By Rob Waugh
PUBLISHED: 10:41 EST, 9 March 2012 | UPDATED: 12:20 EST, 9 March 2012
People who find themselves on the verge of yelling at queue-jumpers or crafty colleagues could be helped by a simple – if slightly odd – exercise.
Right handers should get into the habit of using a computer mouse, stirring a cup of coffee or opening a door with their left hand – and left-handers should do the opposite.
‘Training’ yourself to use the ‘wrong’ hand seems to act as practice for other kinds of self control, such as being polite.
Just two weeks of the exercises reduce the tendency to act on impulse.
Two weeks of using your ‘wrong’ hand to stir your tea helps you control your anger: ‘Training’ yourself to use the ‘wrong’ hand seems to act as practice for other kinds of self control, such as being polite
Dr Thomas Denson, of the University of New South Wales, said practising self control is no different from getting better at golf or playing the piano.
In studies he showed people who try to use their non-dominant hand for two weeks keep a lid on their aggression better. So if they are right handed, they are told to use their left hand ‘for pretty much anything that is safe to do,’ he said.
Dr Denson, whose findings are published in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science, said it is only self control that keeps us from punching queue jumpers or murdering conniving colleagues.
He said: ‘Using the mouse, stirring your coffee, opening doors. This requires people to practice self control because their habitual tendency is to use their dominant hands.’
In one experiment, participants were mildly insulted by another student and were given the option of retaliating with a blast of white noise, a combination of all the different frequencies of sound also known as static.
Those who had practiced self control responded less aggressively.
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Dr Denson and colleagues said criminologists and sociologists have long believed people commit violent crimes when an opportunity arises and they are low on self-control. He said: ‘It is an impulsive kind of thing.’
For the last ten years or so psychologists have joined this research, using new ways of manipulating self-control in experiments, and found self control and aggression really are tightly linked.
Studies have also found that, after people have had to control themselves for a while, they behave more aggressively.
Dr Denson said: ‘I think, for me, the most interesting findings that have come out of this is that if you give aggressive people the opportunity to improve their self control, they are less aggressive.’
It is not that aggressive people don’t want to control themselves – they just aren’t very good at it. In fact, if you put aggressive people in a brain scanner and monitor their brain activity while insulting them, the parts involved in self control are actually more active than in less aggressive people.
So it might be possible to teach people who struggle with anger or violence problems to control themselves more easily.
For people not inclined towards violence, it may also be useful to practice self control by trying to improve your posture, for example. In the short term, this can reduce self control and make it harder to control impulses.
Added Dr Denson: ‘But if you practice that over the long term, your self control capacity gets stronger over time. It is just like practicing anything, really – it is hard at first.’
But, over time, it can make that annoying colleague easier to deal with.