People may disagree about a lot of things, but most of us are unified by a hatred of the slow. Slow WIFI, slow grocery lines, and slow drivers in the fast lane all have an uncanny ability to turn an ordinary afternoon into a frustrating one. LSA Professor of Psychology Stephanie Preston, whose lab researches the way emotions affect our well-being and encourage us to help others, says episodes of outsized fury such as sidewalk rage can teach us a lot about our better selves because they bring out our worst.

“Sidewalk rage is an example of the social bonds between people breaking down,” she says. “These feelings are usually unleashed on a stranger on the street, and it’s usually because we’re already stressed and running behind. All of the cues we naturally use to be empathic and connect to others in a positive way are missing.” In order to understand why rage takes over, Preston says we should begin with the brain.

Way back in our evolutionary history, humans developed the hypothalamus, an area of the brain about the size of an almond located down near the pituitary gland. The hypothalamus oversees essential bodily functions, such as regulating temperature, appetite, and sleep. It’s also responsible for some of our strongest feelings, like rage.

All-out emotional responses like rage were essential to our survival because they helped us defend ourselves against predators and other threats. “The hypothalamus is the source of our most innate behaviors, the kinds of things you want to happen almost reflexively,” Preston says. We’re eons away from those early automatic responses, but now the digital age has rewired the circuits in our brains into nearly reflexive responses because technology has changed the way we perceive time.

And that, Preston says, can make it harder to be generous and easier to blow a fuse.

Read the full article at LSA News.