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Anger Fuels Prejudice

In stressful settings, decisions are altered

FRIDAY, April 30, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- In situations that require quick decisions, anger can fuel automatic, immediate prejudice against people of a different race, religion, or creed, says a study in the spring issue of Psychological Science.

The study included New York City residents and college undergraduates. First, they were made to feel either angry, sad, or emotionally neutral. They then had to rapidly categorize peoples' faces that were preceded by quickly displayed words that were either positive or negative.

Those in the sad and neutral groups showed no automatic bias against those who weren't like them. But the people in the angry group reacted negatively to the faces of people they identified as being different from them.

"Much as the experience of fear leads individuals to adaptive behaviors to avoid dangers (e.g., quickly recoiling from a snake in one's path), the experience of anger, due to its association with preparation for conflict, automatically shifts individuals' rapid appraisals of social groups outside of their awareness or control," researcher David DeSteno, psychology professor at Northeastern University, said in a prepared statement.

"When conflict is likely, different equals bad, and the brain prepares to shape our behavior accordingly," he said.

These study results may prove important in understanding the behavior of people in certain occupations or situations, said study co-author Nilanjana Dasgupta, a University of Massachusetts psychology professor.

"The findings hold important implications by suggesting that anger may increase the likelihood of aggressive or derogatory behaviors in certain situations required rapid judgments (e.g., a police officer or soldier judging an approaching member of an unfamiliar group as representing a threat and acting accordingly)," Dasgupta said.

"It is useful to note that these automatic prejudices can be overcome by exerting time and effort to consider judgments of social groups, but these are luxuries that individuals often do not have," she said.

More information

The American Psychological Association has more about anger.

SOURCE: Northeastern University, news release, April 2004
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