Anger Can Increase Our Desire for Something

Anger is a complicated emotion. Based on personal experience, we all know it produces negative effects, but psychologists have found that it has some positive features as well. For one thing, anger activates an area of the brain that is associated with many positive emotions. And now, psychologists have found that anger can make us want things more than if we weren’t angry.

Normally, we’re motivated to go after things that we find rewarding or make us feel happy—in other words, things that we associate with positive emotions. To test the link between anger and motivation, the researchers asked people to watch a computer screen that displayed common objects, like a mug or pen, and before each object, a neutral, angry, or fearful face secretly flashed on the screen—subliminally linking an emotion to the object. The participants were told to squeeze a handgrip when they wanted an object and that those who squeezed harder were more likely to win it. As it turns out, people put forth more physical effort to get the objects associated with anger, though they didn’t realize it.

This response—to try to get things associated with anger rather than avoid them— “makes sense if you think about the evolution of human motivation,” says Henk Aarts of Utrecht University, who led the study. For example, in an environment where there’s a limited amount of food, he says, “if the food does not make you angry or doesn’t produce aggression in your system, you may starve and lose the battle.”

Category: Findings

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