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Research Sheds Light On Aggressive Reactions To Benign Remarks

In many families, getting together over the holidays means someone inevitably gets bent out of shape for what someone else thinks is no good reason. New research by Washington State University and Oregon’s Linfield College sheds light on knee-jerk reactions to innocent remarks.

Is Uncle Henry giving you the silent treatment, or is he just a man of few words? What did that friend you only see on New Year’s Eve really mean when she said you lost weight?

Professors at Washington State University and Linfield College looked into what psychologists call “hostile attribution bias.” Here’s what that means, according to Linfield College’s Jennifer Linder.

“Individuals with a hostile attribution bias will assume there was a hostile intent, and therefore usually respond in an angry or aggressive manner,” she explains.

Linder says previous research has focused on physical acts of aggression. The new study zeroed in on inter-relational situations. But Linder says the conclusions are much the same.

In the study, more than 100 college students read a series of scenarios that depicted possibly hostile actions. The students with higher aggression levels tended to attribute hostile intent to what could otherwise have been considered an innocent remark.

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