People who are angry pay more attention to rewards than threats

Aug 11, 2010

Anger is a negative emotion. But, like being happy or excited, feeling angry makes people want to seek rewards, according to a new study of emotion and visual attention. The researchers found that people who are angry pay more attention to rewards than to threats—the opposite of people feeling other negative emotions like fear.

Previous research has shown that emotion affects what someone pays to. If a fearful or anxious person is given a choice of a rewarding picture, like a sexy couple, or a threatening picture, like a person waving a knife threateningly, they'll spend more time looking at the threat than at the rewarding picture. feeling excitement, however, are the other way—they'll go for the .

But nobody knows whether those reactions occur because the emotions are positive or negative, or because of something else, says Brett Q. Ford of Boston College, who wrote the study with Maya Tamir, also of Boston College, and four other authors. For example, she says, "emotions can vary in what they make you want to do. is associated with a to avoid, whereas excitement is associated with a motivation to approach. It can make you want to seek out certain things, like rewards." The research is published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

For her study, Ford focused on anger. Like fear, anger is a negative emotion. But, like excitement, motivates someone to go out and get rewards. First, participants in the study were assigned to write for 15 minutes about one of four memories in their past: a time when they were angry, afraid, excited and happy, or felt little or no emotion. A five-minute piece of music reinforced whichever emotion the participant had been assigned. Then they completed a task in which they had to examine two side-by-side pictures. An eye-tracking device monitored how much time they spent looking at each picture.

Angry people spent more time looking at the rewarding pictures—which suggests that this kind of visual attention bias is related more to how an emotion motivates someone than whether it's positive or negative. Looking at something is the first step before the thoughts and actions that follow, says Ford. "Attention kicks off an entire string of events that can end up influencing behavior." The people who felt happy and excited also looked more at the rewarding photos, but the two groups might act differently—an angry person might be motivated approach something in a confrontational or aggressive way, while a happy person might go for something they want in a nicer way—by collaborating, being sociable and friendly.

Explore further: A blood test for suicide?

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

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 ...

Linguistics may be clue to emotions

Jan 20, 2005

Words may be a clue to how people, regardless of their language, think about and process emotions, according to a Penn State researcher. "It has been suggested in the past that all cultures have in common a small number of ...

Recommended for you

A blood test for suicide?

2 hours ago

Johns Hopkins researchers say they have discovered a chemical alteration in a single human gene linked to stress reactions that, if confirmed in larger studies, could give doctors a simple blood test to reliably predict a ...

Could summer camp be the key to world peace?

17 hours ago

According to findings from a new study by University of Chicago Booth School of Business Professor Jane Risen, and Chicago Booth doctoral student Juliana Schroeder, it may at least be a start.

Gender disparities in cognition will not diminish

Jul 28, 2014

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, investigated the extent to which improvements in living conditions and educational opportunities over a person's life affect cognitive abilities and th ...

Facial features are the key to first impressions

Jul 28, 2014

A new study by researchers in the Department of Psychology at the University of York shows that it is possible to accurately predict first impressions using measurements of physical features in everyday images of faces, such ...

User comments : 0