Can frowning cause you to be grumpy?

Posted November 29th, 2010 in Articles, Blogs by admin

We’ve often heard of an expression similar to this: “you look grumpy–why are you frowning?” Do our facial expressions either happy, sad or angry actually cause an emotional state? Recent research points in that direction.

Your facial expression may tell the world what you are thinking or feeling. But it also affects your ability to understand written language related to emotions, according to research published in the July issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The interactions of facial expression, thoughts, and emotions have intrigued scientists for more than a century, says the study’s first author, University of Wisconsin-Madison psychology Ph.D. candidate David Havas.

The new study reported on 40 people who were treated with botulinum toxin, or Botox. Tiny applications of this powerful nerve poison were used to deactivate muscles in the forehead that cause frowning.

Scientists have found that blocking the ability to move the body causes changes in cognition and emotion, but there were always questions. (One of the test treatments caused widespread, if temporary, paralysis.) In contrast, Havas was studying people after a pinpoint treatment to paralyze a single pair of “corrugator” muscles, which cause brow-wrinkling frowns.

To test how blocking a frown might affect comprehension of language related to emotions, Havas asked the patients to read written statements, before and then two weeks after the Botox treatment. The statements were angry (“The pushy telemarketer won’t let you return to your dinner”), sad (“You open your e-mail in-box on your birthday to find no new e-mails”) or happy (“The water park is refreshing on the hot summer day.”).

Havas gauged the ability to understand these sentences according to how quickly the subject pressed a button to indicate they had finished reading it. “We periodically checked that the readers were understanding the sentences, not just pressing the button,” says Havas.

The results showed no change in the time needed to understand the happy sentences. But after Botox treatment, the subjects took more time to read the angry and sad sentences. Although the time difference was small, it was significant, he adds. Moreover, the changes in reading time couldn’t be attributed to changes in participants’ mood.

The use of Botox to test how making facial expressions affect emotional centers in the brain was pioneered by Andreas Hennenlotter of the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany.

“There is a long-standing idea in psychology called the facial feedback hypothesis,” says Havas. “Essentially, it says, when you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you. It’s an old song, but it’s right. Actually, this study suggests the opposite: When you’re not frowning, the world seems less angry and less sad.”

The Havas study broke new ground by linking the expression of emotion to the ability to understand language, says Havas’ adviser, UW-Madison professor emeritus of psychology Arthur Glenberg. “Normally, the brain would be sending signals to the periphery to frown, and the extent of the frown would be sent back to the brain. But here, that loop is disrupted, and the intensity of the emotion and of our ability to understand it when embodied in language is disrupted.”

Practically, the study “may have profound implications for the cosmetic-surgery,” says Glenberg. “Even though it’s a small effect, in conversation, people respond to fast, subtle cues about each other’s understanding, intention and empathy. If you are slightly slower reacting as I tell you about something made me really angry, that could signal to me that you did not pick up my message.”

Such an effect could snowball, Havas says, but the outcome could also be positive: “Maybe if I am not picking up sad, angry cues in the environment that will make me happier.”

In theoretical terms, the finding supports a psychological hypothesis called “embodied cognition,” says Glenberg, now a professor of psychology at Arizona State University. “The idea of embodied cognition is that all our cognitive processes, even those that have been thought of as very abstract, are actually rooted in basic bodily processes of perception, action and emotion.”

With some roots in evolutionary theory, the embodied cognition hypothesis suggests that our thought processes, like our emotions, are refined through evolution to support survival and reproduction.

Embodied cognition links two seemingly separate mental functions, Glenberg says. “It’s been speculated at least since Darwin that the peripheral expression of emotion is a part of the emotion. An important role of emotion is social: It communicates ‘I love you’ or ‘I hate you,’ and it makes sense that there would be this very tight connection between peripheral expression and brain mechanism.”

“Language has traditionally been seen as a very high-level, abstract process that is divorced from more primitive processes like action, perception and emotion,” Havas says. “This study shows that far from being divorced from emotion, language understanding can be hindered when those peripheral bodily mechanism are interrupted.”

So be mindful of your facial expressions, particularly negative ones like frowning or scowling. They could either influence or reflect deeper emotional issues.

Why people get depressed at Christmas

Posted November 28th, 2010 in Articles, Blogs by admin

We are told that Christmas, for Christians, should be the happiest time of year, an opportunity to be joyful and grateful with family, friends and colleagues. Yet, according to the National Institute of Health, Christmas is the time of year that people experience the highest incidence of depression. Hospitals and police forces report the highest incidences of suicide and attempted suicide. Psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health professionals report a significant increase in patients complaining about depression. One North American survey reported that 45% of respondents dreaded the festive season.

