Motivation and emotion/Book/2015/Anger and decision-making

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Anger and decision-making:
What are the effects of anger on decision-making?

Overview[edit | edit source]

This chapter focuses on the role that anger plays in the evaluation of an individual’s choices or judgments and the formation of decisions. Firstly, it examines the role that emotion, as a general spectrum of moods and feelings, effects decision-making. Following this, we will define the specific emotional state of anger and explore its various components, which will summarise the defining characteristics of anger, as well as outline its primary causes and outcomes. Thereafter, the present chapter will provide a specific, in-depth analysis of both the positive and negative implications of anger on decision-making processes, in order to address the problem statement: what are the effects of anger on decision-making? Furthermore, examination of contemporary research and theory will develop throughout the chapter, with a desire to provide a solid foundation for theoretical framework and contextualisation. Finally, the present book chapter is also supplemented with process graphics to assist in the explanation of specific concepts, along with the provision of useful concept checks and questions to consider to highlight the most important aspects of each section and enhance interactive learning.

Questions to consider when reading this book chapter:
  • What are the effects of other basic emotions i.e. happiness, sadness, fear etc. on decision-making?
  • Despite being labelled a negative affect state, can anger positively influence both the making and outcomes of decisions?
  • What other biological or social drives effect decision-making processes?

Decision-making[edit | edit source]

Decision-making: What is it?[edit | edit source]

Decisions are a standard and anticipated convention of everyday life; they are a reality. When making a decision, one is required to make a choice between different alternatives or options. Such decisions can be big or small, easy or difficult, spontaneous or planned, emotionally driven or rationally impartial, ethical or morally corrupt, simple or multifaceted. What will I wear today? Will I choose to drink and drive? When will I start my assignment due next week? Will I eat a healthy, home-cooked meal or get takeaway on the way home? Should I lie to my friend or should I tell them the truth? Will I make one person happy at the expense of another person's feelings? These are all different examples of the types of decisions that we as individuals, and even groups of individuals, face. What's more, whilst individuals, groups, communities, organisations, and nations can make decisions for themselves, they can also make decisions for, or on behalf of, other individuals, groups, communities, organisations, or nations. Decision-making can be influenced or altered by our own perceptions, biological predispositions, judgements, and experience, as well as various other external social and environmental forces.

Decision-making and emotion[edit | edit source]

Historically, decision-making has primarily been understood as a dispassionate, cognitive process, whereby choices or judgments are made as a result of evaluating alternatives and options based on their potential consequences (Loewenstein & Lerner, 2009). Whilst dispassionate cognitive processes do influence the formation of decision, this antiquated method of cognitive evaluation has largely ignored the role that emotions play in such decision-making processes (Loewenstein & Lerner, 2009). Despite this, over the course of the past few decades, contemporary research into the influences of decision-making has been characterised by an intense and significant focus on the role of emotion (Loewenstein & Lerner, 2009). Specifically, contemporary research has identified two primary ways in which emotion influences decision-making, that is, expected emotions and immediate emotions.

Expected emotions[edit | edit source]

Figure 1. Process graphic outlining how expected emotions impact on an individual's decision and/or behaviour.

Expected emotions predict the expected emotional consequences of decisional outcomes, or in layman’s terms, they are the expectations about emotions that we anticipate feeling in the future as the result of a decision being made (Loewenstein & Lerner, 2009). This concept can further be understood through the framework of the expected utility model, a dominant model of decision-making. In this model, it is assumed that people attempt to predict the emotional consequences associated with different courses of action and then make choices or judgements to maximise the incidence of positive emotions and minimise negative emotions (Loewenstein & Lerner, 2009). See Figure 1 for a process graphic of expected emotions.

Immediate emotions[edit | edit source]

Figure 2. Process graphic outlining the different progressions between direct immediate emotions and indirect immediate emotions and their impact on an individual's decision and/or behaviour.

The second way in which emotion influences decision-making is through immediate emotions. Immediate emotions are experienced at the same time that a decision is being made, and can either exert a direct or indirect impact on decisions or behaviour (Loewenstein & Lerner, 2009). With the direct impacts of immediate emotions, the immediate emotions exert a direct impact on the decision or behaviour (Loewenstein & Lerner, 2009). Conversely, indirect impacts of immediate emotions alter a decision maker’s expectations of the probability or desirability of future consequences, by changing the way that these consequences are processed (Loewenstein & Lerner, 2009). See Figure 2. process graphic for immediate emotions diagram.

