Anger makes people want things more

November 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 anger, 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.
-end-
For more information about this study, please contact Henk Aarts at h.aarts@uu.nl.

The APS journal Psychological Science is the highest ranked empirical journal in psychology. For a copy of the article "The Art of Anger: Reward Context Turns Avoidance Responses to Anger-Related Objects Into Approach" and access to other Psychological Science research findings, please contact Keri Chiodo at 202-293-9300 or kchiodo@psychologicalscience.org.

Association for Psychological Science

Related Positive Emotions Articles from Brightsurf:

Why are memories attached to emotions so strong?
Multiple neurons in the brain must fire in synchrony to create persistent memories tied to intense emotions, new research from Columbia neuroscientists has found.

The relationship between looking/listening and human emotions
Toyohashi University of Technology has indicated that the relationship between attentional states in response to pictures and sounds and the emotions elicited by them may be different in visual perception and auditory perception.

Multitasking in the workplace can lead to negative emotions
From writing papers to answering emails, it's common for office workers to juggle multiple tasks at once.

The 'place' of emotions
The entire set of our emotions is mapped in a small region of the brain, a 3 centimeters area of the cortex, according to a study conducted at the IMT School for Advanced Studies Lucca, Italy.

Faking emotions at work does more harm than good
Faking your emotions at work to appear more positive likely does more harm than good, according to a University of Arizona researcher.

Students do better in school when they can understand, manage emotions
Students who are better able to understand and manage their emotions effectively, a skill known as emotional intelligence, do better at school than their less skilled peers, as measured by grades and standardized test scores, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

How people want to feel determines whether others can influence their emotions
New Stanford research on emotions shows that people's motivations are a driving factor behind how much they allow others to influence their feelings, such as anger.

Emotions from touch
Touching different types of surfaces may incur certain emotions. This was the conclusion made by the psychologists from the Higher School of Economics in a recent empirical study.

Negative emotions can reduce our capacity to trust
It is no secret that a bad mood can negatively affect how we treat others.

Surrounded by low achievers -- High on positive emotions?
Study involving the University of Konstanz proves negative impacts of high-achieving environment on school students' individual emotional well-being.

Read More: Positive Emotions News and Positive Emotions Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.