Why? Is the Grinch in full force during the season? Is it because of the dark winter weather that increases the incidence of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)? Certainly those may be some reasons, but it appears to have more to do with unrealistic expectations and excessive self-reflection for many people.

10 Common Passive Agressive Phrases

Posted November 26th, 2010 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Is there someone in your life who consistently makes you feel like you are on an emotional roller coaster? Do you know a person who is friendly one day but sulks and withdraws the next? Does a family member or friend consistently procrastinate, postpone, stall, and shut down any emotionally-laden conversations? Are you sometimes that person? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, chances are you may be interacting with a passive-aggressive person or showing signs of passive-aggressive behavior yourself.

The following is advice from Signe Whitson is a licensed social worker and co-author of The Angry Smile: The Psychology of Passive Aggressive Behavior in Families, Schools, and Workplaces, 2nd ed., and an expert on the topic of passive-aggression. This excerpt is taken from her article in Psychology Today.

Passive aggression is a deliberate and masked way of expressing covert feelings of anger. It involves a range of behaviors designed to get back at another person without him recognizing the underlying anger. These ten common passive aggressive phrases can serve as an early-warning system for you, helping you recognize hidden hostility when it is being directed your way:

1. “I’m Not Mad.” Denying feelings of anger is classic passive aggressive behavior. Rather than being upfront and honest when questioned about his feelings, the passive aggressive person insists, “I’m not mad” even when he is seething on the inside.

2. “Fine.” “Whatever.”Sulking and withdrawing from arguments are primary strategies of the passive aggressive person. Since passive aggression is motivated by a person’s belief that expressing anger directly will only make his life worse  the passive aggressive person uses phrases like “Fine” and “Whatever” to express anger indirectly and to shut down direct, emotionally honest communication.

3. “I’m Coming!” Passive aggressive persons are known for verbally complying with a request, but behaviorally delaying its completion. If whenever you ask your child to clean his room, he cheerfully says, “Okay, I’m coming,” but then fails to show up to complete the chore, chances are he is practicing the fine passive aggressive art of temporary compliance.

4. “I Didn’t Know You Meant Now.” On a related note, passive aggressive persons are master procrastinators. While all of us like to put off unpleasant tasks from time to time, people with passive aggressive personalities rely on procrastination as a way of frustrating others and/or getting out of certain chores without having to directly refuse them.

5. “You Just Want Everything to be Perfect.” When procrastination is not an option, a more sophisticated passive aggressive strategy is to carry out tasks in a timely, but unacceptable manner. For example:

  • A student hands in sloppy homework
  • A husband prepares a well-done steak for his wife, though he knows she prefers to eat steak rare
  • An employee dramatically overspends his budget on an important project

In all of these instances, the passive aggressive person complies with a particular request, but carries it out in an intentionally inefficient way. When confronted, he defends his work, counter-accusing others of having rigid or perfectionist standards.

6. “I Thought You Knew.” Sometimes, the perfect passive aggressive crime has to do with omission. Passive aggressive persons may express their anger covertly by choosing not to share information when it could prevent a problem. By claiming ignorance, the person defends his inaction, while taking pleasure in his foe’s trouble and anguish.

7. “Sure, I’d be Happy To.” Have you ever been in a customer service situation where a seemingly concerned clerk or super-polite phone operator assures you that your problem will be solved. On the surface, the representative is cooperative, but beware of his angry smile; behind the scenes, he is filing your request in the trash and stamping your paperwork with “DENY.”

8. “You’ve Done so Well for Someone with Your Education Level.” The backhanded compliment is the ultimate socially acceptable means by which the passive aggressive person insults you to your core. If anyone has ever told you, “Don’t worry-you can still get braces even at your age” or “There are a lot of men out there who like plump women,” chances are you know how much “joy” a passive aggressive compliment can bring.

9. “I Was Only Joking” Like backhanded compliments, sarcasm is a common tool of a passive aggressive person who expresses his hostility aloud, but in socially acceptable, indirect ways. If you show that you are offended by biting, passive aggressive sarcasm, the hostile joke teller plays up his role as victim, asking, “Can’t you take a joke?”

10. “Why Are You Getting So Upset?” The passive aggressive person is a master at maintaining his calm and feigning shock when others, worn down by his indirect hostility, blow up in anger. In fact, he takes pleasure out of setting others up to lose their cool and then questioning their “overreactions.”

