Motivation and emotion/Book/2014/Anger and motivation

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Anger and motivation:
What is the role of anger in motivation?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Anger is an emotion that everyone has experienced. Something or someone has made you frustrated, infuriated, irritated, annoyed or just plain angry. These are all natural reactions, however have you ever considered whether anger could motivate you in a positive way? This chapter aims to illustrate the significant role that anger contributes to motivation. From biological, psychological and survival aspects, anger is an influential motivator in everyday life.

Introduction to anger[edit | edit source]

Definition[edit | edit source]
Figure 1: Expressions of anger[explain?]

Anger and aggression are a significant threat to individuals and society often resulting in destructive behaviour (Schutter, D.J.L.G, 2013). According to Potegal and Stemmler, (2010) anger is considered to be a negative emotion varying in intensity from frustration to annoyance to rage. It is influenced by both personal and situational factors. The danger that anger poses to the individual themselves and to others surrounding them is why anger is considered an important part of psychological research (Norlander & Eckhardt, 2005 via Ariyabuddhiphongs, V, 2014).

Ohbuchi (1989) and Ekman et al. (1983) describe anger characteristics as arousal that occurs in the form of muscle tension, accelerated heartbeat, breathing changes and higher skin temperature such as flushes in the face (Kubo, K, 2012).

Bruehl, et al. (2002) examined how anger is regulated through two pathways; expression (anger-out) and suppression (anger-in) (Burns, J.W, 2014).

Anger can be short-lived, intense and helpful, or persistent, severe and destructive[factual?]. Apparent[explain?] anger leads to low self esteem, negative self concept, verbal and physical abuse and occupational problems (Deffenbacher, 1992.) Suppressed anger is a symptom in many medical conditions including hypertension, coronary artery disease and cancer (Greer & Morris et al., 1975 via Kassinove, H, 1995).

Types of anger[edit | edit source]

Anger causes slow[explain?] tolerance and impatience, which can lead to abusing individuals who the person deems as weaker for a sense of control. Anger is one of the main factors in rape, homicide and assault crimes (Kassinove, H, 1995).

Meltzer (1993) reported [grammar?] “Anger has been called the worst propensity of human nature, the father and mother of craft, cruelty, and intrigue, and the chief enemy of public happiness and private peace” (Kassinove, H, 1995, p.1). Hazelwood & Burgess (2001) interviewed serial rapists and discovered that power and anger were primary motivators for this behaviour. Anger motivation targets people for sexual, physical or verbal abuse. Hazelwood created a classification for this type of behaviour which consisted of four categories; power-reassurance (fantasy of consent), power-assertion (sense of entitlement), anger-retaliation (revenge) and anger-excitation (sadism) (Vecchi, G.M, 2013).

Buss (1961) outlines two types of aggression; reactive and proactive. Reactive aggression is linked to anger, loss of control and increased responses to threats. Proactive aggression is behaviour motivated towards a goal where anger is less prominent. Evidence by Harmon-Jones (2003) demonstrates that both reactive and proactive aggression can result in approach (as opposed to avoidance) behaviour and can be solely internal or triggered by external stimuli. They also noted, however, that the association between aggression and behaviour would not always result in negative consequences (Schutter, DJ.L.G, 2013).

Anger can also lead to positive outcomes when channeled and expressed in the right direction (Averill, 1982). There are positive outcomes from anger such as determination and motivation which will be discussed in the relationship between anger and motivation (Kassinove, H, 1995).

Introduction to motivation[edit | edit source]

Definition[edit | edit source]

Motivation is defined, according to DiClemente et al. (2004) as an internal mental state that includes “personal considerations, commitments, reasons and intentions that move individuals to perform certain behaviours” (Goodman, I, 2011, p.661). It can be divided into two types; intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is modifying behaviour for an individual’s own sake and extrinsic is dependent on rewards and punishments resulting from that behaviour (Wright, J.W, 2007).

According to behavioural scientists, motivated behaviours develop from a physiological and psychological need or desire. These are then directed towards appropriate goals to assist in satisfying this motivation. The most basic primary motivational needs of food, water and shelter are all based on biological needs. Secondary however[grammar?], result from learned experiences in an environment and may contribute to these primary needs (Wright, J.W, 2007). These advanced motivational behaviours include the need to achieve, belong, create and be happy and these can be completed through applying cognitive theories of problem solving strategies, expectancy theories of forming relevant and realistic expectations and social need theories by shaping the desired goal based on social pressures and relationships (Lefton & Brannon, 2006).

