Looking for Trouble (and Seeing It)

The Huffington Post:

I’ve known a few troublemakers over the years. These were guys with huge chips on both shoulders, who would gladly pick a fight if you looked at them wrong. And looking at them wrong could really mean doing nothing provocative at all, because they saw signs of hostility and threat where others did not, especially in others’ faces. They were literally looking for trouble.

Scientists and clinicians are interested in the dynamic interaction of perception and aggression. Looking for trouble, and seeing it, may be a deep cognitive bias–a negativity bias–that distorts normal emotional processing. Indeed, some experts wonder: Does seeing anger and hostility in others actually elicit angry feelings and aggression, creating a vicious, self-fulfilling, cycle? In other words, do some people act mean simply because they see the world as a mean place?

A team of psychological scientists in the UK decided to find out. Led by Marcus Munafo of the University of Bristol, the investigators ran a series of experiments to verify if such a negativity bias does in fact lead to aggressive behavior and, further, to see if such distorted emotional processing might be corrected. They did this by having a group of healthy adults look at, and react to, pictures of morphed faces. Think of your own facial expressions. Some are clearly happy, others unambiguously angry. But these are extremes and most are somewhere in between–with some being very difficult to read at all. The volunteers looked at a lot of these ambiguous, difficult to interpret faces, and were forced to label them happy or angry.

Read the whole story: The Huffington Post

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