Anger makes people want things more

Nov 01, 2010

Anger is an interesting emotion for psychologists. On the one hand, it's negative, but then it also has some of the features of positive emotions. For a new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, researchers find that associating an object with anger actually makes people want the object—a kind of motivation that's normally associated with positive emotions.

People usually think of anger as a negative emotion. You're not supposed to get angry. But anger also has some positive features. For example, it activates an area on the left side of the brain that is associated with many positive emotions. And, like positive emotions, it can motivate people to go after something. "People are motivated to do something or obtain a certain object in the world because it's rewarding for them. Usually this means that the object is positive and makes you happy," says Henk Aarts of Utrecht University in the Netherlands, first author of the new study. He and his colleagues wanted to examine whether this also applies to the link between anger as a negative emotion and the desire to get your hands on something.

For the study, each participant watched a computer screen while images of common objects, like a mug or a pen, appeared on the screen. What they didn't realize was that immediately before each object appeared, the screen flashed either a neutral face, an angry face, or a fearful face. This subliminal image tied an emotion to each object. At the end of the experiment, the participants were asked how much they wanted each object. In a second version of the experiment, they had the person squeeze a handgrip to get the desired object—those who squeezed harder were more likely to win it.

People put more effort in action to obtain objects associated with angry faces. (They did not do this for items associated with fear.) "This makes sense if you think about the evolution of human motivation," says Aarts. For example, say there's limited food in the environment. In such a context those persons that associate food with anger and turn aggression into an attack response to get the food are more likely to survive. "If the food does not make you angry or doesn't produce aggression in your system, you may starve and lose the battle," Aarts says.

Interestingly, the participants in this study had no idea that their desire for the objects had to do with , Aarts says. "When you ask people why they work harder to get it, they say, 'It's just because I like it.'" That shows how little we know about our own motivations, he says.

Explore further: Research reveals pervasive implicit hierarchies for race, religion, and age

Related Stories

Study shows the upside of anger

Mar 26, 2008

Here’s a maxim from the “duh” department: People typically prefer to feel emotions that are pleasant, like excitement, and avoid those that are unpleasant, like anger.

What happens when we get angry?

May 31, 2010

When we get angry, the heart rate, arterial tension and testosterone production increases, cortisol (the stress hormone) decreases, and the left hemisphere of the brain becomes more stimulated. This is indicated ...

Study: Men good at anger, women with joy

Jun 13, 2006

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology study shows men are good at noticing angry faces, with women good at noticing surprised, sad or joyful expressions.

Recommended for you

Ibuprofen relieves women's hurt feelings, not men's

39 minutes ago

(Medical Xpress)—For years, researchers have known that physical pain relievers such as ibuprofen can also help ease emotional pain, but new research suggests that ibuprofen has contrasting effects on men ...

Giving emotions to virtual characters

Jul 31, 2014

Researchers at the Autonomous University of the State of Mexico (UAEM) were able to simulate human facial expressions in virtual characters and use them in order to create better environments within a virtual ...

User comments : 0