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Fuel in the Fire: How Anger Impacts Judgment and Decision-Making

Abstract

In keeping with the handbook format, this chapter identifies four types of methods in the behavioral decision-making literature for detecting the influence of anger on judgments and choices. The types of methods include inferring the presence of anger from behavior, measuring naturally occurring anger or individual differences in anger, manipulating anger, and both measuring and manipulating anger. We discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each method and present evidence showing that the effects of anger often differ from those of other negative emotions. The chapter also introduces an overarching appraisal-tendency framework for predicting such effects and connects the framework to broader theories and associated mechanisms. Finally, we examine whether anger should be considered a positive emotion and propose that anger is experienced as pleasant when one is looking forward and unpleasant when one is reflecting back on the anger’s source.

Keywords

  • Negative Emotion
  • Ultimatum Game
  • Specific Emotion
  • Trait Anger
  • Heuristic Processing

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

This chapter was adapted from Lerner 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 (Special Issue on Emotion and Decision Making), 19, 115–137.

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Fig. 17.1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Regional variations may amplify or attenuate the frequency. Individuals in the southern United States, for example, tend to uphold a “culture of honor” (Cohen, Nisbett, Bowdle, & Schwarz, 1996), which includes lower thresholds for registering “a demeaning offense against me or mine” – a key trigger for anger (Lazarus, 1991a, p. 122).

  2. 2.

    We thank a reviewer from Lerner and Tiedens (2006) for suggesting that the ATF rests squarely within diverse streams of research showing emotion consonance. For example, feeling an emotion can evoke consonant facial and other bodily expressions (“Method Acting”). Behavioral expressions of emotions can evoke the associated feelings and appraisals (Cacioppo, Priester, & Berntson, 1993; Musch & Klauer, 2004). In addition, the sociological literature on emotion management (Hochschild, 1983) reveals the stress associated with attempting to block emotion-consonant behavior.

  3. 3.

    Because of the recursive relationship of appraisals and emotion, we believe that in most cases, fully experiencing an emotion means also experiencing the cognitive appraisals that comprise that emotional state (Clore, 1994; Frijda, 1994; Lazarus, 1994). It is important to point out, however, that a primary causal role for appraisals in emotion is not a necessary condition for the ATF. It is sufficient to assume that a discrete set of cognitive dimensions differentiates emotional experience and effects (as is widely documented: see review by Ellsworth & Scherer, 2003).

  4. 4.

    The evidence for increased blood flow to the hands is a matter of some debate, however. More research is needed to fully resolve this issue.

  5. 5.

    On the surface, the results could seem to conflict with research relating dispositional anger to enhanced stress reactivity and to stress-related disorders, such as coronary heart disease (for review, see Siegman & Smith, 1994). Anger, however, is heterogeneous (Harmon-Jones et al., 2003). Whereas behavioral medicine studies have typically found cardiovascular correlates with the intensity of a chronic dispositional tendency to experience explosive and violent anger (for example, see Spielberger, 1996), the Lerner et al. study found cardiovascular and cortisol correlates with the duration of situation-specific facial expressions of anger. It is important to note these differences. It may be that certain kinds of anger are adaptive, while others are not. Specifically, a low-intensity, controlled anger expression may be adaptive in a stress-challenge task with a pesky experimenter. Feeling a sense of indignation in the face of annoying badgering can be seen as reasonable. It is probably not adaptive, however, to chronically approach the world with a hostile edge. In sum, new results on anger imply the need to expand investigations of anger and biological stress responses by looking at anger not merely as a chronic dispositional quality, but also as a situation-specific behavioral response that may be justified and even adaptive under certain circumstances.

  6. 6.

    Such heuristic processing is not always harmful, however. For example, Bless et al. (Bless et al., 1996) have shown that reliance on general knowledge structures is efficient and allows happy participants to succeed at a secondary task because they have processing resources left over.

  7. 7.

    There may be exceptions to the overall pattern of negativity in backward reflection. For example, Parrott (1993) has written about the phenomenon of “storming around.” There may be enjoyment to be gained from dwelling on how one has been wronged, but the experience is generally unpleasant.

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Acknowledgment

Grants from the National Institute of Mental Health (MH62376) and the National Science Foundation (PECASE SES0239637) supported this project. We thank the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government for administrative support. We also thank Max Bazerman for his countless acts of support.

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Correspondence to Jennifer S. Lerner .

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Litvak, P.M., Lerner, J.S., Tiedens, L.Z., Shonk, K. (2010). Fuel in the Fire: How Anger Impacts Judgment and Decision-Making. In: Potegal, M., Stemmler, G., Spielberger, C. (eds) International Handbook of Anger. Springer, New York, NY. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-0-387-89676-2_17

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