindfulness meditation to youth who were having difficulty controlling aggression. Prior to the training 22% involved themselves in physical violence, 12% also used weapons during aggression, and 14.2% had experienced injuries due to fights. They found that after the training, there were significant decreases in physical aggression, verbal aggression, anger, hostility, rumination, and a decrease in urges to smoke, and significant increases in physical and environmental quality of life, well-being, relaxation, and interpersonal interactions.

 

These results are encouraging that meditation training can help in controlling hostility and aggression in difficult youth. But, without a control comparison condition, the findings have to be viewed cautiously. There is a need for a randomized controlled clinical trial to provide unambiguous evidence that meditation practice can reduce aggressive and impulsive tendencies in youth. It makes sense that mindfulness could do this as it’s been demonstrated that mindfulness training improves executive function and frontal lobe activity which are deficient in youth. The results of this study, although flawed, make a compelling case that further research is warranted.

 

So, tamp down impulsivity and aggression in youth with mindfulness.

 

“After 20 years of working with mindfulness I’ve begun to notice that aggression and reactivity still arise.  Yay.  The difference? Practising the practice has given me the little bit of gap I need to see my desire to jump down someone’s throat, before I actually do it.” – Elaine Smookler

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts

 

Study Summary

Sharma, M. K., Sharma, M. P., & Marimuthu, P. (2016). Mindfulness-Based Program for Management of Aggression Among Youth: A Follow-up Study. Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, 38(3), 213–216. http://doi.org.ezproxy.shsu.edu/10.4103/0253-7176.183087

 

Abstract

Background: Youth have shown indulgence in various high-risk behaviors and violent activities. Yoga-based approaches have been used for the management of psychological problems. The present work explores the role of mindfulness-based program in the management of aggression among youth.

Materials and Methods: Sociodemographic information schedule, Buss-Perry Aggression Questionnaire, and World Health Organization quality of life were administered on 50 subjects in the age range of 18-25 years at pre- and post-mindfulness-based program level.

Results: It revealed the presence of feeling of well-being and ability to relax themselves; changes in score of anger, hostility, physical, and verbal aggression; and enhancement of quality of life in the physical and environment domains at 1 month follow-up.

Conclusions: Mindfulness-based program has shown changes in aggression expression/control and implies integration of it in available program for the management of aggression among youth.

 

Lower Aggression in Substance Abusers with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“When we practice mindfulness we practice responding to our experience with a non-reactive, non-judgmental attitude. This helps us maintain autonomy over our behavior. We may not have control over whether a craving for a drug arises, but we can control how we respond to such a craving. The irony is that when we practice simply observing the craving; letting it arise and letting it pass away (rather than actively trying to push it away or avoid it), we are left with more of an ability to regulate ourselves.” – Center for Adolescent Studies

 

Drug and alcohol abuse are highly related to aggressive behavior. Alcohol abuse has been found in 50%-72% of convicted rapists, 50% of incestuous offenders, 40%-83% of wife abusers and perpetrators of family violence, 29% of individuals with a history of injurious violent acts, 48-56% of individuals with a history of violent acts at home, 36%-83% of imprisoned murderers, 61% of adolescents convicted of homicides, and 33% of convicted felons. Other drugs are less problematic except that the difficulties in supporting an expensive habit can lead to violence and aggression. Obviously, treatment for drug abuse and the consequent violence and aggression is important both for the individual and for society in general.

 

Mindfulness training has been shown to be effective in drug abuse treatment. It has also been shown to lower aggression and to reduce maladaptive responses to emotions and anger. In addition, it has been shown to be inversely associated with aggression and violence in women entering treatment for substance abuse such that the higher the level of mindfulness the lower the levels of violence and aggression. But men are more violent and aggressive than women. In fact, approximately 75% of all violent crimes are committed by men. So, the relationship between mindfulness and aggression that is observed in women may be different in men.

 

In today’s Research News article “The Relation Between Trait Mindfulness and Aggression in Men Seeking Residential Substance Use Treatment.” See:

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1269818923042031/?type=3&theater

or below or view the full text of the study at:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4363039/

Shorey and colleagues address the question of mindfulness’ relationship to aggression in men entering substance abuse treatment. They recruited adult males in residential substance abuse treatment facilities and measured mindfulness, aggression, and alcohol and drug use. They found, as expected, that the higher the levels of drug and alcohol abuse the higher the levels of aggression. They also found that the higher the level of mindfulness the lower the levels of overall aggression, aggressive attitude, verbal and physical aggression, and drug and alcohol use.

