Study Shows Anger Has Its Uses

What people feel at any moment may be keyed to what they expect to gain from a task

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FRIDAY, April 4, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- People like to temper their emotions to the task at hand, and it can help them succeed, even if the emotions are not pleasurable ones, a new report suggests.

Individuals are motivated to increase their level of anger, for example, when they expect to complete a confrontational task in which anger might enhance performance, according to the study published in the April issue of Psychological Science. And reaching that frame of mind does seem to help.

Psychologists from Boston College and Stanford University told study participants that they would either play a computer game that is confrontational (a first-person shooter game where killing enemies is the primary goal) or one that is not confrontational (a game in which players guide a waitress serving customers). Participants then rated the extent to which they would like to engage in different activities before playing the game.

Participants preferred activities that were likely to make them angry (e.g., listening to anger-inducing music, recalling past events in which they were angry) when they expected to perform the confrontational task, researchers found. In contrast, participants preferred more pleasant activities when they expected to perform a non-confrontational task.

Angry participants proceeded to perform better than others in the confrontational game of killing enemy soldiers. However, they did not perform better than others in the non-confrontational game of serving customers.

"Such findings," the authors wrote, "demonstrate that what people prefer to feel at any given moment may depend, in part, on what they might get out of it."

More information

The National Crime Prevention Council has more about how to manage your anger.

SOURCE: Boston College, news release, March 26, 2008

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