Monthly Archives: September 2010

Responding to violence in U.S. hospitals

By Kevin R. Betts

For several years, I worked at a psychiatric hospital as a mental health technician. For the most part, I found this job to be very fulfilling. Watching patients who arrived in disarray leave feeling content left me feeling that what I was doing was worthwhile, and the occasional thank you card or call from a previous patient didn’t hurt either. However, there were certainly challenges inherent to this job. One such challenge concerned how best to react to patients who became angry or aggressive. When confronted by such a patient, a common response among the staff was to corral other staff members in an attempt to intimidate the patient into submission. In contrast to staff expectations, however, these attempts were often met by the patient with obstinance, and they sometimes even appeared to encourage further aggressive behaviors.

The media has recently given increased attention to violence in U.S. hospitals like that captured in my account above. Events such as the recent shooting at John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, as well as a recent Joint Commission report about increasing rates of violence in hospital emergency rooms, has earned the attention of health care workers and the general public alike. Unfortunately, one thing that can be gathered from these reports and my account above is that most hospital staff members receive only limited training in how to respond to angry or aggressive patients.

Research on the interindividual-intergroup discontinuity informs us that corralling other staff members to confront an angry patient who is alone, as often occurred at my workplace, will likely be ineffective in reducing that patient’s anger or aggression. The interindividual-intergroup discontinuity suggests that interactions between groups, or between groups and individuals, will be more competitive and aggressive than interactions between individuals alone (Meier, Hinsz, & Heimerdinger, 2007). There are three mechanisms that are believed to be responsible for this effect. One mechanism suggests that we fear and distrust other groups more than other individuals. A second mechanism suggests that group members can provide social support for antisocial actions, whereas individuals cannot. The third mechanism concerns identifiability, meaning that our (antisocial) actions are more identifiable when we act alone than when we act in a group. What is the implication of this research for health care workers? When it can be safely done, angry or aggressive patients should be confronted one-on-one.

Read more:

Violence in U.S. hospitals (CNN)

Violence on the rise in U.S. health care centers (Businessweek)

Meier, B.P., Hinsz, V.B., & Heimerdinger, S.R. (2007). A framework for explaining aggression involving groups. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 1, 298-312.

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For thousands of years now, people from different religious persuasions have been at each other’s metaphorical and literal throats. With the 9th anniversary of the 911 tragedy, religious nut-jobs have taken the opportunity to take up their old habits. The latest manifestation of this age-old tradition seems to be playing out . Apparently, “God” told some crazy reverend, Terry Jones, to burn the Qur’an and then, at the last minute, not to. I don’t get. I also don’t understand it. Nor do I understand the Muslim backlash: burning American flags, threatening Jihad, etc. I do believe, however that anyone has the right to commit these acts in addition to burning or pissing on any religious or science book that they please, which is in contrast to what Sadaf Syed wrote (see link below), who suggest that such acts are against American Values. I disagree. I believe being American gives us the license to be as offensive as we can get away with, as long we are willing to accept the consequences.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I don’t care if religious people piss each other off, I just don’t want them burdening the rest of us with their bullshit. Whose of us who have reached the age of reason should not have to  suffer from their need to adhere to centuries old mythology. And lets be frank, the only difference between Greek, Christian and Muslim mythology is that Christian and Muslim mythology hasn’t been snuffed out by the next big mythological belief system. Personally, I’m hoping rationalism will take their place, but it probably won’t happen in my lifetime. But I digress….

I wonder, Should I really be all that surprised that religious people are pissing each other off? According to Preston, Ritter and Hernandez (2010) probably not.  It seems that religion, while having the potential for leading some people towards prosocial behavior; it also leads others to more antisocial ends.  It seem that the antisocial behavior stems from a need to protect their group. In other words, if they perceive threats to their beliefs they lash out. So maybe that means rationalism is on the rise…I can only hope….

Preston, Ritter and Hernandez (2010)

“Qur’an Burning Goes Against American Values” by Sadaf Syed

Super(ordinate) identities to the rescue!


