Welcome to Anger Management with Metacognitive Solutions. I hope you’ll find this course both useful and enjoyable.
Nature of Course This is a very different approach to anger management. The material is scientific, with terms and concepts precisely defined and based on experimental research. The material is presented in a way that’s easy to understand, but it does require an open mind.
Course Goals The focus of this course is to prevent anger from occurring in the first place. While you can never be completely without anger responses, we can get them as close to 0 as possible. The course also teaches you how to reduce the severity of anger responses, when they do occur.
Getting Personal You are certainly welcome to discuss how the material you’ll learn relates to your life, but it isn’t required. There needn’t be even one mention of your personal life. If you were taking an auto repair class, would telling stories about problems you’ve had with cars be useful, or could you just learn the material, gain experience, and then begin to actually fix cars? That being said, many students like talking about their lives and putting the material in their unique contexts.
Let’s Jump In! What is anger? It is a response to an outcome that is worse than expected. This involves a situation failing to be as rewarding or is more unpleasant than expected.
Anger Explained Since expectations determine behavioral investment, when an outcome falls short, there is necessarily a loss with respect to that investment(time, energy, money, chances to do other more rewarding things, etc.). And, since the expected outcome didn’t occur, the expectations were unrealistic.
So… We will focus on how expectations are developed, such as through learning, so more realistic ones can be developed. We’ll focus on the motivational component, which helps determine how severe anger is. This is the subjective value of the loss in an anger response. And we’ll also cover the other emotional responses to a limited degree, as anger is better understood in the context of the other emotions.
Expectations Expectations can be learned or unlearned, but we will focus primarily on the learned. An example of an unlearned expectation is seen when someone jumps at the sight of something slithering in tall grass. This is an innate expectation, and helped our evolutionary ancestors survive long enough to pass their genes to the next generation.
Learned Expectations Let’s look at learning as it occurs with rats in experimental cages(no, we’re not rats, but the basic s of learning are mostly the same). In many experiments, a rat presses a lever every time it sees a light flash to get food and receives it.
Learned Expectations, cont. The rat only learns gradually, resulting in an expected probability of getting the food. The curve below illustrates this.
Learned Expectations, part 3 The higher up on the curve, the more confidence the rat has that it will receive its food.
So Now, Anger But, then experimenters decide not to give the rat food when it presses the lever and it attacks the experimental apparatus, specifically the lever. The severity of the attack is determined by the confidence the rat has in receiving the food and how hungry it is. *See work by Azrin, et al, the bottom of which is with monkeys: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1338179/ http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1338513/
A Human Example Have you ever seen someone attack a soda machine after it failed to dispense their drink and losing their change? The severity of the attack depends upon thirst or need for sugar or caffeine, how little money they have, and whether there are reasonable alternatives.
We’re Biased Moving on, there is a bias involving implicit assumptions. To return to the rat example, the more confidence it gains in expectation it will receive food upon pressing the lever, the more surprise that will result when the food isn’t delivered. So the rat behaves as if it knows all that is relevant to the situation of receiving food in experimental condition. This is something that all organisms with a nervous system do, including humans.
How Learning Works As previously stated, expectations are most often learned. Hence, presenting some of the properties of learning is important. Properties of Learning include: Generalization Discrimination Blocking Transitivity
Generalization Generalization involves transferring learning from one context to others. An example includes forgetting to bring your keys to your car, though you’ve been living in the same home for years and have developed a solid habit of bringing them with you. Perhaps you receive a phone call that is out of the ordinary, or you have different thoughts in your head than usual. Perhaps you are running late. In these cases, these uncommon events in the morning add to the learning context and represent a failure to generalize the act of taking your keys to the car.
The Importance of Context The context with regard to learning is more important than many realize, including the external environment. For example, school children that are tested in the same room in which they learn the material perform better than those tested in different rooms. There is a failure to generalize from one room to the next. The same goes for thinking that is unique to you.
The importance of Context, part 2 Another example involves drug tolerance. Tolerance is learned, and doesn’t necessarily transfer from one environment to another. There was a case of a man who always received his morphine doses in his bedroom. He developed context with regard to that room, and hence had to get dosage increases. One day, his son wheeled him into his living room to give him his morphine and he died of an overdose.
Discrimination Again, generalization involves transferring learning across contexts. In addition, it involves associating similar items(like associating a basketball with a globe) and/or spacially close items and/or those close in time. Discrimination though involves recognizing and learning differences between items and situations.
Discrimination, part 2 An example of a failure to discriminate is trying to use your key to try to open a friend’s car. Perhaps his car is similar to yours, or something going on in the external environment or your mind is crowding out awareness of differences. Of course, discriminations must also be generalized. For example, you may stop trying to use your key to open your friend’s car when it is in your drive way, but fail to do so in a parking lot. This is especially true if the two cars are similar, and as you can easily slip and have the finding your car habit triggered.
Blocking Blocking involves previous learning preventing new learning. To use another rat example, if it learns to press a lever after seeing a red light shine above the lever, and then a yellow light is added just below it that shines at the same time, the rat doesn’t respond to the yellow light when the red one is no longer shone. The degree which the rat learned to respond to the red light is the degree to which the rat fails to later respond to the yellow one. It has “blocked” the new learning.
Blocking, part 2 Another example of blocking is getting stuck in a rut thinking-wise, being set in one’s ways, and being close minded, and/or just being unable to see all possibilities. A great example is the story about the tractor trailer stuck under an overpass, due to it not quite having clearance. The authorities were called and tried to get the trailer from the overpass. Among the many things they tried was applying lubricant to the top of the trailer and some heavy machinery applied to haul it out .
Blocking, part 3 Then, a 10 year-old or so boy pulls up on his bicycle. He offered the idea of letting the air out of the towers! It worked, and illustrates that sometimes inexperience can be an advantage. Blocking is also often behind inflexible religious or political beliefs and can occur with regard to any type of learning. So, expectations that are so firmly entrenched can cause considerable problems when trying to avoid anger, because they can operate out of conscious awareness. The more well learned a behavior or pattern of thinking, the more automatic it becomes and the less we notice it.
Transitivity Lastly, there is transitivity, which involves associations that are formed within the mind with information previously learned. More formally stated, if A=B and B=C, then A=C. This is the stuff of imagination. There is no training that is required to recognize these relationships, and very many organisms with nervous systems display evidence of this ability.
Transitivity, part 2 Brains are made up of neural networks and they automatically associate elements of learning contexts/items that are similar or might otherwise be related. One example of a transitive expectation is one about the way something should be. We should be able to have a night out without being bothered. Children should be put to bed early. A husband should act like a man. I should be able to get a seat at the game, because the opponent is weak and attendance should be low. Transitive learning is not based on direct evidence about a given situation, but upon information processed(assumptions) previously about other situations.
Possibilities The learning environments we face are often more complex than we realize. There is an interaction between our inner context in our heads and the outer in our surroundings. Even simple learning situations represent far greater challenges than may seem apparent. For example, take learning a computer procedure with three steps and three possible ways to proceed from one step to the next. Only one option at each step allows one to complete the task at hand. Hence, there are 26 ways to get this procedure wrong and only 1 to get it right(3^3=27).
Possibilities, part 2 Often though, learning contexts are far more complex than this, with more steps, more possible or conceivable options at each step, and with these numbers changing in many cases. Environments certainly change all the time in many respects. This is one reason, for example, why women stay with abusive men, alcoholics can’t stop drinking, or poor students can’t stop procrastinating.
End of Course Introduction and Learning Progress!