Concept check:

Anger[edit | edit source]

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What is anger?[edit | edit source]

Anger can be defined as a basic emotion or negative affective state, and is often characterised by disruptive behaviours such as hostility, fighting or quarrelling, aggression, explosive outbursts, rage, destructive behaviours, and even violence (Sukhodolsky & Scahill, 2012). In addition, anger has been labelled as the most passionate emotion, as well as the most frequently experienced emotion (Reeve, 2009; Lerner and Tiedens, 2006). Despite this, anger can also be subtle and seethe under the surface (Reeve, 2009). Regardless of these defining attributes, anger can range in variety and intensity, from mild indignation to destructive violence (Sukhodolsky & Scahill, 2012). As a negative affective state, anger can be easily differentiated from other negative affective states, such as sadness (Lerner & Tiedens, 2006). So much so, that it has been found that even infants as young as 10-weeks of age, have been found to recognise the difference between angry and sad faces (Haviland & Lelwica, 1987). Despite being identified as a negative affective state, on average, it is considered healthy for adults to be angry between once and twice a week for approximately 30 minutes (Kassinove, Sukhodolsky, Tsytsarev, & Solovyova, 1997; Averill, 1983). Similarly, Averill (1982) postulated that it is considered normal for most people to exhibit mild to moderate forms of anger from several times per day to several times per week.

What are the primary causes of anger?[edit | edit source]

What causes anger? During the course of our lifetime, we as human beings are confronted with a numerous assortment of external forces, situations, restraints, barriers, interruptions, and obstacles, all of which need to be interpreted, confronted, or eliminated at one point or another (Törestad, 1990). Berkowitz & Harmon-Jones (2004) posit that anger is triggered in response to pain or displeasure when confronted with aversive conditions or social stresses. Furthermore, it is believed that other potential causes of anger merely contribute to the intensity of the emotion, rather than being a direct cause (Berkowitz & Harmon-Jones, 2004). Interestingly, research into this domain indicates that particular muscular movements of the body related to the emotion of anger, subsequently have the potential to elicit anger-related feelings, memories, physiological responses, and cognitive processes (Berkowitz & Harmon-Jones, 2004).

Fehr, Baldwin, Collins, Patterson, & Benditt (1990) recognise that an episode of anger is comprised of the following elements: instigators, cognitive thoughts surrounding those instigators, physiological reactions, and subsequent anger-related behaviour i.e. yelling or swearing. In human relationships, anger manifests as a result of arguments or disagreements, the accumulation of mild annoyances, a lack of consideration,and issues with trust (Fehr et al., 1990). When defining anger, It is important to note the difference between anger experience, that is, the internal feeling of anger itself, and anger expression, the physical action or behavioural manifestation of anger (Sukhodolsky & Scahill, 2012; Spielberger, 1988). Like all emotions, anger is a feeling: a multidimensional, subjective, and purposive state of being, and is also understood as a biological reaction and social phenomena (Reeve, 2009).

What are the primary outcomes of anger?[edit | edit source]

Once activated by various causes, anger has the profound ability to colour and shape an individual’s perceptions, influence their decisions, and subsequently guide their behaviour (Lerner & Tiedens, 2006). What’s more, this can occur regardless of whether the choices or decisions at hand have anything to do with the source of one’s anger (Lerner & Tiedens, 2006). For example, in 2003, Lerner, Gonzalez, Small, & Fischhoff, conducted an experimental study in the United States, that examined the effects of anger as a result of the September 11 attacks. During their research, Lerner et al. (2003) found that the specific emotion of anger that follow[grammar?] as a result of the attacks, ultimately influenced both individuals’ perceived risk perceptions about future attacks, as well as their perceptions about routine, everyday events such as getting the flu, despite the fact that these were two completely separate events. As anger influences perceptions, beliefs, ideas, and aspects of reasoning, it ultimately influences and shapes our ability to make choices (Lerner & Tiedens, 2006). Throughout research into this area of study, the most frequently studied outcome of anger is aggression (Lerner & Tiedens, 2006; Berkowitz, 1990; Berkowitz 1993).

Anger and decision-making: The angry decision-maker[edit | edit source]

Traditional decision-making theories have sought to explain how, as well as the extent to which, anger affects an individual’s judgment and ability to make choices. Historically, this has been achieved by adopting the valence approach, as well as the using the cognitive appraisal theory and the expected utility model.

