Motivation and emotion/Book/2011/Anger

Understanding and managing anger

Overview edit

Core emotions such as Anger produce universal facial expressions and are easily recognised across cultures (Ekman, 1992a: cited in Fox, 2008).

We have all seen and experienced the effects of anger at some point in our lives, We have all been angry at others, ourselves, or had people angry at us. At times, we may have felt driven or empowered by our anger (Berkowitz & Harmon-Jones, 2004); conversely it may have led to consequences that later made us feel regretful, embarrassed or despondent. Anger is a powerful emotion often associated with fury, conflict and aggression and being on the receiving end of it at times can be confronting and frightening. For these reasons, anger is often seen as a “negative emotion”, however this is an over simplification (Izard, 1982), as anger is an essential emotion for dealing with physical and social changes in our environment (Keltner & Gross, 1999), such as potential threats (Reeve, 2009), and can be a useful drive for enforcing social norms and for informing people when their behaviour is not okay (Reeve, 2009; Wright, Day & Howells, 2009).

With that said, anger can also be problematic when it is poorly or not managed (Kassinove & Tafrate, 2002; Wright, Day & Howells, 2009) and in such circumstances, it is a contributor to physical health problems such as coronary heart disease (Glazer, Ruiz & Gallo, 2004) and high blood pressure (Everson, 1998), as well as social problems such as aggression (Cornell, Peterson & Richards, 1999), family violence (Wolf and Vangie, 2003), violent crime (Smith & Thomas, 2000)and substance abuse (Eftekhari, Turner & Larimer, 2004).

Focus edit

It will be the focus of this textbook chapter to discuss some psychological theories as to the cause of anger, the effects anger causes on the body, ways in which we can measure and understand anger, and finally, discuss techniques in which anger can be managed based on psychological research.


Definitions edit

Aggression: Aggression is a motor behaviour that is expressed as a physical action intended to hurt or harm another person, or to destroy a property (Kassinove & Tafrate, 2002).

Anger: An emotion usually triggered in response to situations that are perceived as threatening, harmful, unjust (Keltner & Gross, 1999) or an obstacle (Reeve, 2009), eliciting behaviours that are seen as destructive such as biting or hitting (Reeve,2009).

Cortisol: is an adrenal hormone produced in response to stress (Elseiver, 2005).

Rumination: is denoted by uncontrollable repetitive thoughts in regards to a distressing occurrence (Denson, Fabiansson, Creswell & Pedersen, 2009).

Self-focused rumination: is when the result of a distressing situation gets an individual to focus inwards, and evaluate their current situation with their personal standards, when a discrepancy arises and the individual is unable to reduce it, it results in negative feelings (Denson, Fabiansson, Creswell & Pedersen, 2009).

Provocation-focused rumination: occurs when an individual repeats an anger inducing incident in their mind, focusing on the angry feelings from the event with thoughts of revenge (Denson, Fabiansson, Creswell & Pedersen, 2009).


Why we get angry - Theory meets science edit

Like many things, it is difficult to understand something complex by looking at it on a single level, the cause of Anger, its effects on the body and its expression is no different. Many theories on the causes of Emotions such as anger, and the stages in which it occurs exist. These theories can be better understood by dividing them into two types: these are Cognitive explanations, which state that cognition is the first step to experiencing emotion and Biological explanations which dictate that biology occurs before Cognition.

It will be the focus of this part of the textbook chapter to explain broadly a few of these different theories and the criticisms associated with them. These explanations will be used to provide you with an understanding of the different ways we can experience Anger so that later in the chapter we can build on these theories to provide useful techniques in its management.

Biological explanations edit

With the biological explanation for emotions, it is claimed that the physiological effects of an emotion are experienced before cognition. One example of a biological theory for emotion is Facial Feedback Hypothesis.

