“When anger rises, think of the consequences,” the Chinese philosopher Confucius said. Getting your angry reactions under control — whether it’s by counting to ten or walking away — can keep you out of conflicts and on an even keel.
But anger offers benefits, too. In certain situations, anger can actually spur us to succeed, a recent study finds.
To get a clearer picture of how anger can help us reach our goals, the researchers at Texas A&M University conducted a series of experiments involving more than 1,000 participants and analyzed survey data from more than 1,400 respondents.
The researchers used data from several surveys that were collected during the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections. Before the voting, survey respondents were asked to rate how angry they would be if their favored candidate did not win. Those who said they would be angry if their candidate lost were more likely to vote.
Well-managed anger can be a useful and motivating emotion. But if it bubbles up in the wrong situation or is not handled appropriately, it can be damaging to our health and relationships.
When it came to solving puzzles, as well as in other types of challenges such as video games, anger improved participants’ ability to reach their goals compared with folks who had neutral emotions.
In some cases, anger translated into higher scores or shorter response times; while in other instances, the emotion spurred some people to cheat in order to achieve a better outcome. “These findings demonstrate that anger increases effort toward attaining a desired goal frequently resulting in greater success,” lead author of the study, Heather Lench, a professor in the department of psychological and brain sciences at Texas A&M University, said in a press release.
The study also found:
- Anger helped people reach and achieve their goals when goals were more challenging — such as in more difficult video games.
- Angry people had faster reaction times when asked to press a button in response to a shape flashing up on a screen.
- When people were angry, they correctly solved 39 percent more anagrams.
- In some cases, amusement or desire were also associated with goal achievement.
So, what’s the upshot? Should we amp up our anger in order to reach our goals? According to Lench, the answer is more nuanced.
Well-managed anger can be a useful and motivating emotion, as this study shows. But if it bubbles up in the wrong situation or if it’s not handled appropriately, it can be damaging not only to our health (such as raising blood pressure) but it can damage relationships.
There are plenty of times when anger isn’t in our best interests. So what can we do to calm ourselves?
- Get some exercise, preferably in the fresh air.
- Imagine a peaceful scene where you can relax, whether that’s on seashore or walking down a country road.
- Take a few deep breaths.
- Listen to soothing music.
- Express your anger by writing it down.
- Stroke a pet.
- If your anger is out of control, seek the help of a therapist.
The study is published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.