Theories[edit | edit source]

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Valence approach[edit | edit source]

The valence approach suggests that positive affect (e.g., joy) leads to optimistic judgments, whereas negative affect (e.g., anger) leads to pessimistic judgements (Lerner & Tiedens, 2006). Therefore, the valence approach hypothesises that positive emotions generally lead to more positive or better outcomes or decisions, whilst negative emotions lead to poorer decisions and more negative outcomes (Lerner & Keltner, 2000). This approach primarily supports the notion that being in a negative affective state ultimately leads to pessimistic expectations and judgements, whilst positive affective states cause optimistic expectations and judgments (Forgas, 2003).

In a ground-breaking study by Johnson &[grammar?] Tversky (as cited in Lerner & Tiedens, 2006), the participants were manipulated to feel various negative emotions, such as anger, which resulted in more pessimistic estimates and attitudes about death than their counterparts who were induced to feel positive emotions. As such, Forgas that "most of the research suggests a fundamental affect-congruent pattern: positive affect improves, and negative affect impairs, the value of self-conceptions" (2003, p. 602). Whilst this valence approach attempts to assume that all positive and negative emotions fit one mould, the cognitive appraisal theory involves a much more thorough and empirical framework.

Cognitive appraisal theory[edit | edit source]

The cognitive appraisal theory, also known as appraisal theory, is a psychological framework that can be used to explain how anger affects decision-making processes. The theory suggests that emotions occur as the result of our evaluations or appraisals of specific events that ultimately elicit specific reactions in individuals (Lerner & Tiedens, 2006). In short, it suggests that the appraisal of a situation ultimately assists in determining the consequent emotional reactions of individuals involved (Lerner & Tieden, 2006).

Empirical research of this theory indicates that specific emotions are often and consistently associated with a particular set of appraisals (Lerner & Tiedens, 2006). The process of the cognitive appraisal theory, or cognition-emotion, typically involves three basic components:

  1. an individual examines the perceived likelihood that various events will occur,
  2. blame, responsibility, and causality is assigned as the result of an event occurring, and
  3. the extent to which individuals feel certain or confident about situations and events is examined (Lerner & Tiedens, 2006).

Cognitive-appraisal theorists assert that there are a variety of cognitive dimensions, for example valence or pleasantness, that assist in determining the different appraisal patterns of different emotions (Smith & Ellsworth, 1985; Lerner & Tiedens, 2006). Smith and Ellsworth (1985) identified six of these dimensions as being: control, certainty, anticipated effort, pleasantness, responsibility, and attentional effort. Recognising and identifying these dimensions is a crucial element of understanding and explaining the nature of how people experience emotions, and subsequently how specific emotions effect judgment and the ability to make decisions.

For example, anger is a negative affective state that is associated with unpleasant situations but also with high levels certainty or confidence about what happened during an event, as well as what caused the event (Lerner & Tiedens, 2006). Like anger, the negative affective state of fear is also associated with unpleasantness but. unlike anger. it is associated with a high of degree uncertainty (Lerner & Tiedens, 2006). Anger is associated with the belief that the individual in question has been offended, hurt, injured or done wrong by (Lazarus, 1991). Anger is also associated with the belief that another person caused the negative event or situation and they are therefore responsible for it (Lazarus, 1991). In contrast, an event that can be blamed on situational or external events that exist outside the realm of an individual’s control can be explained by sadness, not anger (Lerner & Tiedens, 2006; Lazarus, 1991). Similarly, a negative event where an individual feels or is responsible for the occurrence of an event, this elicits shame rather than anger (Neumann, 2000; Lerner & Tiedens, 2006). Anger has also been associated with the idea that the individual in question has the power or ability to influence or change the situation or series of events, and that they[grammar?] are better equipped to cope with the situation as a result of this[what?] (Lerner & Tiedens, 2006).

In the beginning, these cognitive appraisal patterns and dimensions were originally believed to be the primary causes of anger, however, it is also important to remember that the experience of anger has many other biological and environmental causes (see related section above). What’s more, emotions and the appraisals they elicit, are believed to have a recursive relationship (Lerner & Tiedens (2006), that is, the more angry a person feels, the more likely they will hold another person responsible for a negative event; vice versa the more a person believes that another individual is responsible for a negative event, the angrier they will feel (Quigley & Tedeschi as cited in Lerner & Tiedens, 2006).

The cognitive appraisal theory is a useful and reliable tool for explaining the effects of specific emotions on choice and judgment (Tiedens, 2001). Unlike other models, such as the valence approach, cognitive appraisal theory differentiates and characterises emotions into smaller, more specific dimensions which helps to better understand the effect that emotions have on decision-making processes (Tiedens, 2001; Lerner & Tiedens, 2006). Notably, the use and associated themes of cognitive appraisal theory has been a cornerstone of decision-making research and study. In short, cognitive-appraisal theorists suggest that anger, and the emotional experience it elicits, hinders a decision-maker's ability to approach a situation or task with objectivity and/or rationality (Lerner & Tiedens, 2006).