In dealing with my clients or others who exhibit passive-aggressive behaviors, I’ve learned one thing. You can’t negotiate, argue, convince or use positive psychology to deal with them. My best advice–don’t engage or avoid them.

10 Ways To Be More Grateful

Posted November 25th, 2010 in Articles, Blogs by admin

At Thanksgiving, it would be beneficial to take this time for gratitude. Robert Emmons has written a thought-provoking article, which I reproduce here. Emmons, Ph.D., is the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude. He is professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and the founding editor-inchiefof The Journal of Positive Psychology. He is also the author of the book Thanks! How theNew Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier.10 Ways to Become More Grateful.

Here are his tips on practising gratitude:

Keep a Gratitude Journal. Establish a daily practice in which you remind yourself of the gifts, grace, benefits, and good things you enjoy. Setting aside time on a daily basis to recall moments of gratitude associated with ordinary events, your personal attributes, or valued people in your life gives you the potential to interweave a sustainable life theme of gratefulness.

Remember the Bad. To be grateful in your current state, it is helpful to remember the hard times that you once experienced. When you remember how difficult life used to be and how far you have come, you set up an explicit contrast in your mind, and this contrast is fertile ground for gratefulness.

Ask Yourself Three Questions. Utilize the meditation technique known as Naikan, which involves reflecting on three questions: “What have I received from __?”, “What have I given to __?”, and “What troubles and difficulty have I caused?”

Learn Prayers of Gratitude. In many spiritual traditions, prayers of gratitude are considered to be the most powerful form of prayer, because through these prayers people recognize the ultimate source of all they are and all they will ever be.

Come to Your Senses. Through our senses—the ability to touch, see, smell, taste, and hear—we gain an appreciation of what it means to be human and of what an incredible miracle it is to be alive. Seen through the lens of gratitude, the human body is not only a miraculous construction, but also a gift.

Use Visual Reminders. Because the two primary obstacles to gratefulness are forgetfulness and a lack of mindful awareness, visual reminders can serve as cues to trigger thoughts of gratitude. Often times, the best visual reminders are other people.

Make a Vow to Practice Gratitude. Research shows that making an oath to perform a behavior increases the likelihood that the action will be executed. Therefore, write your own gratitude vow, which could be as simple as “I vow to count my blessings each day,” and post it somewhere where you will be reminded of it every day.

Watch your Language. Grateful people have a particular linguistic style that uses the language of gifts, givers, blessings, blessed, fortune, fortunate, and abundance. In gratitude, you should not focus on how inherently good you are, but rather on the inherently good things that others have done on your behalf.

Go Through the Motions. If you go through grateful motions, the emotion of gratitude should be triggered. Grateful motions include smiling, saying thank you, and writing letters of gratitude.

Think Outside the Box. If you want to make the most out of opportunities to flex your gratitude muscles, you must creatively look for new situations and circumstances in which to feel grateful.

To my American friends, Happy Thanksgiving.

Young men more sensitive to relationship problems than women

Posted November 25th, 2010 in Articles, Blogs by admin

We often hear or believe that women are more emotional and sensitive to relationship problems, compared to me who are much more stoical particularly when they are young. My experience with many clients regarding relationships has not supported this belief. Now there’s research to verify this.

Contrary to popular belief, the ups and downs of romantic relationships have a greater effect on the mental health of young men than women, according to a new study by a Wake Forest University sociology professor.

In the study of more than 1,000 unmarried young adults between the ages of 18 and 23, Wake Forest Professor of Sociology Robin Simon challenges the long-held assumption that women are more vulnerable to the emotional rollercoaster of relationships. Even though men sometimes try to present a tough face, unhappy romances take a greater emotional toll on men than women, Simon says. They just express their distress differently than women.

Simon’s research is published in the June issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior. Anne Barrett, associate professor of sociology at Florida State University, co-authored the article.

“Our paper sheds light on the association between non-marital romantic relationships and emotional well-being among men and women on the threshold of adulthood,” Simon says. “Surprisingly, we found young men are more reactive to the quality of ongoing relationships.”

That means the harmful stress of a rocky relationship is more closely associated with men’s than women’s mental health. The researchers also found that men get greater emotional benefits from the positive aspects of an ongoing romantic relationship. This contradicts the stereotypic image of stoic men who are unaffected by what happens in their romantic relationships.

