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: Self-regulation intervention boosts school readiness of at-risk children, study shows

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

Brains transform remote threats into anxiety

Nov 21, 2014

Modern life can feel defined by low-level anxiety swirling through society. Continual reports about terrorism and war. A struggle to stay on top of family finances and hold onto jobs. An onslaught of news ...

Mental disorders due to permanent stress

Nov 21, 2014

Activated through permanent stress, immune cells will have a damaging effect on and cause changes to the brain. This may result in mental disorders. The effects of permanent stress on the immune system are studied by the ...

Could there be a bright side to depression?

Nov 21, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—A group of researchers studying the roots of depression has developed a test that leads them closer to the idea that depression may actually be an adaptation meant to help people cope with ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.