Four psychological manipulations that (sort of) reduce anger and aggression

Anger-driven aggression is difficult to prevent. This talk will review recent experimental basic science research on four interventions designed to reduce anger and reactive aggression: cognitive reappraisal, self-control training, cognitive control training, and mindfulness meditation. Cognitive reappraisal involves thinking about a provocation in a less personal, more objective manner. Self-control training involves practicing small acts of self-control over an extended period, usually for two weeks or more. Cognitive control training involves repeat practice of response inhibition tasks tailored to hostile situations.

Mindfulness involves acceptance of angry feelings and not reacting to these feelings. Although my initial review concluded that results were promising for all four strategies (e.g., Denson, 2015), subsequent work from my own laboratory found that cognitive reappraisal and mindfulness are likely to be the most effective in reducing anger and aggression. The data for self-control training are mixed and the evidence is weak to non-existent for cognitive control training. Interestingly, the two strategies which rely on higher-order, abstract cognition (cognitive reappraisal and mindfulness) were most effective. These findings suggest that using these strategies in anger-prone and violent populations may prove challenging as they often lack the requisite abilities to engage in these strategies.