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Anger is an emotion, and psychophysiological response. It sometimes occurs in response to pain, suffering, distress, or threat thereof, upon oneself or others, that is perceived to be unjust. A threat may be real, discussed, or imagined.

Anger is often a response to the perception of threat due to a physical conflict, injustice, negligence, humiliation, or betrayal. Anger may be expressed actively or passively. In the case of "active" emotion, the angry person "lashes out" verbally or physically at a target. When anger is a "passive" emotion, it is often characterized by silent sulking, passive-aggressive behavior, hostility, and tension. Anger can also be caused as irritation escalates during exposure to an annoyance.

Humans often experience anger empathetically. For example, after reading about others being treated injustly, one may experience anger, even though she/he is not the victim.

Anger is usually magnified and lasts longer when a cognitive decision is made about the intent of the individual inflicting the pain. In other words, if one decides the pain infliction was intentional or deliberate, the emotion is usually more intense.


Common factors that predispose one to anger include fatigue, hunger, pain, suffering, sexual frustration, stress, recovery from an illness, puberty, childbirth, or the use of certain drugs. Hormonal changes associated with PMS or menopause may also be factors. Psychological disorders such as physical withdrawal, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and various other emotional disorders or situational behaviors also contribute.

Research suggests some individuals may be genetically predisposed to higher levels of anger than others. However, when comparing generational behaviors to adult role model responses to anger, the primary caregivers appear to have a much larger influence in "predisposition" to anger than genetics.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Physiological progression of anger

Main article: The Psychophysiology of anger

Neuroscience has shown that emotions are generated within the two almond-shaped structures in the brain called the amygdala[1]. The amygdala is responsible for identifying threats and reacting accordingly to initiate action within the body. The amygdala is efficient enough that reactions are initiated before before the cortex (the section of the brain responsible for thought and judgment) is able to ascertain the logic and reasonability of the reaction.

The action of the amygdala causes the body's muscles tense up. Inside the brain, neurotransmitter chemicals known as catecholamines are released, causing an increase in energy that generally lasts several minutes. Heart rate increases, blood pressure rises, the rate of breathing increases. The face may flush as increased blood flow enters the limbs and extremities in preparation for physical action. In quick succession, additional brain neurotransmitters and the hormones adrenaline, and noradrenaline are released.

The emotional progression to rage is usually mitigated by reason and the logical response of the Cerebral cortex. The left prefrontal cortex can switch off the emotions[How to reference and link to summary or text], thus serving to keep the situation under control. Gaining control anger essentially relates to the ability to learn ways to help the prefrontal cortex dominate the amygdala.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

In accordance with the physiological progression of anger there needs to be a wind-down phase as well. The body will start to relax back towards its resting state when the target of the anger is no longer accessible or an immediate threat. It is difficult to relax from an angry state within a short time, this is on account of the adrenaline-caused arousal that occurs during anger. This invariably lasts a substantial time (many hours, potentially days), during which time the anger threshold is lowered, making it easier for the person become angered.

Genetic predisposition

At the end of the 19th century, Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, argued that individuals are born with an innate loving instinct. However, anger and hostility arise when the individual's need for love is unmet, frustrated, or hindered.

In 1998 the American Psychological Association and the American Anthropological Association reviewed the available research and concluded that people are not genetically predisposed to violence, and that violence cannot be scientifically related to natural evolutionary processes.

At the beginning of the 21st century, the consensus is reversing as recent research[2][3], conducted with the benefit of the fully-mapped human genome, has begun to pinpoint specific genes that increase the risk of socially harmful behavior such as aggressiveness, antisocial behavior, suicide, drug abuse, etc. Simultaneously, the impact of inadequate love, security, and role models are also being researched more extensively. It is the general consensus among psychologists that a combination of nature and nurture is involved in the manifestation of anger, and therefore that neither should be ignored.

Dealing with anger

There are various strategies for dealing with anger. Some address individual episodes of anger, and others address an on-going tendency toward anger.

Dealing with each instance of anger represents a choice. The basic alternatives are:[4]

  • Respond with hostile action, including overt violence
  • Respond with hostile inaction, such as withdrawing or stonewalling
  • Initiate a dominance contest
  • Harbor resentment
  • Work to better understand and constructively resolve the issue

Other strategies address on-going tendencies toward anger.

In the 1960s and 1970s, theories about dealing with anger in a therapeutic process were based upon expressing the feelings through action. This ranged from pillow hitting strategies to radical and extreme therapies such as scream therapy. Scream therapy is a treatment in which patients stand in a room and simply scream for hours on end, supposedly relieving the tension or feelings spawned from the initial anger. However, these techniques actually do nothing to prevent anger from taking hold. Research in scream therapy has shown that patients who have undergone this treatment actually suffer from increased anger management problems.[How to reference and link to summary or text] This is understandable since modern research into neuroplasticity shows that the more we exercise a brain area (the areas involved with anger in this example) the more efficient that area becomes.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Modern therapies for anger involve restructuring thoughts and beliefs in order to bring about a causal reduction in anger. This therapy often comes within the schools of CBT (or cognitive behavioural therapy) or other modern schools such as REBT (or rational emotional behavioural therapy). Research shows that people who suffer from excessive anger often harbor irrational thoughts and beliefs towards negativity. It has been shown that with therapy by a trained professional, individuals can bring their anger to manageable levels.[5] In order for a cathartic effect to occur, the source of the anger must be damaged or destroyed by the aggrieved party.

