Letters

Considering anger

[REGARDING the March Monitor package on anger] what if we simply considered anger to be information generated by the mammalian brain--a neurological transformation in which self-relevant meaning is attributed to sensory stimulation? Then anger would indicate that we perceived the possibility of threat and were disposed to respond with attack. Anger, in other words, is simply one of many representations of the relation between self and nonself.

Conceptualizing anger that way permits us to focus on the potential threat--to determine if it really is a threat. If we decide that it is, we can then focus on selecting the best response, given these current circumstances. When we systematically ignore the information, thus underestimating the occurrence of danger and failing to respond, our behavior will sometimes be maladaptive, leaving us vulnerable to attack. People who do that benefit from interventions that accentuate attention to angry feelings (at the perceptual level) and promote consideration of their meaning (at the semantic, episodic and integrative levels). Some intervention techniques serve these functions.

Conversely, if we allow the angry representation to pre-empt other representational processing, we may overestimate threat or respond in an unchanging manner to varied circumstances. This will leave us vulnerable to unnecessary strife. People who do this habitually need an opposite set of interventions. Judicious integration of angry representations with other representations increases the probability of correctly identifying threat and danger and responding appropriately.

Seen this way, anger isn't good or bad. It is information. Everything hinges on what we do with the information.

PATRICIA M. CRITTENDEN, PHD

Miami, Fla.

CONTRADICTORY AND confusing findings in anger studies would be resolved if we, as psychologists, identified two kinds of anger: the anger healthy adults feel when they are bullied, coerced, invaded, disrespected or abused; and the anger--often chronic--felt by bullies when frustrated in their attempts to control others (and sometimes even inanimate objects).

Healthy anger requires assertive behaviors--the refusal to be victimized or controlled by those bullies. Controllers, the ones that are often chronically angry, need to learn how to accept what they cannot and do not have the right to control, or risk health problems, such as heart disease. In my 30-year practice of psychotherapy, I encourage the expression of justified anger. It promotes mental health and propels real life changes. I encourage controllers to redirect their energies to control what they can effectively control--themselves.

MARIE MIRANTI BURNETT, PHD

New York, NY

I HAVE SEVERAL BONES TO PICK with Tori DeAngelis's article ("When anger's a plus," March Monitor). First, Dr. Carol Tavris implies that anger was the grease that brought about the right to vote for women. Anger and the more militant groups probably impeded the women's suffrage movement by increasing the opposition's fear and their resistance. Not until the movement began to use political tactics and several factors (class interest, wartime mobilization, ideology, economics and partisanship) came together was success achieved.

And I don't know where Dr. Averill or Dr. Kassinove and their colleagues get their subjects or patients ("People who are targets of anger in these studies will say things like 'I really understand the other person much better now--I guess I wasn't listening.'") My patients are more inclined to say, "I don't care what that SOB said; he/she's wrong, and I'll show him/her." I guess one can say that angry episodes help strengthen relationships when one person dominates the other person who becomes too frightened to speak out.

[In reference to Dr. Lerner's research on angry patients' estimates of danger after 9/11,] it's no surprise that anger gives a person a better sense of control. If violence follows anger, a rational target shuts up. In such a scenario, it is easy to see that the angry person "thinks" he or she is in control.

Finally, there's the issue of defining "constructive anger." When I'm angry, it's constructive. When you're angry, it's destructive. When is anger a plus? When I say it's a plus. When is anger a negative? When you say it's a plus.

FRED D. KLUG, PHD

Nashville, Ill.

WHAT THE SERIES ON ANGER neglects is a close examination of the discretionary labels psychology places on people who experience anger. Anger, it should be noted, has etymological roots both in trouble, grief and affliction.

Social commentator Susan Sontag, in her book, "Illness as Metaphor" (1978), provides a personal account of bearing the blame-ridden designation "cancer personality." Though meant to aid in understanding the underlying behavioral roots of life-threatening illnesses, what is inherent in such labeling is both negatively empowering and necessarily accusatory, even as the empirical research it flows from seeks to illumine the afflicted's psychological disease-resisting resources in attempting to resist the disease.

Having undergone quadruple bypass cardiac surgery for a diagnosed condition of cardiac disease, I take umbrage at the good-intentioned, though somewhat simplistic, conclusion that my disease is due to a measurable deficit in appropriate coping skills. What is needed to offset the stigmatizing effects of the prevailing empirical studies on the psychology of life-threatening disease is a greater investment in narrative research, focusing not on the scales of behavior, but rather poised to hear out the unique experience of the individual facing mortality and its necessary precursors.