Facial Feedback Hypothesis edit

Facial Feedback Hypothesis can be understood in four steps:

  1. The effects of emotions are first started by movements of the facial musculature. In the case of anger three key muscles areas of the face are used. These are: the Corrugator (draw eyebrows in and down), Orbicularis Oculi (tensing lower eyelids upward) and the Orbicularis Oris (pressing lips firmly together) (Reeve, 2009).
  2. This expression of anger then results in increased skin temperature (Martin, Stepper & Strack, 1988; Reeve, 2009).
  3. And activity in the glands follow (Reeve, 2009). In the case of anger higher levels of cortisol may result (Denson, Fabiansson, Creswell & Pedersen, 2009) from production of the adrenal gland (Elseiver, 2005).
  4. Finally it is hypothesised by FFH that we become aware of our facial expression which results in us feeling we are experiencing a current emotion (Reeve, 2009).

Criticisms edit

  1. Facial Feedback Hypothesis experimental procedures tend not to discriminate between physiological and cognitive feedback mechanisms. Meaning it is unclear whether or not facial expressions result in cognitions that influence physiological activity or if facial expressions directly result in physiological activity followed by cognition (Martin, Stepper & Strack, 1988).
  2. Tends to rely on self-report measures where it is common for participants to recognise facial expressions they are told to display, potentially biasing their reports (Izard, 1981; Martin, Stepper & Strack, 1988).

Role of the Autonomic Nervous System edit

Some theorists believe that the Autonomic Nervous System may play a role in triggering emotions in response to environmental events that pose a threat to a person or organism (Levenson, 1988). The Autonomic Nervous System, responsible for the monitoring and functioning of circulation, respiration, digestion, metabolism, secretions, body temperature and reproduction (Lundy-Ekman, p.169, 2007), has been thought to have distinctive patterns of activity associated with certain emotions considered beneficial for survival (Levenson, 1988; Reeve, 2009; Sinha, 1996).

The Autonomic Nervous System:
Blue = parasympathetic
Red = sympathetic.

Recent research suggests this may be the case for certain core emotions such as fear, disgust, sadness and anger (Reeve, 2009), though not all emotions have such distinctive ANS activity. In the case of anger eliciting situations or events, heart rate is recorded to significantly increase (Sinha, 1996) as well as systolic blood pressure (Sinha, 1996). It is hypothesised that this increase in blood pressure boosts isometric muscle strength and the accuracy of sensory intake which in turn helps prepare the body for physical altercation (Schwartz, 1981 cited in: Sinha, 1996).

Criticisms: edit

  1. Isolating specific emotions by monitoring ANS activity is difficult as Emotions are short-lived lasting only seconds (Ekman, 1984 cited in: Levenson, 1992).
  2. This is further made more difficult by trying to pin-point specific ANS activity patterns amongst other processes regulated by the ANS such as homeostasis and metabolic demands (Levenson, 1992).

Cognitive Explanations edit

Appraisal Theory is used to explain emotions that may occur due to cognitions. Appraisals are a form of judgment made in regards to a situation or event that occurs, this event may be seen as either 'good' or 'bad'. In order for a judgment to be formed the event must have some sort of significance to the individual, such as implications for their well-being (Reeve, 2009).

According to Reeve (2009) cognitive emotion theorist agree that:

  1. In order for an appraisal to occur it relies on an antecedent to occur.
  2. And that the appraisal itself creates the emotion not the event.

Example of an Appraisal: A co-worker has accused you of using a mobile phone during work hours. Your boss has already made it clear to all employees that this interferes with your job role and therefore is not allowed. You are shocked to receive an email from your boss warning you that if you continue to use your phone during office hours you will have to find a new job.

Upon receiving the email the following happens:

  1. The situation is seen as significant to your well-being.
  2. You automatically judge the situation to be bad or disliked.
  3. Physiological changes may then occur after these cognitions such as the adrenal gland producing cortisol (Denson, Fabiansson, Creswell and Pedersen, 2009).