 

These are interesting and important findings that replicate for men the findings for women that mindfulness is related to lower drug and alcohol use and lower aggression. Since this study was correlative in nature, it cannot be concluded that high mindfulness caused lower drug us and aggression. It could be that lower drug use causes greater mindfulness or that aggressive people and not mindful people. It remains for future research to train substance abusers in mindfulness and measure for a decrease in aggression to determine if indeed mindfulness causes lower aggression in substance abusers. This will be important to demonstrate to establish that mindfulness should be included in therapy for drug abuse.

 

These results fit with the general findings that mindfulness improves the individual’s ability to regulate emotions, to be able to fully feel emotions yet act more adaptively. So, the mindful individual would be much less likely to respond to anger with aggression and violence. In addition, by focusing attention and thoughts in the present moment, the mindful individual would be less likely to ruminate about others past offenses, making it less likely that they would respond in a vengeful way toward them. Hence, since violence and aggression is so prevalent in substance abusers and mindfulness acts in opposition to aggression, mindfulness training should be considered for inclusion in drug abuse treatment.

 

So, lower aggression in substance abusers with mindfulness.

 

“Mindfulness also helps people learn to relate to discomfort differently. When an uncomfortable feeling like a craving or anxiety arises, people like Sophia are able to recognize their discomfort, and observe it with presence and compassion, instead of automatically reaching for a drug to make it go away.” – Sarah Bowen

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts

 

Study Summary

Shorey, R. C., Anderson, S., & Stuart, G. L. (2015). The Relation Between Trait Mindfulness and Aggression in Men Seeking Residential Substance Use Treatment. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 30(10), 1633–1650. http://doi.org/10.1177/0886260514548586

 

Abstract

There has been an abundance of research in recent years on mindfulness, including mindfulness within individuals seeking substance use treatment. However, to date, there has been no research on whether trait mindfulness is associated with increased aggression among individuals seeking substance use treatment. Past research has demonstrated that individuals in substance use treatment evidence higher levels of aggression than non-substance abusers, and preliminary research has shown that trait mindfulness is inversely associated with aggression in non-substance-use treatment-seeking populations. The current study examined whether trait mindfulness was associated with aggression among men seeking residential substance use treatment (N = 116). Results demonstrated that lower trait mindfulness was associated with increased aggression (physical, verbal, and aggressive attitude). Moreover, this relation held for both verbal aggression and aggressive attitude after controlling for alcohol use, drug use, and age, all known predictors of aggression. Findings provide the first evidence that mindfulness is negatively associated with aggression among men in substance use treatment, which could have important implications for intervention. That is, mindfulness-based interventions may prove helpful for the treatment of both substance use and aggression.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4363039/

 

Lower Physical Aggression with Mindfulness

 

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:

https://www.facebook.com/ContemplativeStudiesCenter/photos/a.628903887133541.1073741828.627681673922429/1267113226645934/?type=3&theater

or below or view the full text of the study at:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4881105/

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

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts

 

Study Summary

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

 

Abstract

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.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4881105/

Antisocial Prisoners Lack Mindfulness

 

“There are only two kinds of people in this world; those who have a conscience and those who do not.” ― P.A. Speers

 

Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD) is a problem not only for the individual but also for society. Individuals with this disorder tend to demonstrate a “disregard for right and wrong, persistent lying or deceit to exploit others, using charm or wit to manipulate others for personal gain or for sheer personal pleasure, intense egocentrism, sense of superiority and exhibitionism, recurring difficulties with the law, repeatedly violating the rights of others by the use of intimidation, dishonesty and misrepresentation, child abuse or neglect, hostility, significant irritability, agitation, impulsiveness, aggression or violence, lack of empathy for others and lack of remorse about harming others, unnecessary risk-taking or dangerous behaviors, poor or abusive relationships, irresponsible work behavior, and failure to learn from the negative consequences of behavior” (Mayo Clinic).

 

Needless to say that this disorder is found to be quite prevalent in prison populations. As much as 80% of male and 65% of female prison inmates exhibit signs and symptoms of antisocial personality disorder. But, it is also common in the general population. Around 3.6% of adults in the United States, equal to about 7.6 million people, have antisocial personality disorder affecting about 3% of adult males and 1% of adult females. To make matters worse, APD is very difficult to treat as it frequently does not respond to psychotherapy and there are no drugs that have been approved to treat it.