Simon suggests a possible explanation for the findings: For young men, their romantic partners are often their primary source of intimacy — in contrast to young women who are more likely to have close relationships with family and friends. Strain in a current romantic relationship may also be associated with poor emotional well-being because it threatens young men’s identity and feelings of self-worth, she says.

She also explains how men and women express emotional distress in different ways. “Women express emotional distress with depression while men express emotional distress with substance problems,” Simon says.

While young men are more affected emotionally by the quality of their current relationships, young women are more emotionally affected by whether they are in a relationship or not, Simon says. So, young women are more likely to experience depression when the relationship ends or benefit more by simply being in a relationship.

For the study, Simon and Barrett analyzed data from a large sample of young adult men and women in south Florida. The survey data was originally gathered for a long-term study of mental health and the transition to adulthood.

Simon says there is much still to learn about these relationships between men and women in early adulthood, so she advocates for more research on this prolonged and varied period in the life course that is characterized by identity exploration, a focus on the self, and forging new relationships.

The telltale heart and hidden attitudes

Posted November 24th, 2010 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Sometimes it’s easy to tell when a romantic relationship is about to take a dive. It doesn’t bode well if you would rather sort out socks than go out for a date or if neither of you can think of much to say to each other. Another bad sign is when–consciously or not–you associate your partner with words like “death” or “attacking.”

In a recent study using a word association task, psychologists at the University of Rochester asked 222 men and women–all of them married, engaged or in committed relationships–to do some computerized word-sorting. As quickly as they could, participants paired their romantic partners’ names and distinctive characteristics with either positive words such as “peace” and “caring” or negative words such as “nagging” and “criticizing.”

The task is designed to tap into people’s implicit feelings–attitudes they may be unable or unwilling to explicitly acknowledge. Results showed that the more often individuals “flubbed” their responses to pairings of partner-related words with positive words, the more likely they were to have broken up a year later–even when variables such as relationship satisfaction and conflict were taken into account. Across two experiments using slightly different partner pairings and above average on negative partner pairings had a 70 to 75 per cent likelihood of breaking up within a year, compared to only 11 to 14 per cent of other participants.

These results suggest that implicit negative attitudes toward a partner may reflect implicit misgivings and gripes that are either too subtle to consciously recognize or too distressing to admit–but you can’t ignore your unconscious forever.

This research also supports the extensive research of Dr. John Gottman, who identified the use of language–and specifically criticism of one partner of the other–as the prime reason for the breakup of relationships.

Goals can impact your relationships–for better or worse

Posted November 23rd, 2010 in Articles, Blogs by admin

We have all heard this advice: Set audacious goals if you want to accomplish anything substantial. That advice comes from personal coaches, self-help gurus, management consultants, managers and executives and is deeply imbedded in leadership practices. Yet, there is evidence that goal setting may actually be counter productive if not a waste of time. Second, there is evidence that goals that are intended for self-growth are far different that goals that are competitive with others.

My experience in working with individuals and organizations is that most do not actually achieve the goals that are set. One of two things occur: Either the goal is so difficult that the individual or organization is actually demotivated or demoralized early in the process of trying to achieve it; or, the goals are set, and thereafter, little or no attention is focused on them. The result is often demotivation and negative attitudes toward goal setting.

The following is a typical template for goal setting that can be found almost anywhere on the Internet:
• Write down the goals
• Make goals specific and clear
• Indicate how you’ll measure goal accomplishment
• Have goal deadlines
• State goals in terms of outcomes

The inherent problem with goal setting is related to how the brain works. Recent neuroscience research shows that the brain works in a protective way, resistant to change. Therefore, any goals that require any substantial behavioral change, or thinking pattern change, will automatically be resisted by the brain. In addition, our brains are wired to seek rewards and avoid pain or discomfort, including fear. When fear of failure enters the mind of the goal setter, it becomes a demotivator in accomplishing the goal, with a desire to return to known, comfortable behavior and thought patterns. How you think about your goals — whether it’s to improve yourself or to do better than others — can affect whether you reach those goals. Different kinds of goals can also have distinct effects on your relationships with people around you, according to the authors of a paper published in Current Directions in Psychological Science.

People with “mastery goals” want to improve themselves. Maybe they want to get better grades, make more sales, or land that triple toe loop. On the other hand, people with what psychologists call “performance goals” are trying to outperform others — to get a better grade than a friend or be Employee of the Year. Both kinds of goals can be useful in different contexts. But P. Marijn Poortvliet, of Tilburg University in the Netherlands, and Céline Darnon, of France’s Clermont University, are interested in the social context of these goals — what they do to your relationships.

