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Stressbusting, Russian Style

Extreme heat and cold, murderous wars, rampant corruption -- how have those Russians managed over the centuries?  Western media present little positive news about the country, and it fares poorly in international happiness rankings, somewhere between Pakistan and Iraq near the end of the list.

On the other hand, people who survived everything from the Mongol empire to the Gulag must have something going for them inwardly. And there's more to it than the vodka. Recent studies at the University of Michigan suggests they have some mental techniques worth emulating, according to this release:

In one study, the researchers examined the prevalence of self-reflection and depression among 85 U.S. students and 83 Russian students. Participants completed tests designed to measure their levels of brooding, and their level of depressive symptoms. The researchers found that Russians were more likely to brood, but that doing so was associated with fewer depressive symptoms than the Americans.

In the second study, 86 U.S. and 76 Russian students were asked to recall and analyze their "deepest thoughts and feelings" about a recent unpleasant interpersonal experience. The researchers measured their level of distress after this exercise. Then participants were asked to indicate the extent to which they adopted a self-immersed perspective (seeing the event replay through their own eyes as if they were right there) versus a self-distanced perspective (watching the event unfold as an observer, in which they could see themselves from afar) while analyzing their feelings.

Compared to the Americans, the Russians showed less distress after recalling the experience, and were less likely to blame the other person in their analysis of the experience. Importantly, Russians also indicated that they were more likely than Americans to spontaneously distance themselves from their experience while analyzing their feelings. And this tendency to self-distance was linked with lower levels of distress and blame.

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Edward Tenner is a historian of technology and culture, and an affiliate of the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School. He was a founding advisor of Smithsonian's Lemelson Center.

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