By Erica Zaiser

For over a month now, 33 Chilean miners have been trapped 2,300 feet underground. Just recently a team of American miners went down to Chile to help the miners get out. This rescue mission is very complicated and may take months to complete. It would have been easy for the American mining team to have felt it was not their responsibility to help; freeing the miners will be a difficult, time consuming, and expensive task. However, the American team seems eager to assist. One reason they might be so willing to help the Chileans is because they identify in these circumstances not as Americans but as miners. Thus, their identities as miners acts as a a superordinate identity linking the American men and the the trapped Chileans together regardless of their different nationalities.

Plenty of research in psychology has shown that when you identify with a superordinate social identity prejudice is reduced and that superordinate identity salience can reduce conflict between groups. In the case of the miners, this feeling of a larger group membership (being a miner) may have helped inspire the helping behaviour of the American miners. In an interview with CNN, one of the American miners explained why it was no question that he and his team wanted to help the trapped Chileans, saying, “We have the ability to help them out, and that’s the whole reason we are here. Miners are miners; it doesn’t matter what country they are from.”

Expert Accounts and Their Ability to Attenuate Loss

Group dynamics can be quite difficult and even then things can go wrong. In such situations experts are given the important responsibility to provide an explanation and in effect attenuate any hard feelings. In these instances, according to Frey and Cobb (2010), individuals in the group consider the level of expertise, specificity or clarity of social account, and most important degree of loss when something goes wrong. Further, and contrary to expectations, experts are not always the best individuals to attenuate negativity, which tends to vary depending on the degree of loss (Frey & Cobb, 2010).

At the macro level, these findings can be generalized to the current economic crisis. For instance, the show “This American Life” recounts the economic meltdown and concludes that governments, companies and a number of individuals are to blame for the economic crisis. Thus, some individuals were affected economically more than others. To address the problem the experts, or those in charge of the economy, are creating their own social accounts to make things better. However, CNN reports that the skeptics or critics are not quite convinced of the expert accounts.

It is in this context of uncertainty or bad turn out that the expert is tasked with attenuating hard feelings individuals may have. Frey and Cobb interestingly found that, “under conditions of higher loss, expertise actually becomes a sizable liability, indicating a boomerang effect”. The researchers explain that the experts, in all their wisdom, should have used their knowledge to stop any mistakes that may have occurred. So whatever social accounts are presented, to some, will fall under the backdrop of the mistakes that caused the economic crisis.

Hear more: Return of the Giant Pool of Money: This American life

Read more: Bad timing could sink the democrats

Frey, F.M. & Cobb, A.T. (2010). What matters in social accounts? The roles of account specificity, source expertise, and outcome loss on acceptance

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Reasons for love

By Kevin R. Betts

In a recent CNN article, columnist Stephanie Dolgoff attempted to describe the reasons why she had fallen in (and out) of love with each of her intimate partners since the age of sixteen. For me, the most interesting part of this article was that the author was able to identify these reasons. It seems that many people think that love is something that just happens. Can one have reasons for love? Should one have reasons for love?

Although many laypersons may be unaware of the reasons they fell in love with their past and present partners, reasons do exist. Robert Solomon attempted to capture some of these reasons in a 2002 article entitled, “Reasons for Love” (I borrowed the title). One unsurprising reason is attraction. Although looks in and of themselves may not sustain love over time, they produce a willingness to consider the possibility of being in love with another. Rationalization may also lead to love. When we consider the possibility of falling in love, we may justify the positive emotions we experience with our beloved with reasons for those emotions. These reasons may or may not be accurate; rather, it is the perception that reasons exist that matters. Love in and of itself may also be a reason for love. Solomon (2002) describes a common movie scene in which the protagonist makes a list with two columns. In the left column, he writes down all the reasons to leave his lover. In the right column, he writes, “I love her!” Simply feeling that one is in love may be reason to continue loving someone. One may also fall in love because of properties of the beloved. Properties may include things like attractiveness as described above, but they may also include things like a sense of humor, wit, or charm. Or more commonly, some combination of features may lead to love.

In this brief post, I only covered a subset of the reasons for love identified by Solomon (2002). What is interesting to me is not the specific reasons why love comes to fruition, but rather that reasons exist. For those of you in serious relationships, why do you love your partner? Can you identify the reasons for your love or do you “just know” you love them?

Read more:

Love lessons from bad breakups (CNN)

Solomon, R.C. (2002). Reasons for love. Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior, 32, 1-28.

View other posts by Kevin R. Betts