Speaking personally, sustaining my outrage at social injustice and the corruption of power are evidences of what I reverence as personally life-enhancing.

E. MARK STERN, EDD

Iona College

On the convention survey

APA'S 2002 ANNUAL CONVENTION had some noteworthy features, including Cyril Franks's roundtable on behavior therapy--attended by hundreds. However, not all aspects of this convention's format were good news. Reports of "success" of the new format were flawed by inadequate sampling--only half attending responded and none of those not attending were surveyed--by reporters' vested interest in a good evaluation, and by the repeated failure of APA to consult the whole membership on such important matters.

Before the advent of the new program format, with its severe cuts in program time and opportunities to present and exchange important ideas, APA conventions were member-friendly. Now there is clustering of divisions and forced adherence to narrowed format, encouraging far less inclusiveness. As rejections grow at an alarming rate, members have far less incentive to attend APA conventions.

Highly skillful researchers and writers, finding their submissions rejected, seek outlets outside APA for sharing their ideas. Should this set a trend, future conventions will suffer. We urge APA to return to the format that was easier on member relations. APA conventions have been a major means for exchanging research and practice matters. Lessened opportunities frustrate professionals, discourage meaningful participation and shortchange members of broader learning experiences and professional growth. Such drastic collapsing of time, opportunity and topics does not satisfy these professional needs. We need to ameliorate this most unfortunate state of affairs.

JOHN BERECZ, PHD
M. TRINITAS BOCHINI, PHD
PHYLLIS BURSON, PHD
DENNIS CARMODY, PHD
JOAN CHRISLER, PHD
APHRODITE CLAMAR, PHD
LYNN COLLINS, PHD
VIRGINIA CRONIN, PHD
NICK CUMMINGS, PHD
FLORENCE DENMARK, PHD
DONALD DEWSBURY, PHD
ALBERT ELLIS, PHD
RONA FIELDS, PHD
RON FOX, PHD
CYRIL FRANKS, PHD
VIOLET FRANKS, PHD
EILEEN GAVIN, PHD
MATTI GERSHENFELD, EDD
STANLEY GRAHAM, PHD
MELVIN GRAVITZ, PHD
LARNEY GUMP, DED
VIVIAN GUZESTEVE HANDWERKER, PHD
MOLLY HAUCK, PHD
PETER HILL, PHD
ARTHUR M. HORTON, JR, EDD
ARTHUR KOVACS, PHD
ELLEN LENT, PHD
HARRY LEVINSON, PHD
SAM LEVINSON, PHD
LEWIS LIPSITT, PHD
JOAN LORR, PHD
DANIEL LUTZKER, PHD
SHERIDAN MCCABE, PHD
PETER MERENDA, PHD
MARGOT NADIEN, PHD
ANN O'ROARK, PHD
ROBERT PERLOFF, PHD
RALPH PIEDMONT, PHD
VINCENT PROHASKA, PHD
JOHNNY RAMIREZ-JOHNSON, EDD
CAROLE RAYBURN, PHD
LEE RICHMOND, PHD
HERBERT ROBBINS, PHD
YVONNE ROUNTREE, PHD
JUNE SHAPIRO, PHD
MARY ANNE SIDERITS, PHD
SOPHIE SILVERSTEIN, PHD
ANITA SOLOMON, PHD
CHARLES SPIELBERGER, PHD
E. MARK STERN, EDD
MICHAEL J. STEVENS, PHD
DOROTHY SUSSKIND, PHD
RICHARD VELAYO, PHD
MARCELLA BAKUR WEINER, EDD
RENATE WEWERKA, PHD
DON WIEDIS, PHD
JOSEPH E.G. WILLIAMS, PHD
JACK WIGGINS, PHD
ROGERS HORNSBY WRIGHT, PHD
RON WYNNE, PHD
MAE BILLET-ZISKIN, PHD

RESPONSE FROM APA'S BOARD OF CONVENTION AFFAIRS

APA'S 2002 convention in Chicago did indeed feature a number of noteworthy features, including a number of terrific plenary presentations (Steven Pinker, Malcolm Gladwell, Tom Coates, Robert Putnam) along with Cyril Franks's roundtable on behavior therapy. The new cluster programming also received positive reactions from many of those attending, as well as solid overall attendance figures. However, as the letter from Carole Rayburn and colleagues makes clear, not everyone was satisfied with this programming innovation. The Board of Convention Affairs (BCA) is committed to examining other means of strengthening the convention so that it attracts a broader segment of APA's membership.

