Anger expression tied to situations

August 02, 1999

Instead of viewing anger expression solely as an essentially unchanging personality trait, a new study identifies anger expression as a state that fluctuates according to on-the-spot situations and demands.

Scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and State University of New York at Stony Brook utilized a technique to measure anger expression and hostility at the moment that individuals are experiencing their anger.

"Anger expression is likely to be tied to situational factors such as the person who triggers the anger or the location where the anger episode takes place," said Laura S. Porter, PhD, head of the study. "The same person who yells and slams doors during an argument with a family member at home may inwardly seethe at an unreasonable boss at work without saying anything."

Until now, most anger/heart disease research has assumed that anger expression constitutes an individual personality trait that is stable across time and place. Instead, this study explored anger expression as a state that fluctuates according to on-the-spot situations and demands.

The research report is published in the current issue of Psychosomatic Medicine.

The scientists recruited 100 college students for the study. Initially, the students completed self-report questionnaires before embarking on a seven-day period of reporting on anger episodes occurring in the normal course of their lives.

The researchers took account of the persons and places in the anger episodes, and also of mood and appraisal factors such as the anger intensity involved, whether the situation was resolved, the amount of control the person had over resolving the situation, and whether the outcome was beneficial or harmful.

The students wore blood pressure cuffs for 24 waking hours. This was the first study to measure the relationship between blood pressure and state measures of anger expression as it occurs in natural settings.

The study concluded that while there is a statistically significant relationship between how people say they typically respond when angry and what they actually do, there is also a great deal of variance in state measures of anger expression that is unexplained by trait measures. Furthermore, state measures of anger expression were significantly associated with the persons and places involved in the anger episode as well as mood/appraisal variables, indicating that situational factors played an important role in the way individuals expressed their anger.
Psychosomatic Medicine is the official peer-reviewed journal of the American Psychosomatic Society, published bimonthly.
For information about the journal, contact Joel E. Dimsdale, MD, at 619-543-5468.

Posted by the Center for the Advancement of Health
For information about the Center, call Petrina Chong, 202-387-2829.

Center for Advancing Health

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