Poortvliet’s work focuses on information exchange — whether people are open and honest when they are working together. “People with performance goals are more deceitful” and less likely to share information with coworkers, both in the laboratory and in real-world offices he has studied, Poortvliet says. “The reason is fairly obvious — when you want to outperform others, it doesn’t make sense to be honest about information.”

On the other hand, people who are trying to improve themselves are quite open, he says. “If the ultimate goal is to improve yourself, one way to do it is to be very cooperative with other people.” This can help improve the work environment, even though the people with these goals aren’t necessarily thinking about social relations. “They’re not really altruists, per se. They see the social exchange as a means toward the ends of self improvement.” Other research has found that people with these self-improvement goals are more open to hearing different perspectives, while people with a performance goal “would rather just say, ‘I’m just right and you are wrong.'”

It’s not always bad to be competitive, Poortvliet says. “For example, if you want to be the Olympic champion, of course it’s nice to have mastery goals and you should probably have mastery goals, but you definitely need performance goals because you want to be the winner and not the runner-up.”

But it’s important to think about how goals affect the social environment. “If you really want to establish constructive and long-lasting working relationships, then you should really balance the different levels of goals,” Poortvliet says — thinking not only about each person’s achievement, but also about the team as a whole.

Some people are naturally more competitive than others. But it’s also possible for managers to shift the kinds of goals people have by, for example, giving a bonus for the best employee. That might encourage people to set performance goals and compete against each other. On the other hand, it would also be possible to structure a bonus program to give people rewards based on their individual improvement over time.

Do men choose romance over career success?

Posted November 22nd, 2010 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Men are driven to achieve, to accomplish, while women are more driven to have good relationships. Or so the conventional wisdom goes. Well, recent research calls this into question.

Men may be more willing than women to sacrifice achievement goals for a romantic relationship, according to a new study by Catherine Mosher of Duke Medical Center and Sharon Danoff-Burg from the University of Albany. Their findings challenge our preconceptions that women are more likely to prioritize people and relationships while men are more focused on themselves and their achievements.

The authors looked at whether personality traits influence students’ life goals, and focused on the relative importance of romantic relationships and achievement goals in particular. A total of 237 undergraduate students (80 men and 157 women aged 16 to 25 years), from the psychology department at a state university in the northeast of the US, completed questionnaires measuring personality traits and life goals.

In particular, Mosher and Danoff-Burg looked at ‘agency’, or the focus on oneself and the formation of separations, including self-assertion, self-protection, and self-direction, as well as ‘communion’, or the focus on other people and relationships, which involves group participation, cooperation and formation of attachments. In general, women tend to score higher on measures of communion whereas men tend to score higher than women on measures of agency.

Life goals included seven achievement goals (physical fitness, travel, financial success, home ownership, contribution to society, career and education) and five different types of relationships (romantic, marriage, children, circle of friends and family ties). Participants’ willingness to sacrifice achievement goals for a romantic relationship was also examined.

Overall both college men and women showed strong desires for individual achievement and relational intimacy. As expected, self-focus was linked to the importance of achieving, such as having a successful career. Focus on others was related to the importance of having meaningful relationships and making a contribution to society.

Unexpectedly however, men were more likely than women to give priority to a romantic relationship when asked to choose between a relationship and their career, education and traveling.

The authors suggest that college women in this study may have been strongly committed to working towards a successful career and therefore hesitant to abandon their goals for a romantic relationship. In contrast to women, men also appear to derive more emotional support from their opposite-sex relationships than their same-sex friendships.

The paper will be published in the next issue of the Springer journal, Gender Issues.

U.S. billionaires want more

Posted November 21st, 2010 in Articles, Blogs by admin

The billionaires are on the warpath. They want more, more, more.

In 2007, the top 1 percent of all income earners in the United States made 23.5 percent of all income — more than the bottom 50 percent. Not enough! The percentage of income going to the top 1 percent nearly tripled since the mid-1970s. Not enough! Eighty percent of all new income earned from 1980 to 2005 has gone to the top 1 percent. Not enough! The top 1 percent now owns more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. Not enough! The Wall Street executives with their obscene compensation packages now earn more than they did before the government bailout. Not enough! With the middle class collapsing and the rich getting much richer, the United States now has, by far, the most unequal distribution of income and wealth of any major country on earth. Not enough!

Where does it end? When will the billionaires have enough?