Types of motivation[edit | edit source]

The incentive theory of motivation is the concept that behaviours are not because of needs but environmental stimuli that cause action. Motivated behaviours arise from a need state that drives a behaviour, but then incentives modify these drives (Wright, J.W, 2007).

Abraham Maslow (1970) created the hierarchy of needs (shown in Figure 2). He prioritised motives based on their importance. Biological needs made up the foundation, then safety and security come second, belongingness and love, esteem, success and finally, self actualisation (Wright, J.W, 2007).

Figure 2: Maslow's hierarchy of needs

Substance abuse, family, peer and legal involvement and mental health status are all factors that correlate with motivation in adolescences[spelling?] and adults (Breda & Heflinger, 2004). When associating motivation with treatment it is referred to as a willingness to seek assistance and to act according to a treatment plan (Goodman, I, 2011). Motivation is positively correlated[explain?] with substance abuse due to it being associated with behaviour change and treatment (Broome, Joe & Simpson, et al., 2001).

When assisting with legal matters, motivation can be used as a positive to help law enforcers gain understanding and tactics. The Perpetrator Motive Research Design (PMRD) by Gergen (1985) is designed to determine the motivation behind the behaviour, which will contribute to influencing a change in that behaviour. The PMRD consists of three concepts; understanding motivation is the first step to understanding human behaviour, the meaning behind behaviour is correlated with an individuals or groups needs, desires and values that are blocked, and using these values, desires and needs to provide prevention, preparedness and responses (Strauss & Corbin, et al., 1998). PMRD uses emic (language) approaches such as experiences being related to individuals based on their culture or language (Gergen, 1985) and etic approaches which involves a third party who did not experience the event directly to describe it (Vecchi, 2006). The use of the PMRD is to gather information from the criminal and offenders themselves to understand the motivation they possess to perform these behaviours (Vecchi, G.M, 2013).

The relationship of anger and motivation[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

What is the role of anger in motivation?[edit | edit source]

Anger consists of multiple components (Darwin, C, 1965). When examining the relationship between motivation and anger, anger is considered to be strong, persuasive and commonly situational (Bagoozi et al., 1999). The role of anger in motivation can be determined through approach and avoidance behaviours (BAS and BIS) associated with rewards and motivational direction[factual?].

Approach and avoidance motivation[edit | edit source]

Motivation is divided into two categories; approaching the stimuli and avoiding it. Approach motivation is usually directed towards rewarding stimuli with positive outcomes (Gray, 1994). Withdrawal motivation generates reactions to negative stimuli such as fear or anxiety (Gray, 1970). When researching the emotion of anger associated with motivation, the individual will either use approach or avoidance behaviour depending on the environment and situation.

There are many theories surrounding the idea of approach and avoidance motivation. Lang et al., (1998) suggested that anger comes from avoidance systems, resulting in an avoidance motivation. According to Carver et al. (2009) anger contains an approach motivational component (Kubo, K, 2012). Watson et al. (1988) suggested that anger and other negative emotions all have a common source. Stewart et al. (2010) theorised that situations with high levels of anxiety might demonstrate more avoidance motivation when the individual is in an angry state. However, other theories have suggested that anger could induce an approach motivation. Berkowitz (1993) provided the example that an individual may experience anger when a goal is interrupted or a reward is withheld. Blair (2003) stated that anger cues operate as threatening resulting in avoidance behaviour. However, research from Carver and Harmon-Jones (2009) suggests that anger can result in approach motivation. Berkowitz (1989) stated that anger induced behaviour results in higher goal pursuit especially (Carver & Harmon-Jones 2009) when there are obstacles to overcome (Veling, H, 2012).

BAS and BIS[edit | edit source]

Carver and White (1994) developed the scales of the BAS (behavioural activation system) and BIS (behavioural inhibition system) to measure incentive and threat sensitivity. BAS contains three levels of behavioural approach; drive, reward responsiveness and enjoyment seeking. BIS however, is correlated with negative reactions to an expected punishment (Gable, P.A, 2014).

Smits and Kuppens (2005) and Cooper et al. (2007) discovered that both BIS and BAS were related to anger and were applied depending on how the anger was expressed. BAS was associated with external expressions and BIS outward expressions (Gable, P.A, 2014).

