Your landlady is a brute. She’d love to kick you out and raise the rent, but you’re not budging until your lease expires. So, she makes your life miserable. She just accused you of tossing empties in the garbage instead of the recycling bin. It wasn’t you, you protest, but she’s not listening. Her voice is louder and shriller than yours. She cuts you off. She jabs her thumb into you. She wants a war.
Reducer: Barack Obama has a reputation for staying cool under attack. He seems to detach instead of “lose it”—even when flagrantly provoked. This inspired Dominik Mischkowski and Brad Bushman at Ohio State University. In a clever study, the two researchers set people up to be unfairly berated while playing a game. Once the victims were good and angry, they were either asked to replay the upsetting event in their minds from a fly-on-the-wall perspective (as if they were watching it happen to you from far away), or using other techniques like playing the scene over in their minds. Given the opportunity to retaliate, the “self-distancers” were calmer and less vindictive. The lesson: No one can get under your skin when you remove yourself and reflect deliberately.