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Grit your teeth and bear it: Get angry for all the right reasons

From Stephanie West Allen’s blog on Neuroscience and conflict resolution .

Another study on the usefulness of anger! That emotion is enjoying attention and a second—and third—look. (Is March the month for mad?) From a Science Daily article "Anger Has An Upside, Study Suggests":

Psychologists Maya Tamir and Christopher Mitchell of Boston College, and James Gross of Stanford University tested whether people prefer to experience emotions that are potentially useful, even when they are unpleasant to experience.

The authors wanted to examine whether individuals are motivated to increase their level of anger when they expect to complete a confrontational task, where anger might enhance performance.

This study "Hedonic and Instrumental Motives in Anger Regulation" (pdf) seems to suggest that, yes, people will choose anger-inducing over pleasant activities when they know they are about to engage in confrontation. The angry people also performed better in the confrontational task. They did not perform better in an activity which involved serving customers. (I think some of those study participants are now working in stores near me.)

[I]t seems that individuals are not always striving to feel pleasure and may even be willing to endure some nasty emotions if necessary.  “Such findings,” write the authors “demonstrate that what people prefer to feel at any given moment may depend, in part, on what they might get out of it.”

As I said earlier this week in Anger—your inner fiend or your friend? Or both? What’s the role of emotion?:

[T]here is a time and a place for every emotion—including anger.

What are your thoughts? When and where is anger appropriate?

Notes from the actual Psychological Science research article (linked to above): The authors of the study conclude that negative emotions may be adaptive in certain contexts.

Unpleasant emotions are important predictors of mental health. It is not surprising, therefore, that emotion-regulation research has emphasized the importance of decreasing unpleasant emotions. Our findings, however, suggest that experiencing some degree of negative emotions in specific contexts may be adaptive, if those emotions promote goal pursuits (Tamir & Diener, in press). [pdf]

And they add something related to conflict resolution.

Anger may be instrumental in some contexts (e.g., when fighting over limited resources) and harmful in others (e.g., when cooperating and sharing limited resources).

But they also introduce some caution about their results.

In this investigation, we created artificial contexts in which anger could be more or less instrumental. Given the uncertain ecological validity of these contexts, future research should test our hypotheses in the context of daily life . . .  .


Stephanie West Allen

Stephanie West Allen, JD, practiced law in California for several years, held offices in local bar associations, and wrote chapters for California Continuing Education of the Bar. While in CA, Stephanie completed several five-day mediation training programs with the Center for Mediation in Law, as well as a two-year intensive… MORE >

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