Washington | Anger may actually be linked with better, not worse, health in certain cultures – contrary to the popular belief prevalent in the West, a new study suggests. Many of us in Western societies naively believe that anger is bad for health, and beliefs like these appear to be bolstered by recent scientific findings, said Shinobu Kitayama of the University of Michigan. But our study suggests that the truism linking anger to ill health may be valid only within the cultural boundary of the ‘West,’ where anger functions as an index of frustration, poverty, low status and everything else that potentially compromises health, said Kitayama. These findings show how socio-cultural factors go under the skin to influence vital biological processes, said Kitayama. In other words, it’s the circumstances that elicit anger, and not anger itself, that seem to be bad for health. Researchers examined data from American participants drawn from the Midlife in the US (MIDUS) survey and data from Japanese participants drawn from the Midlife in Japan (MIDJA) survey. To measure health, the researchers looked at biomarkers for inflammation and cardiovascular functioning, both of which have been linked to anger expression in previous research. The combination of these two factors served as a measure of overall biological health risk. The researchers also looked at measures that gauged various aspects of anger, including how often participants expressed angry feelings through verbally or physically aggressive behaviours. The data showed that greater anger expression was associated with increased biological health risk among American participants, as previous studies have shown. But greater anger expression was associated with reduced biological health risk among Japanese participants. And the association was not explained by other potentially related factors – such as age, gender, chronic health conditions, smoking and alcohol consumption, social status, and experience of negative emotions more generally. The association between greater anger and compromised biological health, taken for granted in the current (Western) literature, was completely reversed so that greater anger was associated with better biological health among Japanese, said Kitayama. The researchers did not find a link between other facets of anger, such as chronic propensity towards anger or the extent to which participants suppressed feelings of anger, and health outcomes. Together, these findings suggest that the link between anger expression and health reflects different experiences across cultural contexts.
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