Russians have become more conflict-prone,
angrier and ruder and have largely lost the ability to control themselves,
according to the findings of research into the psychological profile of a
typical Russian from 1981 to 2011. Andrey Yurevich, the deputy head of the
Institute of Psychology at the Russian Academy of Sciences, talks about the
Rossiyskaya Gazeta: Judging by your findings, compared with the
1980s, Russians have become three times as aggressive and rude and absolutely
uncivil. But how do you measure, for instance, aggression?
Andrey Yurevich: Let me begin with a clarification: this is not a
statement covering "all Russians." We are talking about the general
psychological characteristics of society as a whole, "the hospital's
average temperature" as it were.
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As for ways of assessing and measuring
the level of aggression, the easiest one is to look at statistics, e.g. the
number of serious crimes associated with aggressive behavior.
The most telling statistic is the number of
murders. In that respect, Russia's figures are nearly four times as high as
those in the United States and about 10 times the figures in most Western
Another method is sociological and
socio-psychological surveys, for example, when researches get on the subway,
walk into a carriage and ask for a seat and then record how many passengers
would give them their seat and how they react to the request.
Finally, there is our everyday personal
experience. We use the public transport, see how drivers behave on the road,
watch our fellow compatriots in the shops, in the street and, should we want
to, we can always count the number of times a week or a month when people were
rude to us or disrespectful.
RG: My impression was that people now are more
willing to offer their seat to somebody who needs it more.
A.Y.: That is true. In the early 1990s that happened
very rarely, whereas now you see it far more often. At the same time, if we
talk about serious crime, there is a clear trend: some 80 percent of murders in
Russia are committed as a result of an outburst of aggression.
Statistics show that there is domestic violence
in one in four families in Russia. Most of those families have a low income,
are poorly educated and both parents have a serious drinking problem.
RG: Your study says that aggression is made
fashionable by the media and the criminal world. How does that happen?
A.Y.: In the criminal world, aggression is the norm.
And the criminal culture has had a very strong influence on our society since
the late 1980s. It has become the source of lots of borrowing, starting from
the criminal slang to models of behavior (for instance, when a husband and wife
hire professional killers to resolve a dispute between them).
The word aggressive is often used with a
positive connotation: "aggressive advertising" means good
advertising; "aggressive car design" means good design.
A fashion for
aggression is further contributed to by various subcultures, like football fans
or nationalist groups. People in power and the media often contribute too.
For instance, some TV programs promote a rather
aggressive attitude to some countries, present the world around our country as
hostile and dangerous, and the image of an enemy, which was so topical in
Soviet ideology, is still very much alive.
Dissatisfaction with the authorities
too breeds aggression. Furthermore, since ordinary people cannot "get
to" those in power, they often channel their irritation and anger onto each
other and onto various social groups.
RG: Are there any mechanisms for restoring one's
A.Y.: It would appear that no nation can remain in an
excessively aggressive state of mind for long. For the time being however, the
level of aggression in our society is quite high and one could speak only of
some marginal improvements rather than of a drastic change.
We are moving further and further away from the
early 1990s (break-up of the Soviet Union, a deep political crisis), when
society lived through most dramatic upheavals, and are gradually calming down
and getting used to the new reality.
In addition, many Russians spend their
holidays abroad, mainly in very friendly European countries, see how people
there treat each other, realize that friendliness and kindness are the norm in
social relations, learn to appreciate this norm and bring it back to their home
RG: Are there any ways of getting rid of anger and
A.Y.: There are, as there are special psychological
methods for that. For example, in the United States, when aggressive driving
causes a traffic accident, the driver is required to attend a special training
in anger management.
Western countries are becomingly increasingly
more interested in so-called "positive psychology" that teachers that
if a person develops a positive image of oneself, of one's life and the
surrounding world, their relations with people improve considerably and there
is no aggression anywhere.
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Another powerful channel of influence is
education and upbringing. It is very important that the education system
instills a positive attitude to the world. Take, for example, new Russian
history textbooks. Somebody has done the math and calculated that they contain
far more negative episodes from our history than positive ones.
Whereas in the United States the opposite is
true: children there are taught a polished-up version of their history, which
impresses Americans with a positive image of their country and their people.
Clearly, that would imply a certain conflict with the objective truth. What is
needed is a healthy balance because the predominance of negative episodes
creates a negative image of the history of one's country and, as a consequence,
of the country as a whole.
This is abridged version of the article first published in Russian in Rossiyskaya Gazeta.