One misconception needs to be addressed here: the reduced program time in Chicago was primarily a function of the fact that the convention has been shortened to four days (Thursday to Sunday instead of Friday to Tuesday) and moved under one roof. Both of these changes received extremely positive reactions, but these changes reduce meeting time and space to a far greater extent than the cluster programming. Nevertheless, BCA is carefully reexamining program formats, with the goal of creating a convention that is both involving, exciting and as inclusive as possible.

Over the past two decades convention attendance has decreased steadily. Presently only about 5 percent of APA members attend the annual meeting, a state of affairs all would agree is unacceptable. The challenge given BCA is to explore ways of making the convention more appealing to our membership while maintaining high-quality standards for the overall program. The cluster programming in Chicago and Toronto represents an experiment intended to broaden the convention's appeal, one with both pluses and minuses. We welcome members' input as we work to create a convention that encourages participation and meets members' needs for the exchange of scientific and professional information.

BCA CHAIR BRIAN WILCOX, PHD

University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Apolitical science?

I DO HOPE ROBERT STERNBERG wasn't serious when he said that "science is apolitical" (March Monitor ) in [an article] detailing the Bush administration's appointments to federal scientific advisory committees. Such a modernist statement reflects poorly on our field. It makes us look ignorant of the most basic concepts of contemporary and postmodern philosophies of science.

Sure, the Department of Health and Human Services' decision to move in a direction of considering embryos and fetuses as human subjects is inherently ideological. However, so would any decision to use the term fetus instead of human subject when speaking of research on unborn children. The concern that, "making appointments on the basis of ideology" could weaken the quality of scientific advice further reveals our organization's not-so-hidden conviction: People of conservative religious faith are not legitimate scientists unless they chuck their beliefs before entering the lab. Yet, we rarely challenge our nonsectarian colleagues as to how their schemas [affect] their science.

Let's be honest. The Monitor probably wouldn't write this article if another administration used an abortion rights litmus test for its appointments. The sooner that APA admits its presuppositions and political agendas, the more intellectually honest it will become. If you want diversity on these committees, say so. But don't cloak yourself under the guise of neutrality. It doesn't exist.

PHILIP G. MONROE, PSYD

Biblical Theological Seminary

Off track?

I AM CONCERNED THAT THE article "Off the beaten tenure track" in the March Monitor fails to engage the issue of racial/ethnic-minority faculty in adjunct or temporary positions. The implication of the article is that hiring part-time and temporary racial/ethnic-minority faculty is an acceptable or creative way to "ensure the faculty reflect the makeup of the student body." In my opinion this is tokenism and exploitation and relegates racial/ethnic-minority faculty to the borders of academia. Diversity should be reflected in the full-time, tenured faculty first, as they hold the keys to the future of a given program.

I found the argument that the increase of Hispanic faculty in nontraditional faculty roles should be interpreted cautiously due to small numbers to also be avoiding the issue. When dealing with a minority, one invariably deals with small numbers! A growth of 24.3 percent in nontraditional Hispanic faculty during a time period in which Hispanics have become the largest minority group in the United States is certainly something that needs to be examined, especially given the marginalized, underpaid and less prestigious status of nontraditional faculty in the academic hierarchy. Should we wait another 10 years and hope this trend improves?

EDWARD A. DELGADO-ROMERO, PHD

Bloomington, Ind.

Health versus science

IN REPLY TO "PSYCHOLOGY AS a health profession" by Norman B. Anderson (March Monitor), psychology is a scientific discipline, not a health profession. I couldn't disagree more with the commentary, nor do I think we could be more misguided than to attempt to become a "health profession." We are not psychiatry.

Psychologists study the full range of behavior, in the full range of contexts, for the purpose of understanding and advancing knowledge. In the pursuit of this understanding we occasionally make discoveries that "promote health" and are useful in, among others, the health professions. In this regard we are not unlike any other science. B.F. Skinner would not have described himself as a health-care professional, yet consider the contribution his work has made to the provision of "health care." We do not need to "reinforce our relevance" to health care. The research data and techniques derived from them are available for all to use. But talk of "getting our foot in the health door" and aspiring to be at the "center stage of health" is counterproductive. We are not physicians, and we will never hold that or an equivalent position in health care. To attempt to change that will lead to (continued) frustration and loss of our identity. As psychologists we have much to offer the world, including that niche called health care. I suggest we focus on our psychological identity. I obtain great satisfaction from being a psychologist and have no interest in being labeled a "health professional."

SAMUEL K. ROCK JR., PHD

San Antonio