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The Science of Anger


If I asked you what makes you angry, you’d probably list specific irritating things like:

  • Offensive comments
  • People refusing to follow directions
  • Dumb drivers
  • Etc.

The list of what makes people angry goes on and on, but have you ever wondered what actually makes us angry? Psychologists have discovered that there are three causes of anger:

  1. Our desires, goals or expectations are not met.
  2. We feel threatened.
  3. We’re trying to hide other emotions (men in particular will act out in anger to cover up vulnerable feelings like sadness and fear).

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Combined, these three causes account for all of our anger triggers. Understanding this is super helpful when trying to understand our anger and other people’s. All you have to do is ask, “Did one of those scenarios occur?” Once you have your answer, it become much easier to address the problem.

How Anger Affects Your Thinking

One of the first things that happens when you feel angry is that you go into the fight or flight response. If you’re a non-confrontational person or in a position, such as being at work, where you don’t feel comfortable showing anger, your instinct will tell you to get away from the source of your problem.

Otherwise, you’re going to go into the fight response which is how we typically see anger. You raise your voice, make accusations, become defensive and show negative body language. These behaviors are harmful and irrational, yet we do them anyways because when we’re angry our perception of risk and danger is lowered.

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If you think people are making excuses when they apologize and say that they didn’t mean what they said/did while angry, you should start giving them the benefit of the doubt. Research shows that when we’re angry, we lose the ability to fully see the consequences of our actions. This leads us to behave in ways we wouldn’t normally when we’re calm. Obviously circumstances, frequency and severity of angry actions play a role in how you should react, but when it comes to milder arguments, your relationships are better off if you practice forgiveness.

When anger occurs occasionally and is relatively controlled, it typically has no lasting effects. However, psychologists found that strong type A personalities who get angry quickly and fiercely suffer long-term health consequences. The constant rises in heart rate and blood pressure that accompany anger lead to an increased risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular issues.

The Surprising Benefits of Anger

We tend to think that anger is solely a terrible emotion. It frightens others, hurts relationships and damages reputations. Yet, social psychologists have discovered that there are three key benefits of anger that make it one of the greatest driving forces of accomplishment.

#1 It Makes Us Focus More on Rewards

We get angry when something isn’t going the way we wanted it to and the feeling reinforces our desire for whatever it is we’re struggling to get whether it’s a job promotion we feel like we deserve or the satisfaction of winning an argument. Psychologist Simon Laham says this is why anger is a critical part of overcoming adversity. When you’re upset because nothing is going right and you feel like the world is against you, anger is the fuel that drives you to prove everyone wrong. It’s why people feel so motivated to prove their haters wrong.

#2 When We’re Angry, We’re More Optimistic

It sounds contradictory, but being angry makes us think more positively about the future. This is because when we’re angry, we feel like we’re in control. Researchers put people in fearful and angry moods and then asked them questions about accomplishing goals. The angry participants took up the challenge because they focused on how to achieve the reward, while the fearful participants were held back by the possibility of failure.

#3 It Boosts Creativity

Next time you’re angry, invest your energy in working on a difficult task. Studies show that when you’re angry, you experience heightened energy levels and your thought process becomes more flexible, allowing you to come up with more and more original ideas than you can in your neutral state. Want to learn how emotions like sadness, surprise and disgust affect your life? Sign up for our FREE 10-day email course:

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Have you ever wanted to read minds? People’s faces reveal far more about what they’re thinking than you probably realize. When you understand facial expressions, it’s like being able to hear the thoughts behind people’s words. In this course, I will teach you everything you need to know to be able to read faces and understand people’s emotions so you’re able to communicate on a deeper, more informed level. Learn how to:

  • Understand the 7 emotions that influence our everyday lives
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  • React to emotional warning signs





About Vanessa Van Edwards

Vanessa Van Edwards is a published author and behavioral investigator. She is a Huffington Post columnist and her courses and research has been featured on CNN, Forbes, Business Week and the Wall Street Journal. As a published Penguin author, Vanessa regularly speaks and appears in the media to talk about her research. She is a sought after consultant and speaker.


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