Expected utility model[edit | edit source]

The expected utility model assumes that people attempt to predict the emotional consequences associated with different courses of action and then make decisions that ultimately increase the occurrence of positive and decrease the incidence of negative emotion such as anger (Lowenstein & Lerner, 2009). As such, an individual is much more likely to choose a course of action that will result in feeling a positive emotion such as happiness, as opposed to a negative emotion like anger.

Research[edit | edit source]

Since Aristotle’s rhetoric in 350BC, the emotional state of anger has been associated with various causes and consequences of anger, and has subsequently been identified as having a significant effect on judgment and decision-making (Lerner & Tiedens, 2006). Despite this, empirical research into this specific area only began to intensify and gain momentum since the late twentieth century (Lerner & Tiedens, 2006). During these critical years, anger and decision-making research has primarily supported the notion that being in a negative affective state ultimately leads to pessimistic expectations and judgments, whilst positive affective states cause optimistic expectations and judgments (Forgas, 2003). This approach, as well as the expected utility model, brings negative assumptions about how anger influences decision-making. However, anger has also been found to enhance self-conceptions and perceptions despite the fact that it is a negative emotion, which suggests that anger influences decision-making abilities in various ways that can have both positive and negative effects (Lerner & Keltner, 2000).

In an emotion-specific study into judgement and decision-making, Lerner and Keltner (2000) found that the negative effects of fear and anger have differing influences on judgment. Specifically, whilst fear elicited higher risk assessments by decision-makers, anger elicited lower risk assessments (Lerner & Keltner, 2000). Moreover, in a review of research into the impact of judgment and decision-making, Lerner and Tiedens (2006) concluded that anger, like all emotions, has emotion-specific impacts, which include selective processing of information, increased risk-taking, and optimism. Similarly, empirical work by Tiedens and Linton (2001) suggests that when making decisions, anger results in less substantive and more heuristic processing, whereas uncertainty-associated emotions like sadness, produce more thorough processing.

Negative and positive implications of anger on decision-making[edit | edit source]

Research indicates that anger has both positive and negative implications for decision-making.

  • Anger makes people more optimistic about their chances of success, which can result in better outcomes, as well as higher levels of confidence and certainty (Fischhoff et al., 2005; Lerner et al., 2003; Lerner & Keltner, 2000).
  • Despite the common assumption that anger can cloud and individual's judgment, anger can in fact increase an individual's sense of control (Lerner & Keltner, 2001; Tiedens & Linton, 2001)
  • Anger motivates people to enact change, which promotes initiative and drive. (Reeve, 2009)
  • Anger contributes to unsystematically punitive decision making whereby individuals can seek out or enact revenge or vengeance (Goldberg, Lerner, & Tetlock, 1999; Lerner, Goldberg, & Tetlock, 1998).
  • Anger makes people careless in thought and therefore results in careless choices, clouded judgment, and impaired decision-making (Tiedens, 2001).
  • Anger causes people to act out without the consideration of others or alternatives (Reeve, 2009).
Concept check:

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Decisions are a standard and anticipated convention of everyday life and come in varying forms and levels of complexity. Decision-making can be influenced or altered by our own perceptions, biological predispositions, judgements, and experience, as well as various other external social and environmental forces. Emotion, as a broad spectrum of feelings and moods, influences decision-making in two primary ways, through immediate and expected emotions. The emotion-specific state of anger, can be defined as a basic emotion or negative affective state that has various causes and outcomes. There are three primary theories that help explain how anger effects decision-making, and they are the valence approach, the cognitive appraisal theory, and the expected utility model. Over the past few decades, empirical research has sought to examine the how anger effects choices, judgments, and decisions, and these effects can be characterised into both negative and positive implications.

In summary, anger is a commonly occurring state that affects basic cognitive and social processes which, in turn, helps shape the decisions people make and the lives they lead. Whilst there is an abundance of research into the study of anger and its causes, there is a noticeable shortage of literature into how it can be managed. With this is mind, anger has an important and mediating role in judgments and decisions, and its implications can be both positive and negative (Törestad, 1990).

See also[edit | edit source]

Reference list[edit | edit source]

Averill, J. (1982). Anger and aggression: An essay on emotion. New York: Springer-Verlag.

Averill, J. R. (1983). Studies on anger and aggression: Implications for theories and emotion. American Psychologist, 38(11), 1145-1160.