Bullying and the culture of incivility

Posted November 21st, 2010 in Articles, Blogs by admin

The workplace is increasingly characterized by incidents of incivility and bullying, and this may be part of a general societal trend, exacerbated by tough economic times.

A startling 37% of American workers–roughly 54 million people–have been bullied at work according to a 2007 survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute. The consequences of such bullying have spread to families, and other institutions and cost organizations reduced creativity, low morale and increased turnover. According to the Institute, 40% of the targets of bulling never told their employers, and of those that did, 62% reported that they were ignored.

According to a 2007 survey by Zogby International, almost 50% of the U.S. workers report they have experience or witnessed some kind of bullying–verbal abuse, insults, threats, screaming, sarcasm or ostracism. One study by John Medina showed that workers stressed by bullying performed 50% worse on cognitive tests. Other studies estimate the financial costs of bullying at more than $200 billion per year.

And bullying is not restricted to male bosses. Cheryl Dolan and Faith Oliver, writing in the Harvard Business Review, report that because women now comprise 50% of the workforce, woman-on-woman bullying is being reported.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley and University of Southern California shows that bosses who are in over their heads are more likely to bully subordinates. That’s because feelings of inadequacy trigger them to lash out at others. The researchers found a direct link among supervisors and upper management between self-perceived incompetence and aggression. The findings were gleaned from four separate studies, published in the journal Psychological Science.

Is there a relationship between bosses’ bullying behavior and narcissism? The incidents of narcissistic bosses such as Bernard Madoff or Ken Lay seem to be on the increase. According to Jim Moral of Florida State Professor of Management, 31% of employees surveyed reported that their boss was prone to exaggerate his or her accomplishments and downplay the contributions of others. The study concluded that the narcissistic bosses created toxic environments resulting in declining productivity.

While many European governments and the governments in Canada, Australia and New Zealand have enacted legislation dealing with workplace bullying, it is yet to be addressed in a comprehensive manner in the U.S., although a number of state legislatures have proposed legislation. An impediment to their passage is that most U.S. states operate under the 19th century doctrine of at-will employment, which often protects management abuses.

The recent economic downturn, with layoffs and financial pressures on managers to perform may have exacerbated the bullying problem. Research conducted by Wayne Hochwarter and Samantha Englehardt at Florida State University concluded that “employer-employee relations are at one of the lowest points in history,” with a significant decline in basic civility.

Is bullying a reflection of a general decline in civility? In poll after poll, Americans have voiced concern over the erosion of civility. According to a poll by Weber Shandwick, 65% of Americans say the lack of civility is a major problem in the country and feel the negative tenor has worsened during the financial crisis and recession.

Pier M. Forni, author of The Civility Solution: What To Do When People Are Rude and director of The Civility Initiative at Johns Hopkins University says, “In today’s American, incivility is on prominent display: in the schools, where bullying is pervasive; in the workplace, where an increasing number are more stressed out by coworkers than their jobs; on the roads, where road rage mains and kills; in politics, where strident intolerance takes the place of earnest dialogue; and on the web, where man check their inhibitions at the digital door.”

Gary Namie, a psychologist and co-founder of The Workplace Bullying Institute contends, “how in the world can we stop bullying in schools, in the workplace, in politics, when it is so close to our national character right now?”

Forni says the onslaught of rude, bullying and uncivil behavior–intensified by the 24/7 reach of the Internet and social media–adds to the stress people already feel and can translate into tragic consequences: “It becomes the kick-the-dog syndrome. You make the innocent pay for how badly you feel in order to find some kind of relief.” Incivility and bullying behavior is also a precursor to physical violence, says Forni. According to the Department of Labor, there are 1.8 million acts of physical violence in the American workplace every year. According to Time magazine columnist Barton Gellman, threats against President Obama’slife brought him Secret Service protection at the earliest on record for any presidential candidate, and the number of extremist groups in the U.S. increased 244% in 2009.

According to a 2008 study published in the Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies, allegiance to many old public virtues such as the Bill of Rights, the Geneva Convention and the rule of domestic and international law is now commonly mocked or dismissed as quaint by significant people in power and persuasion.

Some also suggest that there is a “blame the victim” mentality developing in the nation that somehow contends that the victims of crime, domestic violence, poverty, workplace conflict, and foreign civilian populations “had it coming,” rationalized by the artificial justification of “toughness” or “responsibility.”

The problem of workplace bullying will not go away anytime soon and may never be fully remedied until enough people call for a return to a culture of civility.