Measuring problematic anger edit

Unlike anxiety and depression disorders, Anger related problems are under-researched and under-defined (DiGiuseppe & Tafrate, 2003), this makes it difficult to diagnose problematic anger, as it may take on many forms. Nevertheless, the purpose of this part of the textbook chapter will be to give a brief summary of the ways in which anger can be measured, in order to help you become more aware of your anger and to judge yourself, whether or not your anger is problematic.

Duration and rumination edit

Rumination is characterised by uncontrollable repetitive thoughts towards a distressing event or situation (Denson, Fabiansson, Creswell & Pedersen, 2009) and is considered a form of coping style which serves to increase the length (or duration) of time in which we experience Anger (Denson, Fabiansson, Creswell & Pedersen, 2009).

Anger rumination can be understood by looking at the focus of Anger. As Denson, Fabiansson, Creswell & Pedersen (2009) see it, two potential such focuses exist, these are Self-focused rumination and 'Provocation-focused rumination'.

Self-focused rumination is described to occur when an a distressing situation gets an individual to turn their anger inwards and focus on the self, which in turn is thought to increase self-awareness. It is hypothesised by self-awareness theory, that this causes individuals to initiate a process where they compare their current state with their personal standards (Denson, Fabiansson, Creswell & Pedersen, 2009). When an inconsistency arises and the individual is unable to reduce it, this results in negative feelings and thoughts (Denson, Fabiansson, Creswell & Pedersen, 2009).

On the other hand, people may also ruminate Angry thoughts towards events or people that have made them angry, this is know as Provocation-focused rumination and is usually accompanied by thoughts of blame towards those that are seen to have made us angry (Denson, Fabiansson, Creswell & Pedersen, 2009).

Think about it edit

Have you ever felt angry at a person, situation or event long after it has occurred? Did you fuss over it, re-living the circumstances that made you angry, only to find that you couldn't let it go. If so, you may have ruminating.


Findings of Anger Rumination edit

In a study by Denson, Fabiansson, Creswell and Pedersen (2009) those who used Self-focused rumination as style of coping where found to have higher cortisol levels (a hormone typically linked to stress (Elseiver, 2005)) at the end of the study than those who where told to perform distracting tasks after being provoked. It was also found that those in the Provactation-focused rumination condition had higher levels than those in the distraction condition, however this seemed to be dependent on the processing style of the individuals.

At the end of the provocation stage of the experiment, participants in where told to write an essay where their attention was either directed to the experimenter who had provoked them (Provocation-focused rumination condition)or towards how they felt they had gone in the test (Self-focused rumination condition). Those in the distraction condition where told to visualise and write about their post office. All essays where then appropriately analysed.

It was found that those in the Provocation-focused condition did not all have higher cortisol levels than those in the distraction condition. The discrepancy found in the participants of the Provocation-focused condition was attributed to the processing style of the individuals in writing the essay. Analysis on the essays revealed that those who used more distanced descriptions of the experimenter and the process involved where found to have similar cortisol levels to those in the distraction condition, whereas those who were more emotionally reactive in the provocation-focused condition had higher levels of cortisol.

Implications of Rumination research edit

The experiment by Denson, Fabiansson, Creswell and Pedersen (2009) indicates the following:

  1. Self-focused rumination can lead to higher levels of cortisol.
  2. Provocation-focused rumination can also lead to higher levels of cortisol, but this can very depending on the level of which we distance ourselves to a situation that has provoked us. More distanced accounts of the Provocation-focused rumination condition indicate that cortisol levels are lower in these participants when compared to their counterparts in the same condition.
  3. Pre-occupying ourselves with other tasks, rather than ruminating may decrease cortisol levels and subsequently stress experienced.
  4. This study indicates that cognitions can affect the duration in which we experience Anger and more directly the bodies physiology.

Frequency edit

In understanding Anger it is also important to understand how frequently Anger occurs. Whilst some people may experience Anger quite frequently, in many different situations and circumstances, others will not (Kassinove & Tafrate, 2002).

One way to understand the frequency in which Anger occurs is to look for common situations or factors that occur when we get Angry. These common influences are typically called 'Triggers' (Kassinove & Tafrate, 2002).

Intensity and disproportion edit

In order to understand problematic Anger it is important to measure the intensity of Anger. The intensity of Anger can be measured as mild to strong (Kassinove & Tafrate, 2002), and depend on several factors.

Those who experience strong intense levels of Anger may do so due to distorting cognitions. For example they may personalise feedback to see it in a perspective that serves to invigorate that Anger (Kassinove & Tafrate, 2002). For this reason, it is important to become aware of thoughts and cognitions that may increase levels of anger. This will be covered in the textbook chapter under Cognitive Behaviour Therapy.

Dealing with anger edit

The Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Approach edit

The aim of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is to provide people with both Cognitive and Behavioural Strategies to deal with maladaptive thinking and behaviours . This approach has been especially successful with Anger problems (Beck & Fernandez, 1998; DiGiuseppe, Tafrate, 2003), with some researchers arguing that the rates of success are higher than those seen in depression (Beck & Fernandez, 1998). Cognitive behavioural therapy uses a variety of methods to deal with problematic behaviours such as relaxation techniques, cognitive re-structuring, problem-solving and stress inoculation, using principles of learning theory and information processing to achieve its means (Beck & Fernandez, 1998).

One particular form of CBT that has been particularly successful with anger is that of Stress Inoculation Training (SIT) (Beck & Fernandez, 1998). This platform originally developed for anxiety uses three phases to deal with problematic behaviours (Meichenbaum, 1975 as cited in: Beck & Fernandez, 1998). These phases are cognitive preparation, skill acquisition and application training (Beck & Fernandez, 1998). It will therefore be the purpose of this part of the textbook chapter to give a brief overview of these phases and draw on the research covered to give it an application to problematic Anger.

Cognitive Preparation edit

  1. One of the first steps needed in order to manager our Anger is to think about situations or circumstances that make you angry (Beck & Fernandez,1998) This is known as looking for 'triggers'.
  2. Following this it is important to re-frame the situation, which can be done using self-statements. For example: "By getting angry at this situation I will only lose any possible benefits", "Relax, don't take it so personally" (Beck & Fernandez,1998), "I can handle this" (Beck & Fernandez,1998).

Skill Acquisition edit

According to Beck & Fernandez (1998) in the skill acquisition stage people can be taught relaxation skills which in turn can then be coupled with their self statements.

  1. One way of dealing with the situation might be to distance yourself from it, this could be done by watching the exchange that made you angry from third person, and help to see the situation from another perspective (Denson, Fabiansson, Creswell & Pedersen, 2009).
  2. If the situation continue to anger you, due to rumination, involving yourself in another task may help to cut off the effects of rumination (Denson, Fabiansson, Creswell & Pedersen, 2009).

Application Training edit

In this final stage, the new skills acquired from the two initial stages are tested by exposing individuals to their anger triggers through role-play (Beck & Fernandez,1998).

Quiz edit

This section will offer a quick quiz in order to aid recall and retainment of chapter information on Anger.


1 A few hours ago, a co-worker of yours implied in a condescending manner that you were stupid due to some grammatical mistakes you made in a report you had written. You've just spent the past few hours annoyed at yourself, thinking that 'it must be true'. What would be the psychological term used for this sort of rumination?

Self-focused rumination.
Inner-focused rumination.
Outward-focused rumination.
Provocation-focused rumination.

2 Facial Feedback Hypothesis is said to begin as a result of?

Activation of the Autonomic Nervous System in response to an evironmental event deemed 'threatning'.
Cognitions followed by physiology.
Movement of the facial musculutatre, which is then said to trigger changes in skin temperature and cause stimulation of the glands.
Cognitive judements which asses a situation as 'good' or 'bad'.

3 How do Anger and Aggression differ? (2 Answers)

They are exactly the same thing, any difference is arbitrary.
Aggression is an Emotion whilst Anger is a behaviour.
Aggression is characterised as a motor response with the intent to harm whereas Anger is not.
Anger is an Emotion whereas Aggression is not.

4 In what two ways previously discussed is reducing severe Anger important? (2 Answers)

Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.
Angry people are less likely to make friends.
Reducing Anger can reduce negative health outcomes such as heart disease.
Anger can lead to social problems such as family violence and substance abuse.

5 What is the cognitive theory of Emotion in regards to Anger mentioned in the above text?

Self Determination Theory.
Appraisal Theory.
Facial Feedback Hypothesis.
Social Learning Theory.

6 Provaction-focused Rumination is typically said to be directed at?

The Self.
Both at yourself and another.
A person who you beleive to be the cause of your Anger.
Anger at inanimate objects.

See also edit

These links redirect to sites within the Motivation and Emotion book or within Wikipedia which are relevant to the content on this page.

References edit

Beck, R., & Fernandez, E. (1998). Cognitive-behavioural therapy in the treatment of anger: A meta-analysis. Cognitive Therapy and Research, (1), 63-74.

Berkowitz, L., & Harmon-Jones, E. (2004). Toward an understanding of the determinants of anger. Emotion, 4(2), 107-130. doi:10.1037/1528-3542.4.2.107

Cornell, D. G., Peterson, C. S., & Richards, H. (1999). Anger as a predictor of aggression among incarcerated adolescents. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 67(1), 108-115. doi:10.1037/0022-006X.67.1.108

Del Vecchio, T., & O'Leary, K. D. (2004). Effectiveness of anger treatments for specific anger problems: A meta-analytic review. Clinical Psychology Review, 24(1), 15-34. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2003.09.006

Denson, ThomasFabiansson, EmmaCreswell,J.Pedersen, William. (2009). Experimental effects of rumination styles on salivary cortisol responses. Motivation & Emotion, 33(1), 42-48. doi:10.1007/s11031-008-9114-0

DiGiuseppe, R., & Tafrate, R. C. (2003). Anger treatment for adults: A meta-analytic review. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10(1), 70-84. doi:10.1093/clipsy.10.1.70

Eftekhari, A., Turner, A. P., & Larimer, M. E. (2004). Anger expression, coping, and substance use in adolescent offenders. Addictive Behaviors, 29(5), 1001-1008. doi:10.1016/j.addbeh.2004.02.050

Elsevier. (2005). Retrieved November 09, 2001 from

Everson, S. A. (1998). Anger expression and incident hypertension. Psychosomatic Medicine, 60(6), 730.

Keltner, D & Gross, J. (1999). Functional Accounts of Emotions. Cognition and Emotion, 5(13), 467-580.

Lundy-Ekman, L. (2007). Neuroscience Fundamentals for Rehabilitation. Hillsboro, Oregon: Saunders.

Levenson, R. W. (1992). Autonomic nervous systems differences among emotions. Psychological Science (Wiley-Blackwell), 3(1), 23-27. Retrieved from

Martin, L., Stepper, S., & Strack, F. (1988). Inhibiting and facilitating conditions of the human smile: A nonobtrusive test of the facial feedback hypothesis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54(5), 768-777.

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

Smith, H.,Sandra P. (2000). Violent and nonviolent girls: Contrasting perceptions of anger experiences, school, and relationships. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 21(5), 547-575. doi:10.1080/01612840050044285

Smith, Timothy W.Glazer, KellyRuiz, John M.Gallo,Linda C. (2004). Hostility, anger, aggressiveness, and coronary heart disease: An interpersonal perspective on personality, emotion, and health. Journal of Personality, 72(6), 1217-1270. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.2004.00296.x

Wolf, K. A. F.,Vangie A. (2003). Family violence, anger expression styles, and adolescent dating violence. Journal of Family Violence, 18(6), 309-316. Retrieved from

External links edit