Anger and rewards[edit | edit source]

Veling et al. (2012) hypothesised that the association between anger and goal/reward pursuit creates motivation when these are seen as attainable. They theorised that recognising the reward as relevant to their primary goal and using anger through approach behaviour could ultimately result in people investing money or other resources to obtain products when it contributes to their overall purpose. Using angry facial expressions and adding competition into the equation in Veling (2012) and colleagues' study, increased the motivation of participants. Associating anger with rewarding stimuli increases reward sensitivity (Ford et al., 2010). Many television commercials and advertisements use what appear to be angry creatures or characters to persuade someone to buy a product (Bagoozi et al., 1999). Although other studies have demonstrated anger and motivation resulting in negative consequences, (Blair, 2003) Veling's present study demonstrated that using approach related motivation affect (Carver & Harmon-Jones, 2009),[grammar?] this can act as a significant motivator and enhances determination in acquiring products. This is very useful for future salesman and business owners.

Motivational direction[edit | edit source]

When measuring motivational direction, Coccaro et al. (2007) after some research, discovered that there might be a balance between cortical and subcortical processing which could indicate aggressive motivation (Hofman, D, 2013). Research by Van Honk and Schutter (2006) demonstrated that the cortical brain areas that distribute anger overlap with areas of positive affects (Veling, H, 2012). Frontal cortical asymmetry is the most effective and common neurophysiological measures of motivational direction. The left and right frontal cortical regions are associated with both approach and withdrawal motivation (Goldstein, 1939 via Gable, P.A, 2014). Tranel et al. (2002) and Robinson and Price (1982) studied the brain when the right and left frontal cortexes were damaged. When the right frontal cortex was impaired, immediate satisfaction over future negative consequences were experienced, resulting in impulsive and reactive forms of aggression (Tranel, 2002). When the left side was damaged, psychological conditions of avoidance, anxiety and depression were omitted (Robinson & Price, 1982). To understand some of these concepts and learn more about which areas of the brain associate with emotion see here

Behavioural studies in recent years have depicted a positive connection between left frontal cortical activation with approach motivation and anger (Harmon-Jones & Sigelman, 2001). "Naturally occurring resting state cortical asymmetries in frontal electrical oscillations and neural excitability", (Schutter, et al., 2008 p.2482) have been studied to depict a correlation of motivational direction with individual differences to determine approach or avoidance motivation in young adults.

Research has also been experimented with young infants[Rewrite to improve clarity]. Studying the frontal electric cortical asymmetries can predict the motivational direction the infant will grow into. Stable left sided electric frontal asymmetries have been shown to predict approach motivation and aggression and the right side has been demonstrated to predict avoidance motivation and anxiety of children as early as 10-30 months old (Smith & Bell, 2010)[explain?][Provide more detail].

Motivation and anger in everyday life[edit | edit source]

Eiden et al. (2011) found that pregnant women experiencing emotions such as anger, aggression and hostility were more likely to smoke during pregnancy to deal with depression and stress. A population based study by Cougle, Zvolensky and Hawkins (2013) also discovered that anger could predict the past year smoking status of an individual, their nicotine dependence and heavy smoking quantity. Another study by Patterson, Kerrin, Wileyto and Lerman (2008) resulted in anger being a predictor for smoking relapses (Cougle, J.R, 2014).

Communal motivation is defined as the degree that an individual wants to assume responsibility for a relationship partner’s wellbeing (Clark and Mills, 1979). People in communal relationships have a stronger desire to attend to their partner’s needs and express positive reactions to their emotions (Clark, Mills & Corcoran, 1989 & Clark & Taraban, 1991). Hee Yoo et al. (2011) predicted that people in low communal motivation relationships would result in a decrease of liking to the other when they expressed feelings of anger. People in high communal motivated relationships would experience the opposite, the person would understand where the anger is coming from and offer support. This was hypothesised correctly when observing relationships between married couples and friendships and is further explained in the case study below.

Case study[edit | edit source]

How understanding the motives of criminals can help![edit | edit source]

A 34 year old Caucasian male discovered his wife was having an affair with their[grammar?] co-worker. He shot both the man and his wife in a fit of anger and afterwards, held five co-workers captive at his work site for two and a half hours. He believed that his co-workers encouraged the affair by scheduling his wife and her lover on the same shifts. Using verbal intimidation, waving the gun around and using cabinets to seclude the area the captives were under his control. After several authorities including three legal teams, which created feelings of confusion for the man, tried to reason for surrender it was his psychiatrist that eventually got him to concede. The man did express concern for his wife and mentioned that he was contemplating suicide during the ordeal. After the event, the man was interviewed to understand his motives and reasoning. It was classified as an expressive event, due to the participant acting from his emotion of anger. His motivation for holding his co-workers captive was due to him believing they assisted in the affair. The man expressed his motives and movements to interviewers through a PMRD (perpetrator motive research design as mentioned above) in order to assist law enforcement for future similar episodes. Using his thought processes and motives, role playing the situation provided insight and practice for response teams and hostage negotiators in case a similar event were to occur in the future. Understanding the movements of the participant such as verbal abuse and gun threats assisted law enforcements, work place violence awareness and provided training techniques to deal with this situation. The feelings of confusion that developed into frustration with several authority figures trying to persuade him to surrender helped researchers to understand the importance of familiarity of the person and not to over bombard with law enforcers. Finally, learning the thoughts and concerns the participant experienced while the event unfolded provided tactical information for future negotiators. Using PMRD preparedness, prevention, response and recovery, future situations similar to this one can now be better handled based on the information and motives learned and provided from the offender himself (Vecchi, G.M, 2013).

