“It’s not the despair, Laura. I can take the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand. ~ John Cleese (as Brian Stimpson in the film Clockwise)
Those who know me well will know that I am a long-suffering Scotland football fan. I have followed the national team for more years than I care to remember. Anyone who knows anything about sport in general, and perhaps football in particular, will recognise the dilemma that most football fans face. That is, they cannot always ‘choose’ their team. As a professional coach and a psychologist who spends most of his life spreading the message that we all have choice, this does not sit well with ‘what I know’. Why don’t I simply support Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Argentina or whatever team is top of the division on any given week? That would be easy. It would take away a lot of the pain and disappointment that inevitably occurs when you follow Scotland’s world cup and euro championship qualification ambitions.
Being able to accurately process emotional cues from others is a critical ability that underpins effective and appropriate interpersonal relationships. If we misread signals, or miss cues from others altogether, it can lead to some embarrassing and uncomfortable moments. We are neurologically wired to scan the faces and body language of others in our social groups to help us determine emotional states, providing us with clear survival value. Detecting anger or fear is useful, not least in helping us avoid getting too close to danger or making situations worse, while being able to identify happiness or joy in others is key to establishing or enhancing positive connections and initiating relationships.
Some recent studies on emotion recognition have concluded that individuals with conduct disorders (CD) and antisocial behaviours (ASB) are significantly worse at recognising emotional signals associated with sadness, disgust, anger and fear, relative to controls.
It perhaps wouldn’t come as a surprise to people working within the prison system, and exposed regularly to ‘angry’ young men (most studies have focused on men within the criminal justice system), that their ‘sensitivity’ to cues may be different to the general population. The reasons for this, at least at an anecdotal level, may appear obvious. For example, take a young man who has been raised within an abusive environment, where the levels of anger he was exposed to were extreme. His normal baseline for detection of anger is likely to be set higher than the average person. He is used to seeing and hearing the cues of extreme anger, while possibly also experiencing their direct impacts. It may be reasonable to assume that this exposure to negative emotions will impact his sensitivity to detection of negative emotions such as anger, fear and sadness. Continue reading →