Berkowitz, L. (1990). On the formation and regulation of anger and aggression: a cognitive-neoassociationistic analysis. American Psychologist, 45(4), 494–503.

Berkowitz, L. (1993). Aggression: Its causes, consequences and control. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Berkowitz, L., & Harmon-Jones, E. (2004). Toward an understanding of the determinants of anger. Emotion, 4, 107–130.

Bodenhausen, G.V. (1993) Emotions, arousal and stereotypic judgements: a heuristic model of affect and stereotyping. In D.M. Mackie and D.L. Hamilton (eds), Affect, Cognition and Stereotyping: Interactive processes in group perception, Academic Press, San Diego, CA, pp. 13-38.

Clore, G. L., & Centerbar, D. B. (2004). Analyzing Anger: How to Make People Mad. Emotion, 4(2), 139-144. doi:10.1037/1528-3542.4.2.139

Fehr, B., Baldwin, M., Collins, L., Patterson, S., & Benditt, R. (1990). Anger in close relationships: An interpersonal script analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 25, 299-312.

Fischhoff, B., Gonzalez, R. M., Lerner, J. S., & Small, D. A. (2005). Evolving judgments of terror risks: foresight, hindsight, and emotion. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 11(2), 124–139.

Forgas, J. P. (2003). Affective influences on attitudes and judgments. In R. J. Davidson, K. R. Scherer, & H. H. Goldsmith (Eds.), Handbook of affective sciences (pp. 596–218). New York: Oxford University Press.

Goldberg, J. H., Lerner, J. S., & Tetlock, P. E. (1999). Rage and reason: the psychology of the intuitive prosecutor. European Journal of Social Psychology, 29, 781–795.

Haviland, J. M., & Lelwica, M. (1987). The induced affect response: 10-week-old infants’ responses to three emotion expressions. Developmental Psychology, 23, 97–104. Johnson, E. J., & Tversky, A. (1983). Affect, generalization, and the perception of risk. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45, 20–31.

Kassinove, H., Sukhodolsky, D. G., Tsytsarev, S. V., & Solovyova, S. (1997) Self-reported anger episodes in Russia and America. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 12(2), 301-324.

Lazarus, R. S. (1991b). Progress on a cognitive-motivational-relational theory of emotion. American Psychologist, 46, 819–834.

Lerner, J.S., Goldberg, J.H. and Tetlock, P.E. (1998) Sober second thought: the effects of accountability, anger and authoritarianism on attributions of responsibility. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 24, 563-574.

Lerner, J. S., & Tiedens, L. Z. (2006). Portrait of the angry decision maker: how appraisal tendencies anger’s influence on cognition. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 19(2), 115–137.

Lerner, J. S., & Keltner, D. (2000). Beyond valence: Toward a model of emotion-specific influences on judgement and choice. Cognition and Emotion, 14(4), 473-493.

Loewenstein, G., & Lerner, J. S. (2009). The role of affect in decision making. In R. J. Davidson, K. R. Scherer & H. H. Goldsmith, Handbook of affective sciences (pp. 619-642). New York: Oxford University Press.

Lerner, J. S., Gonzalez, R. M., Small, D. A., & Fischhoff, B. (2003). Effects of fear and anger on perceived risks of terrorism: a national field experiment. Psychological Science, 14(2), 144–150.

Lerner, J.S. and Tiedens, L.Z. (2006) Portrait of the angry decision maker: how appraisal tendencies shape anger's influence on cognition. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 19, 115-137.

Neumann, R. (2000). The causal influences of attributions on emotions: a procedural priming approach. Psychological Science, 11, 179–182.

Reeve, J. (2009). Understanding motivation and emotion (5th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Smith, C. A., & Ellsworth, P. C. (1985). Patterns of cognitive appraisal in emotion. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 48(4), 813–838.

Spielberger, C. D. (1988) Manual for the State-Trait Anger Expression Inventory (STAXI). Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.

Sukhodolsky, D. G., & Scahill, L. (2012). Cognitive-behavvioural therapy for anger and aggression in children. New York: The Guilford Press.

Tiedens, L. Z. (2001). The effect of anger on the hostile inferences of aggressive and non-aggressive people: specific emotions, cognitive processing, and chronic accessibility. Motivation and Emotion, 25, 233–251.

Tiedens, L. Z., & Linton, S. (2001). Judgment under emotional certainty and uncertainty: the effects of specific emotionson information processing. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 81, 973–988.

Törestad, B. (1990). What is anger provoking? A psychophysical study of perceived causes of anger. Aggressive Behavior, 16(1), 9-26.

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