How to support someone expressing anger towards you[edit | edit source]

Hee Yoo (2011) et al researched the concept of communal motivation associated with anger. Their research included three studies; participants both high and low in communal motivation in response to their spouse, the second in response to their friends and the third involved participants receiving manipulations of high and low motivations and emotions to a stranger.

In study one, participants included 96 couples; 96 men and 96 women. They were all married for approximately 25 months. There were no previous marriages, no children and they were all under 35 years of age when they wed. Without sharing answers with their spouses, participants completed the Measure of Communal Strength (Mills, et al., 2004), which established their motivation to respond to their spouses’ needs. The next questionnaire indicated the amount of anger they express to their spouse and the last recorded how satisfying their relationship was. The results of study one proved the hypothesis that couples with high communal motivation did not suffer from a decrease in marital satisfaction when anger was expressed. Couples with low communal motivation however, did suffer a decrease when anger was conveyed. The results of this study demonstrated that even though there were expressions of anger between the couples, using the communal motivation, the emotions were understood and supported without feelings of resentment or contempt for the other person. A limitation presented in this study is the frequency and intensity of anger was not measured, therefore marital satisfaction could decrease with high communal motivation depending on these factors.

Study two was able to generalise the findings to a broader range of relationships focusing on motivation and anger in friendships. Measures were taken of communal motivation and anger on multiple days to determine both within and between relationship measures. The reports of anger were taken from the person receiving the anger rather then the person portraying it. Hee Yoo and colleagues stated that this would allow researchers to understand the perceptions of friends’ expressions and an evaluation of their friendship. The study was measured over multiple days to gather data globally and daily to determine motivational differences in day-to-day interaction. Data was then collected to determine high and low motivation through the type of support, if any, the friend offered. The participants included 189 students, 109 females and 80 males with an average age of 19 years old. All participants were enrolled in an introductory psychology class. A questionnaire was completed assessing their communal motivation towards their best friend, their global evaluation of their friend, their friendship satisfaction, then a five day daily diary that provided information of anger expressed from their friend, their daily evaluation of their friendship and the support they provided. Results supported the hypothesis that individuals with high communal motivation offered social support with no decrease in friendship satisfaction and participants with low communal motivation resulted in a decrease in support and liking of the person.

Study three manipulated emotion and motivation towards a third party stranger, which they were going to meet later. 66 university students, 4 females and 25 males with a mean age of 19 years old filled out a background questionnaire. This contained questions of motivation such as; “what are your reasons for participating in today’s study?” and emotion such as; “how intensely did you feel the following emotions coming into this study today, eg. angry, sad, happy, afraid”. After the questionnaires were complete the experimenter returned what the participants thought were other participants questionnaires but had been manipulated with low and high motivation associated with different emotions from the experimenters themselves. The results supported the outcomes of both studies one and two. When the participant received answers of high motivation with anger their evaluation of meeting the stranger did not decrease, and with low motivation their evaluation of the person did. All of these studies demonstrate that using high communal motivation, support can be offered in times of anger and intense emotions with no decrease in the evaluation of the person and the relationship already established (Hee Yo, S, 2011).

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Figure 3: How does this information help me?[explain?]

Anger, although often referred to as a threatening, negative emotion does contain positive motivational outcomes[explain?]. The role of anger in motivation consists of multiple components including the two behavioural categories of approach and avoidance behaviour, motivational direction and applying the outcomes to everyday life situations.

Applying the information from this book chapter to assist in improving one's life includes:

  • Directing one's anger towards a positive, rewarding goal[for example?].
  • Understanding the environmental and safety factors of when to approach or avoid a situation[explain?].
  • Understanding the effect anger has on you personally, and re-directing this motivation so the outcome does not harm yourself or others.
  • Learning how to support someone dealing with anger, without decreasing your affection for them[explain?].

