A Texas A&M University study entitled, “Stopping Anger and Anxiety: Evidence That Inhibitory Ability Predicts Negative Emotional Responding,” which was recently published in the journal Cognition and Emotion, advances the hypothesis that people who have self-control and can resist impulses are most likely to be better at controlling negative emotions like anger or anxiety.
“People who are good at self-control are regulating their emotions in resisting an impulse. They spontaneously apply that capacity to down-rate negative emotions,” explains Brandon Schmeichel, the lead Texas A&M University researcher on this study, assisted by David Tang, a graduate student in psychology.
The study consisted of testing inhibitory abilities with a stop-signal task, and subjects were asked to respond as quickly as possible to squares or circles on a screen and press a button.
However, on a small number of tests, a beep sounded for a short time after the shape appeared to indicate that the individual should not press the button.
“The stop-signal task is a well-validated measure of inhibitory control, but few studies have investigated the relationship between stop-signal performance and emotional responding,” say the researchers.
After the stop-signal task, a group of individuals were asked to recall a time when they felt anxious or angry and put into an emotional state. Another group remained neutral.
“We chalk it up to emotion regulation,” clarifies Brandon Schmeichel, also a professor of psychology specialized in inhibitory ability, a person’s capacity to override a response.
Subjects with better inhibitory control revealed an emotional state less affected than those with low inhibitory control, although they also reported emotional memories.
“Regardless of whether they recalled an angry memory or an anxious memory, participants with poorer inhibitory control reported an increase in anxiety,” says Schmeichel. “For these participants, retrieving negative emotional memories was an anxiety-provoking experience.”
Despite the general results, researchers note that anger and anxiety work differently in the human body, and, as the research revealed, some of the participants did not report experiencing much anger when they recalled an anxious memory. However, when they recalled an angry memory, participants with poorer inhibitory control reported more anger than those with better inhibitory control.
Researchers believe the study may be a start to further investigations about anger and anxiety management. Until additional results are completed, they suggest that people with less inhibitory control avoid situations that may elicit negative feelings.