Anger is the feeling that makes your mouth work faster than your mind. — Evan Esar
No, I’m not mad because the belt I purchased two months ago at the pinnacle of my fitness is now down to the final hole. No, I’m not mad because I was recently stood up on a date for the first time in my adult life. No, I’m not mad because the jar of jam was empty this morning, leaving me to make a solely peanut butter sandwich and now my mouth is really dry.
None of those reasons made Jake angry (nor made him/I refer to himself/myself in the third person). So what’s the real reason?
The damn busses.
If I show up at the bus stop five minutes early, the bus is ten minutes late. If I get there two minutes late, the bus is ten minutes early. If I bring a sleeping bag and camp out the night before, the bus tries to run me over while I’m sleeping then drive on without letting me board.
And so now, with good reason, every time I see the bus, my blood pressure elevates. And in a weird way, there’s a scientific study to back this.
Turner, Layton, and Simons (1975) conducted a study where a “confederate” (a researcher disguised as a normal person) pulled up in a pickup truck to a red stoplight. Once someone stopped behind him, the confederate would sit at the green light for twelve seconds or until the car behind him honked.
Now in some instances, it was simply a plain old pickup truck. In other instances, the pickup had a rifle resting in a rack behind the back window. The researchers were interested which condition (rifle or no rifle) would make the car behind honk sooner.
Intuitively, when the rifle was visible, you would think the car behind would be less inclined to honk (“I don’t want this hillbilly to shoot me!”) However, the exact opposite occurred. When the car behind saw a rifle in the back window, they honked sooner. In fact, much sooner.
The researchers then came to the conclusion: the rifle was a trigger for aggression. Because guns are associated with violence, the rifle serves as a symbol of it and thus naturally stirred up feelings of aggression. Therefore, the quicker honking.
With the busses, a similar association is forming. And as much as I try to fight it, when I see a bus these days, I see red.
However, I was recently sitting at the bus stop for 25 minutes, my frustration steadily mounting, when the #7 eventually turned the corner. Exasperated, I said aloud, “Finally, the bus is coming.”
Out of the blue, then, an old man next to me turned and said: “No, son. The bus was always coming.”
My anger dissipated instantly.
Old man at the bus stop
What if the old man at the bus stop was a confederate of an experiment being done on you?
Haha I hadn’t considered that. His unintentionally poignant words did in fact reduce my frustration. Psychology test: successful!