 

In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness moderates the relationship between aggression and Antisocial Personality Disorder traits: Preliminary investigation with an offender sample”

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Velotti and colleagues investigate the relationship of mindfulness to aggression and Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD) with 83 imprisoned violent offenders. They verified the positive relationship between APD and aggressive behavior including physical and verbal aggression, anger, and hostility. But they also found a strong and significant negative relationship between APD and the mindfulness facets of describing, acting with awareness, and non-judging. That is high APD was associated with low mindfulness. In addition, mindfulness was negatively related to physical aggression, anger, and hostility. This was particularly true for acting with awareness. In other words, the lower the level of mindfulness, particularly acting with awareness, the greater the levels of aggressive behavior.

 

It is interesting that the key component of mindfulness that appears to be deficient in individuals with APD is acting with awareness. This facet involves paying attention to one’s current activities. It’s deficiency in APD implies that these individuals are lacking in awareness of what they are doing while they are doing it. In other words, as they are engaged in hostile, aggressive, and even violent activities, they may be acting without conscious thought. Rather they may be responding reflexively to immediate situations and the emotions produced. This further suggests that training to improve real time awareness of actions may be effective in treating APD.
Personality Disorders in general including APD are notoriously resistant to treatment. So, Velotti and colleagues’ findings are potentially important. They suggest that increasing mindfulness may be a way to treat Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD). Although there have not been controlled clinical trials training individuals with APD in mindfulness, mindfulness training is included in Dialectic Behavior Therapy which has been shown to be helpful with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). There are a number of overlapping characteristics in common to both APD and BPD. So, it is possible that mindfulness training may be important in treating Personality Disorders in general. Obviously more research is needed.

 

It should be kept in mind that Velotti and colleagues obtained their findings with prisoners who were convicted of violent crimes. It will be important to also study non-violent APD patients to determine the general applicability of the results. Regardless, it appears that at least in violent prisoners, that mindfulness, especially acting with awareness, is a clear deficiency in Antisocial Personality Disorder.

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

Lower Aggression with Mindfulness

“There is no life to be found in violence. Every act of violence brings us closer to death. Whether it’s the mundane violence we do to our bodies by overeating toxic food or drink or the extreme violence of child abuse, domestic warfare, life-threatening poverty, addiction, or state terrorism.” – bell hooks
Aggression and violence are highly linked to substance abuse particularly alcohol. It is estimated that the proportion of violent offenders who are likely to be drinking at the time of the offense is up to 86 percent for homicide offenders, 37 percent for assault offenders, 60 percent for sexual offenders, up to 57 percent of men and 27 percent of women involved in marital violence, and 13 percent of child abusers. This relationship appears to have a causal connection to the effect of these substances on the nervous system with many drugs of abuse affecting the brain in such a way as to release aggressive tendencies. Obviously, there is a need to find methods to help deal with aggressive tendencies in substance abusers.

 

Mindfulness has been shown to be helpful in the treatment of substance abuse and for relapse prevention (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/addiction/). It is also know to assist with emotion regulation and anger management (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/emotions/). So, it would seem reasonable to believe that mindfulness may be related to aggressive behavior in substance abusers.  In today’s Research News article “Dispositional Mindfulness and Aggression Among Women in Residential Substance Use Treatment”

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Shorey and colleagues investigated the relationship between mindfulness and aggression in women who were undergoing residential substance abuse treatment. They found that the higher the level of mindfulness the lower the levels of aggression in the women, including verbal aggression, physical aggression, and aggressive attitude.

 

It should be noted that these results were correlational in nature and as such causation cannot be determined. It is possible that high mindfulness lowers aggressiveness, or that low aggressiveness causes increased mindfulness, or that some other factor is related to both. It will require an active controlled test perhaps including mindfulness training to determine if mindfulness may be a useful treatment for aggression in substance abusers.

 

Nevertheless, it would appear that there is a negative, inverse, relationship between mindfulness and aggression in women in substance abuse treatment. There are a number of possible explanations for the relationship. Since mindfulness improves emotion regulation it may assist the women in reacting in a controlled and appropriate manner when anger and frustration arises rather than evoking aggressive behavior. Also, since mindfulness is known to reduce the physiological and psychological responses to stress (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/stress/) and attempting to control an addiction is stressful, it is possible that mindful women may be better at coping with stress rather than lashing out aggressively. Finally, since mindfulness appears to improve the response to substance abuse treatment it is possible that an improved ability to control urges for substances relaxes the women making them less aggressive.

 

Regardless of the explanation, the results suggest that mindfulness is associated with lower aggression.

 

“The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.” – Pema Chodran

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies