Motivation and emotion/Book/2018/Anger evolution

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Anger evolution:
How and why did anger evolve and what are the implications?

Overview[edit | edit source]

The purpose of this chapter is to explore what elicits anger; why it happens; how it develops; and the implicit consequences of anger. Understanding these [what?] neural mechanisms is important because it provides insight into concrete, biological processes that predispose individuals for aggression.

For anger to occur, responsibility for an aversive experience must be attributed to someone or something (e.g., Frijda, 1986). Upon attributing the blame to another person, anger motivates a response to resolve the aversive event (Sell, Tooby, & Cosmides, 2009). But not all anger occurs in the interpersonal domain[for example?]. Anger is useful because it prepares a person mentally, physiologically, and cognitively to manage any obstacles that interfere with the pursuit of important goals. Anger is neither healthy nor unhealthy—it depends on what you do with this experience and how anger is expressed. If anger is expressed in a way that is out of proportion with the current situation, such as verbal or physical aggression toward a colleague who borrowed your pencil without asking, this unjust attack can be deemed unhealthy (Kashdan, Goodman, Mallard, & DeWall, 2016).

Focus questions

  • What is anger?
  • Why do we get angry? / What leads to anger?
  • How does anger develop?
  • Consequences of anger

What is Anger?[edit | edit source]

Syntax error

What makes YOU angry?

Sharp insults
Racial slurs
Betrayal from a close friend
Punch to the face by a stranger
Hungry and not being able to eat until completing a tediously long task
Getting cut you off while driving

Anger is a common human emotion. It is a strong emotion often caused by some form of wrong-doing, ill-treatment, or unfairness. We experience the feeling of anger when we think we have been mistreated, injured, or when we are faced with problems that keeps us from getting what we want or attaining our personal goals (Hendrick, Bore, Aslinia & Morris, 2013).

‘Anger is idiosyncratic – people are angered by very different kind of events’ (Hendrick, Bore, Aslinia & Morris, 2013). Researchers[grammar?][factual?] have easily elicited emotion such as fear, sadness, disgust, and amusement by showing people film clips however, this is not consistent with anger.

Anger, according to the cognitive behaviour theory, is attributed to several factors such as:

  •      Past experiences
  •      Behaviour learned from others
  •      Genetic predispositions
  •      Lack of problem solving ability (Loo, 2005, para. 1 citing Hendrick, Bore, Aslinia & Morris, 2013).

Overall anger arises from restraint, as in the interpretation that one’s plans, goals, or well-being have been interfered with by some outside force (e.g., barriers obstacles, interruptions). The essence of anger is the belief that the situation is not what it should be; that is, the restraint, interference, or criticism is illegitimate (de River, 1981 citing in Reeves, 2015).

Anger is a negative emotion that consists of personal and situational factors and ranges in intensity from frustration to annoyance to rage; the effects of anger and anger reduction methods have been subjects of extensive social psychological research (Potegal & Stemmler, 2010 citing[grammar?] in Ariyabuddhiphongs, 2014).

Why do we get angry?[edit | edit source]

There are many theories that attempt to explain anger these include evolutionary based theories, various cognitive and coping models.

Overcoming obstacles[edit | edit source]

The core antecedent of anger is the presence of an obstacle to one’s goal pursuit. Anger’s key function is to prepare the person to overcome such obstacles (Reeves, 2015). For instance, when someone is attempting to do us harm we may become angry, this state of emotion will biologically prepare the person to remove the obstacle or to stop the harm. Other examples of obstacles which elicits anger is from a betrayal of trust; being rebuffed, receiving unwarranted criticism, suffering a lack of consideration from others, and cumulative annoyances (Fehr et al., 1999). Anger is further caused rather directly by aversive conditions such as pain (Berkowitz & Harmon-Jones, 2004). 

Maintaining control[edit | edit source]

Anger arises when people want to keep control of something that is perceived as their's to control (Levenson, 2011 citing[spelling?] in Reeves, 2015). It motivates self-defence, and it regulates social interactions to defend the self and whatever belongs to the self. One way anger produces its functional effect is by increasing the person’s sense of control (Lerner & Keltner, 2001) (Reeves, 2015). When people do act out their anger, research shows a surprising success rate (Tafrate, Kassinove, & Dundin, 2002) (Reeves, 2015). People (e.g., policeman) who express anger generally get more respect and status following a wrong than do people who express sadness of guilt (Tiedens & Linton, 2001) (Reeves, 2015). This is because anger makes people more attuned to the injustices of what other people do (Keltner, Ellsworth, & Edwards, 1993), and because it often clarifies relationship problems, energises political agendas, and spurs a culture to change for the better, as occurred with the civil right movements, the women’s suffrage movement, and Americans’ national response to the September 11, 2001, terrorists attack (Tavris, 1989). (Reeves, 2015).

Evolutionary advantage[edit | edit source]

Experiencing anger is one of the most primitive defence mechanisms. It helps protect and motivate us from being mistreated or taken advantage of (Hendrick, Bore, Aslinia & Morris, 2013)[Rewrite to improve clarity]. For example, after years of living in an abusive relationship, your anger reaches the point to motivate you to leave and save you from further abuse. Just as fear alters[spelling?] you to danger, your anger alerts you to injustice. It’s one of the ways your brain communicates to you, that you have had enough. It biologically energises you to confront that injustice. Your heart rate and breathing increases; you begin to sweat. Your systematic nervous system otherwise known as your fight or flight system begins offering you the energy you need to respond. Your digestive system slows down to conserve energy and is then released to your extremities resulting in dry mouth and dilated eyes (Martin, 2018).

Learned behaviour[edit | edit source]

According to Dr. Harry Mills (2005), anger is not an emotion that we are born with, rather one that is learned (citing in Hendrick, Bore, Aslinia & Morris, 2013). Mill proposed that children learned by mirroring the behaviour of people around them. For example, growing up in a home where fighting and arguing is a constant engagement can cause a child to learn that this behaviour is normal and demeaning and scolding others without reason is acceptable. The child may grow up unaware that they have an anger problem. These children may grow up to be aggressive and hostile towards their peers and others. This learned behavior may lead to a child becoming a bully. Bullying is the act of repeated aggressive behaviour done intentionally to hurt another individual physically or emotionally. Bullies behave in this aggressive, abusive manner because it gives them a sense of power over others. Once they bully someone, they find that others respect them or fear them for their hostile behaviours. The child tends to become more aggressive in their behaviour because they have learned that their actions make them popular (Hendrick, Bore, Aslinia & Morris, 2013).

Coping mechanism[edit | edit source]

Research has suggested that expressing negative emotions is generally beneficial to psychological well-being (Frattaroli, 2006; Gross, 2002; Pennebaker & Harber, 1993; Rimé, Philippot, Boca, & Mesquita, 1992 citing Chue, Gunthert, Adhrens, Skalina, 2017). Sharing negativity with others can decrease distress and help develop insight about an issue (Kennedy-Moore & Watson, 2001). Chue, et al. (2017) confirmed this, finding that socially sharing anger as an emotional strategy infrequently decreased depressive symptoms. Other studies have shown that many use ‘anger’ to cope against racism (Pittman, 2011) and abuse to improve mental health especially in individuals with a history of childhood maltreatment (child abuse, physical and emotional neglect, parental loss) who often show impulsive aggression, violent and ⁄ or criminal behaviour, and antisocial personality symptoms (Veenema, Blume, Niederle, Buwalda, & Neumann, 2006).

Enforcing social norms[edit | edit source]

Anger frequently occurs when a social norm has been violated and the individual believes that he or she has been “wronged”—for example, a promise is broken or one’s trust is betrayed. The expression of anger communicates that the social relationship in question has been damaged and that the angry person holds another party responsible (Brezina, 2010). It shows that anger “appears to be an emotion aimed at asserting one’s own belief and perspective” (Clore & Gasper, 2000, p. 23 citing in Brezina, 2010); and “is aimed at the correction of some appraised wrong,” (Averill, 1982, p. 317 citing in Brezina, 2010) as such action leads both parties to identify the causing issue that led to the perceived wrong.

How does anger develop?  [edit | edit source]

When a person does become anger, the feeling for most people tends to dissipate within 10 to 15 minutes (Tyson, 1998; Fridhandler & Averill, 1982 citing in Denson, Pedersen, Ronquillo, & Nandy, 2009). When a person does become anger, there are several physiological processes that the body undergoes.

Anger and the autonomic nervous system[edit | edit source]

The amygdala part of the brain responsible for identifying threat to our well-being and for sending alarms when a threat is identified. When anger is elicited, part of hypothalamus sends messages that activate the adrenal gland to increase its release of cortisol and related stress hormones - adrenaline and noradrenaline. (Vaughan & Hogg, 2018 p 137). These chemical helps the body control the heart rate and blood pressure (Boerma, 2007 citing in Hendrick, Bore, Aslinia & Morris, 2013). When released into the system, cortisol increases available glucose, boosting the metabolic fuel expended in energy-consuming activities (Moon, Eisenberger, & Taylor, 2010).

Serotonin[edit | edit source]

Research has demonstrated that rats and mice with low levels of serotonin release are more likely to fight with one another (Saudou et al., 1994; Valzelli, 1973; Valzelli & Bernasconi, 1979). This is similarly seen within monkeys (Higley e al., Westergaard, Cleveland, Trenkle, Lussier, & Higley, 2003 citing in Vaughan & Hogg, 2018 p 135). They found that low serotonin seems to be linked to a high risk, high payoff strategy as many of ‘[t]hese low- (Vaughan & Hogg, 2018 p 135) yet the ‘highly aggressive monkeys that survived had a high probability of achieving a dominant status within the troop’ (Fairbanks et al., 2004 citing in Vaughan & Hogg, 2018 p 135).

Implications of Anger [edit | edit source]

Anger is both a physiological and psychological process, thus anger can have a negative impact on your physical and emotional health (Hendrick, et al., 2013)

Physiological effect[edit | edit source]

  • High Blood Pressure causing possible heart attacks or stroke (Hendrick, et al., 2013). Anger is strongly associated with heart disease. The studies also show that adults with no history of heart disease, but who suffer from chronic anger are 19% more likely to develop heart problems as compared to those who rarely experience these personality traits (Kam, 2009).
  • The chemical imbalance triggered by anger causes our body’s metabolism to slow down.
  • releases of cortisol inducing feelings of stress and anger resulting excessive eating and weight gain.
  • Stress, as a reaction to anger, provokes our stomach causing it to produce too much acid which makes us candidates for gastric ulcers and acid reflux (Boerma, 2007).
  • Heighten awareness and responsiveness from the release of adrenaline. This causes glucose to gush through our blood stream and muscles giving us the ability to respond faster, run faster, and make quicker decisions (Hendrick, et al., 2013).
  • The anger causes neurotransmitter chemicals in the brain, called catecholamines, to flow through our body giving us a burst of energy that can last for several minutes. This then triggers reaction to other parts of the body such as increased heart rate, heightened blood pressure and intensified breathing (Addotta, 2006 citing in Hendrick, et al., 2013).
  • When fear is the trigger of anger, then there are numerous of response affecting the body.
    • The fear that lead to anger causes stress hormones, adrenaline, noradrenaline to surge throughout the body. This increases blood pressure and heart rate.
    • Muscles tense and tighten in preparation to ‘fight or flee’ leading to tension headaches, migraines or insomnia (Boerma, 2007).
    • Breathing becomes more rapid in order to pump more oxygen to the brain resulting in chest pains, or burst arteries leading to stroke.

Aggressive behaviour[edit | edit source]

"Aggression is any form of behavior directed toward the goal of harming or injuring another living being who is motivated to avoid such treatment" (p. 7) (Rokack, 1987).Baron (1977) suggests that it is the most serious problem facing humanity in the twentieth century an d consequently repels others (Marsh, Ambady, & Kleck, 2005 citing in Reeves, 2015).

Engagement in painful activities[edit | edit source]

Harmon-Jones, Summerell, & Bastian (2017) found that anger increases preferences for painful activities[Provide more detail]. The results provide insight into when individuals are more likely to choose painful activities as a way of regulating their emotions - when the negative emotion is approach-related rather than avoidance-related[explain?]. Previous research had shown that pain offset may reduce negative emotion (Franklin et al., 2013). Physical exercise, for example, may cause pain or discomfort, but recent meta- analyses confirm that exercise reduces depression and anxiety (Cooney et al., 2014; Josefsson et al., 2014). Individuals who engage in non-suicidal self-injury also report that they do so in response to negative emotions (Nock, Prinstein, & Sterba, 2009), and that doing so reduces those emotions (Klonsky, 2007 citing Harmon-Jones, Summerell, & Bastian, 2017). However, anger can contribute to mental health problems and make existing problems worse through inward maladaptive expression. That is turning anger onto ourselves as guilt which frequently produces feelings of depression, incompleteness, helplessness, and ultimately self-destruction (Willhite & Eckstein, 2003)[grammar?]. For example, if you often struggle to manage feelings of anger it can be very stressful and might negatively affect your self-esteem. This can lead to you experiencing problems such as depression, anxiety, eating problems or self-harm. It can also contribute to sleep problems, and problems with alcohol and substance misuse.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

We know anger is a powerful emotion which can be destructive as well as productive. When handled properly, anger can motivate positive actions and outcomes.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Aarts, H., Kirsten I. Ruys, I. K., Veling, H., Robert, A., Renes, A. R., Groot, H. B J., Van Nunen, M. A., and Geertjes, S. (2010). The art of anger: reward context turns avoidance responses to anger-related objects into approach. Psychological Science, 21, 1406-1410.

Abrams, M. (2010). Learn the Difference Between Anger, Aggression and Violence. Coaches Plan/Plan Du Coach, 17(1), 23–56. Retrieved from

Ariyabuddhiphongs, V. (2014). Anger concepts and anger reduction method in Theravada Buddhism. Spirituality in Clinical Practice, 1, 56–66.

Brezina, T. (2010) Anger, attitudes, and aggressive behavior: exploring the affective and cognitive foundations of angry aggression. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 26 186–203.

Burns, J., Bruehl, S., & Chont, M. (2014). Anger regulation style, anger arousal and acute pain sensitivity: evidence for an endogenous opioid “triggering” model. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 37, 642–653.

Butler, M. (2018). Anger can help: a transactional model and three pathways of the experience and expression of anger. Family Process., 57, 817–835.

Daaf, M., Abou-Zeid, M., Kaysi, I. (2015). Modelling anger and aggressive driving behaviour in a dynamic choice–latent variable model. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 75, 105–118. 0001-4575/

Denson, T. F., Pedersen, W. C., Ronquillo, J., & Nandy, A. S. (2009). The angry brain: neural correlates of anger, angry rumination, and aggressive personality. Journal Of Cognitive Neuroscience, 21, 734–744.

Gardner. L, F., Moore. E, Z. (2008). Understanding clinical anger and violence: the anger avoidance model. Behavior Modification, 32, 897-912.

Harmon-Jones, C., Summerell, E., & Bastian, B. (2017). Anger increases preference for painful activities. Motivation Science.

Hendricks, L., Bore, S., Aslinia, D., Morriss, G. (2013) The Effects of Anger On The Brain And Body. National Forum Journal of Counseling And Addiction, 2(1), 1 – 12.

Kashdan, T. B., Goodman, F. R., Mallard, T. T., & DeWall, C. N. (2016). What triggers anger in everyday life? Links to the intensity, control, and regulation of these emotions, and personality traits. Journal of Personality, 84, 737–749.

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.

Landmann, H. (2017). What elicits third-party anger? The effects of moral violation and others’ outcome on anger and compassion. Cognition & Emotion., 31, 1097–1111.

Liu, C., Moore, G. A., Beekman, C., Pérez-Edgar, K. E., Leve, L. D., Shaw, D. S., … Neiderhiser, J. M. (2018). Developmental patterns of anger from infancy to middle childhood predict problem behaviours at age 8. Developmental Psychology.

Martin, R. (2018). The Upside of Anger. TEDxFondduLac.

Moons, W. G., Eisenberger, N. I., & Taylor, S. E. (2010). Anger and fear responses to stress have different biological profiles. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 24, 215–219.

Molho, C., Tybur . M. J., Güler, E., Balliet, D., & Hofmann, W. (2017). Disgust and anger relate to different aggressive responses to moral violations. Psychological Science, 28, 609 – 619.

Pittman, C. (2011). Getting mad but eEnding up sad: The mental health consequences for African Americans using anger to cope with Racism. Journal of Black Studies., 42, 1106–1124.

Reeve, J. (2009). Understanding motivation and emotion. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley.

Rokach, A. (1987). Anger and aggression control training: Replacing attack with interaction. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 24, 353-362.

Smedslund, J. (1993) How shall the concept of anger be defined?. Theory & Psychology, 3, 5 – 33.

Willhite, R., Eckstein, D. (2003). The angry, the angrier, and the angriest: Relationship implications. The Family Journal, 11, 76-83.

Vaughan, G., & Hogg, M. (2018). Social psychology (8th edition.). Melbourne, Vic.: Pearson Australia.

Veenema, A. H., Blume, A., Niederle, D., Buwalda, B., & Neumann, I. D. (2006). Effects of early life stress on adult male aggression and hypothalamic vasopressin and serotonin.European Journal of Neuroscience, 24, 1711–1720.

Veenstra, L., Schneider, I. K., & Koole, S. L. (2017). The effects of motivational training on state anger and aggressive impulses among people varying in trait anger. Motivation Science, 3, 354-368.

Veling, H., Ruys, I. K., and Aarts, H. (2011). Anger as a hidden motivator: Associating attainable products with anger turns them into rewards. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 3, 438 - 445.

External links[edit | edit source]