Symptoms of anger

Anger as a manipulation

Since days of yore it was emphasized that the feeling of anger is likely to be an effective manipulation strategy in order to change and design attitudes. Studies have revealed that anger is indeed a distinct strategy of social influence and that the use of anger (i.e. belligerent behaviors) as a goal achievement mechanism proves to be a successful strategy (Hoschild, 1983, Sutton, 1991).

Anger and a social position

[Tiedens, 2001] [6], known for his studies of anger, claimed that expression of feelings would cause a powerful influence not only on the perception of the expresser but also on his power position in the society. He studied the correlation between anger expression and social influence perception. Previous researches, such as Keating, 1985 have found that people with angry face expression were perceived as powerful and as in a high social position. Similarly, [Tiedens, Ellsworth & Mesquita, 2000] [7], have revealed that people who compared scenarios involving an angry and a sad, attributed a higher social status to the angry character.

Anger and status attribution

[Tiedens, 2001] [6]examined in his study whether anger expression promotes status attribution. In other words, whether anger contributes to perceptions or legitimization of others’ behaviors. His findings clearly indicated that participants who were exposed to either an angry or a sad person were inclined to express support for the angry person rather than for a sad one. In addition, it was found that a reason for that decision originates from the fact that the person expressing anger was perceived as an ability owner, and was attributed a certain social status accordingly.

Anger and negotiation

Main article: Negotiation#Emotion in negotiation

The main question in this matter is whether show of anger during negotiation increases the ability of the anger expresser to succeed in negotiation. Few previous studies such as [Tiedens, Ellsworth & Mesquita, 2000][7], Knuston, 1996 have found that the anger expressers were perceived as stubborn, dominant and powerful. In addition, it was found that people were inclined to easily give up to those who were perceived by them as a powerful and stubborn, rather than soft and submissive. Based on these findings [Tiedens, Sinaceurm, 2004][8] have found that people conceded more to the angry side rather than for the non angry one. One question that has been raised based on these findings was whether expression of emotion influences others, since it is known that people use emotional information to conclude about others’ limits and match their demands in negotiation accordingly. [Van Kleef, De Dreu,& Manstead, 2004] [9] wanted to explore whether people give up more easily to an angry opponent or to a happy opponent. Findings revealed that participants tended to be more flexible toward an angry opponent compared to a happy opponent. These results strengthen the argument that participants analyze the opponent’s emotion in order to conclude about their limits and carry out their decisions accordingly. In a follow-up study it was found that participants who chanced upon an angry opponent placed lower standards compared to those who chanced upon a happy opponent. A possible reason for the flexibility and concessions followed by encountering an angry opponent can derive from the fear and aggression directed toward that opponent. Fear learning among the opponent, destroys information processing resources and leads to a reduced capability in giving efficient solutions while using the entire available information.

Anger in grief and dying

Anger is often seen as a normal part of the greiving process. Anger in palliative care requires careful clinical management, particularly anger towards staff, but also anger within families facing a death can be very difficult to deal with.

Religious and philosophical doctrines about anger

  • Among adherents of Christianity, causeless, excessive, or protracted anger is treated as sinful due to its treatment in Matthew 5:21–22 and in Colossians 3:8, and unbridled wrath is one of the Seven Deadly Sins. The Bible warns "do not let the sun go down on your anger" (Ephesians 4:26); that is, do not let feelings of anger last so long as to become sinful, but rather, deal with them before they reach that point. There is, however, what is commonly referred to as "righteous anger", as demonstrated by Jesus when he made a whip and cleared out the merchants in the temple in Jerusalem (Gospel of John 2:13-16). In Romans 1:18, the sin of man also provokes the wrath of Jehovah, who not only punishes sinners, but also provides a way for them to appease his wrath.
  • In Islam, anger is seen as a sign of weakness. Muhammad said, "The strong is not the one who overcomes the people by his strength, But the strong is the one who controls himself while in anger."[How to reference and link to summary or text] and "The best of you are those who are slow to anger and swift to cool down... Beware of anger, for it is a live coal on the heart of the descendants of Adam."[How to reference and link to summary or text]
  • Anger in Buddhism is defined here as: "being unable to bear the object, or the intention to cause harm to the object". Anger is seen as aversion with a stronger exaggeration, and is listed as one of the five hindrances. It is a common misconception that spiritual saints never get angry. This is not true: even the Dalai Lama, the spiritual guru of tibetan monks, gets angry.[10] However, there is a difference; most often a spiritual person is aware of the emotion and the way it can be handled. Thus, in response to the question: "Is any anger acceptable in Buddhism?' the Dalai Lama answered:

    "Buddhism in general teaches that anger is a destructive emotion and although anger might have some positive effects in terms of survival or moral outrage, I do not accept that anger of any kind as a virtuous emotion nor aggression as constructive behavior. The Gautama Buddha has taught that there are three basic kleshas at the root of samsara (bondage, illusion) and the vicious cycle of rebirth. These are greed, hatred, and delusion--also translatable as attachment, anger, and ignorance. They bring us confusion and misery rather than peace, happiness, and fulfillment. It is in our own self-interest to purify and transform them".[11]

  • In Hinduism, anger is equated with sorrow as a form of unrequited desire. The objects of anger are perceived as a hindrance to the gratification of the desires of the angry person.[12] Alternatively if one thinks one is superior, the result is grief. Anger is considered to be packed with more evil power than desire.[How to reference and link to summary or text]
  • Seneca the Young wrote extensively about anger and it was a common subject in the philosophical school of stoicism.

See also

References & Bibliography

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