Anger is a significant contributor to motivation. Understanding why and how could produce positive outcomes including reducing criminal activity, maintaining health and greater reward pursuit while reducing negative consequences for the individual and those surrounding them[for example?].

Quiz[edit | edit source]

Time to test your knowledge! Complete this quiz to see what you know about anger and motivation!


1 What are the four types of motivation?

Intrinsic, approach, avoidance and determination
Intrinsic, avoidance, extrinsic and approach
Primary, extrinsic, treatment and approach
Incentive, approach, avoidance and extrinsic

2 Abraham Maslow created the hierarchy of needs in what order?

Biological, safety, esteem and success, love and self actualisation
Safety, biological, love, success, self actualisation and esteem
Self actualisation, biological, safety, love, esteem and success
Biological, safety, love, esteem, success and self actualisation

3 What does PMRD stand for?

Perpetrator Motive Ranked Design
Perpetrator Motive Research Design
Participant Motive Research Design
Perpetrator Movement Recorded Design

4 BIS is correlated with what?

Negative reactions to an expected punishment
Negative reactions to an unexpected punishment
Positive reactions to an expected punishment
Negative reactions to a positive punishment

5 When a person has high communal motivation for someone they will ____ when anger is expressed to them.

Dislike them
Support them
Do nothing

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Ariyabiddhiphongs, V. (2014). Anger concepts and anger reduction method in Theravada Buddhism. Spirituality in Clinical Practice, 1, 56-66. DOI: 10.1037/scp0000003

Burns, J.W., Bruehl, S., & Chont, M. (2014). Anger regulation style, anger arousal, and acute pain sensitivity: Evidence for an endogenous opioid “Triggering” Model. Journal of Behavioural Medicine, 37, 642-653. DOI: 10.1007/s10865-013-9511-z

Cougle, J.R, Hawkins, K.A, Macatee, R.J., Zvolensky, M.J., & Sarawgi, S. (2014). Multiple facets of problematic anger among regular smokers: Exploring associations with smoking motives and cessation difficulties. Nicotine and Tobacco Research, 16, 881-885. DOI: 10.1093/ntr/ntu011

Gable, P.A., & Poole. B.D. (2014). Influence of trait behavioural inhibition and behavioural approach motivation systems on the LPP and frontal asymmetry to anger pictures. Social Cognitive Affect Neuroscience, 9, 182-190. DOI: 10.1093/scan/nss130

Goodman, I., Peterson-Badali, M., & Henderson, J. (2011). Understanding motivation for substance use treatment: The role of social pressure during the transition to adulthood. Addictive Behaviours, 36, 660-668. DOI: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2011.01.011

Hee Yoo, S., Clark, M.S., Lemay, E.P., Jr, Salovey, P., & Monin, J.K. (2011). Responding to partners’ expression of anger: The role of communal motivation, personality and social. Psychology Bulletin, 37, 229-241. DOI: 10.1177/0146167210394205

Hofman, D., Terburg, D., Wielink, L.V., & Schutter, D.J.L.G. (2013). Coalescence of dominance motivation and responses to facial anger in resting state and event related electrophysiology. NeuroImage, 79, 138-144. Retrieved from:

Kassinove, H., & Sukhodolsky, D.G. (1995). Anger disorders: Definition, Diagnosis and Treatment. Washington, VM: Taylor & Francis.

Kubo, K., Okanoya, K., & Kawai, N. (2012). Apology isn’t good enough: An apology suppresses an approach motivation but not the physiological and psychological anger. Plos One, 7, 1-5. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0033006

Schutter, D.J.L.G., & Harmon-Jones, E. (2013). The corpus callosum: A commissural road to anger and aggression. Neuroscience and Biobehavioural Reviews, 37, 2481-2488. Retrieved from:

Vecchi, G.M., Hasselt, V.B.V., & Angleman, A.J. (2013). The perpetrator-motive research design: A strategy for understanding motivations, values and tactics of criminal offenders. Aggression and Violent Behaviour, 18, 11-18. DOI: 10.1016/j.avb.2012.06.001

Veling, H., Ruys, K.I., & Aarts, H. (2012). Anger as a hidden motivator: Associating attainable products with anger turns them into rewards. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 3, 438-445. DOI: 10.1177/1948550611425425

Wright, J.W., & Wiediger, R.V. (2007). The interaction of attention, habituation and memory. In L. Brown (ed.), Psychology of Motivation, (pp. 5-38). ISBN 978-1-60021-598-8

External links[edit | edit source]