Becoming angry is inevitable. It happens to everyone. However, the decisions that people make when angry often vary. While in a negative angry mood, do people have a tendency to make negative decisions? What factors go into this process? Past research has revealed that positive events are more likely to occur when positive emotions are expressed, while negative events are more likely to occur when negative emotions are expressed. However, a recent study in Emotion by Jolie Baumann and David DeSteno found that prior studies may not tell the full story.
Their study found that angry individuals make riskier decisions than those in a more neutral emotional state when they are in situations where they learn information they do not necessarily need to have or know. However, when circumstances favor the use of learned information, individuals tend to make less risky decisions. When individuals experience anger, they are more likely to take fewer risks, because their already negatively affected state of mind indicates that a negative outcome is more likely to occur.
The primary author of this study, Jolie Baumann, was compelled to complete this study when she found some inconsistencies in past literature on how anger influences risk perception. She states that the study, “demonstrates that the framing or context of a decision can influence whether anger ultimately leads a person to take greater or fewer risks.”
Although anger has a negative connotation with aggressive and impulsive behavior, this study shows that an increase in risk taking is not always associated with an angry mood. Baumann continues on to say that how anger influences decision making is a topic not very well understood. “This study was a first pass at exploring the complicated relationship between anger and risk taking, and it has really raised more questions than it has answered.”
Baumann and colleagues are excited to continue exploring questions on the topic in the future, such as, how anger influences behavior and what features of the decision are most important when determining whether anger will increase or decrease risk taking.
Over the last few days, I’ve read article after article about the tragedy in Connecticut. From the need for gun-control to the need for civility, from why gun control won’t work to why we need to do more for the mentally ill, it seems every topic has been covered. I admit, I’ve been angrier than most people over this shooting and it’s been hard to control it sometimes. I’ve been told by friends, family, and acquaintances that there is no sense blaming anyone and that it doesn’t do any good to get angry.
I’m writing this as much to process my own anger and sadness and fear as anything else. With all due respect to those who want me to stop pointing fingers, I simply don’t agree. I don’t believe this shooting, or any shooting, just happens. I think they are allowed to happen because we as a society have failed in a variety of ways to do the things that need to be done.
In the interest of full-disclosure, let me start by saying that I hate guns. I have no interest in them and no desire to own, use, or even hold one. Ultimately, the reason I hate guns is because I have no desire to kill anyone or anything. I’m certain I would if I had to in order to protect myself or my family. But if I ever did kill someone, I know I would be tortured by it forever. It would haunt me because, when all is said and done, I think killing is always bad… even when it’s justified.
Despite my hatred of guns, I don’t fault people for wanting to own a gun for defense. I think it’s usually a bad decision to own a gun (the data says they rarely save lives and increase the chances of accidental death in the home dramatically) and I would discourage my friends and family from doing so. But, ultimately, people make lots of bad decisions about safety and this is just one of them. Nor do I fault people for enjoying hunting. While I don’t see the appeal, I understand that people enjoy it as a sport the same way I enjoy certain sports.
So, to any gun owners out there who might be reading this, please don’t think I am trying to paint you all with one brush. I’m not. I know many gun owners and find them to be responsible, smart people. In fact, the gun owners I know are equally repulsed by what I’m about to describe.
There is a type of gun-owner, the gun-enthusiast, that seems different from the responsible gun owners I know. Gun-enthusiasts do not see guns as tools for hunting or protection exclusively. They see them and are attracted to them as killing machines. They think guns are cool and they think that the bigger the gun in their hand, the tougher they are. They are the ones who have bumper stickers that read, “Don’t mess with the 2nd Amendment and I won’t be forced to exercise it” or signs up in their yard that read, “Trespassers will be shot. Survivors will be shot again.” More to the point, they are the people who created, sold, and/or bought the gun range targets designed to look like Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old, unarmed, boy who was killed by George Zimmerman in February, 2012 (these targets sold out before anyone had a chance to complain about them).
I like to cling to the idea that the people I’m talking about are rare. I’m not so sure, though. In trying to get a better sense of what gun-enthusiasts are like, I visited the website of Guns and Ammo, the self-proclaimed, “World’s Most Widely Read Firearms Magazine.” Quite honestly, the things I saw and read there are more than a little upsetting.
The first thing I saw on their website was the article, “Gift Guide for the Tactical Guy,” featuring a photo of Santa, in dark sunglasses, holding a rifle. Incidentally, it’s actually one of two photos of Santa holding a gun on their homepage. The other is for a caption contest and shows Santa in what looks like a war zone, firing a large gun. If you click on the link, you will find hundreds of submissions to the contest, including the following:
- Instead of coal, you get lead
- Delivering gifts in Afghanistan....
- We wish you a merry Christmas to you and your kind
- Merry CHRISTmas--taliban--These ROUNDS are on me..gifts delivered!!
- Naughty, Nice, Expendable....its all good!!
- If you're against Christians you're against me. If you're against me I'm against you. Since I have a bigger better rifle and more ammo, I'll win. Too late, you loose.
- Ho Ho Holy War.
This is exactly what I mean when I talk about people finding joy in the idea of killing.
I went back to read the article about gifts for tactical guys where my first question was, of course, “what’s a tactical guy?” I know what it means to be tactical and think of myself as tactical about a great many things (the use of words, for example) but I don’t think that’s what they were referring to. A quick glimpse at the gift guide reveals that, to them, a tactical guy is someone who is prepared to kill at a moment’s notice. A tactical guy carries an assault rifle or automatic pistol whenever they leave the house. A tactical guy carries a tactical tomahawk that is “built to pound” and is perfect for “breaching operations.” Finally, a tactical guy also has dress pants specially designed to conceal weapons for a night on the town.
And this isn’t all. I found articles explaining why assault rifles are better for home defense than you might think, on what the media doesn’t understand about guns (full of unverified claims), and even an article on what your assault rifle says about you. But what was most revealing to me was what I found in the discussion forums. The good news is that most of the people who posted seemed relatively responsible, though a little paranoid. They discuss things like strategies for using ATM machines late at night, the best types of holsters, and gun-related current events. Though I disagree vehemently with the politics, most of it was pretty similar to what you find on any political thread on any Facebook page or discussion forum.
Scattered within these relatively reasonable posts, however, were hauntingly upsetting comments about killing. In response to this story about a recent shooting in Minnesota, one person wrote that no good deed goes unpunished and how unfair it was that the shooter would be punished after doing the cops a favor by taking out two criminals. Later, regarding a law he/she opposed, one person made reference to lynching the politicians who passed it. Finally, in response to President Obama’s speech at the vigil in Newtown, one person wrote, “Why don't idiots with guns ever target some of the gun grabbers? 20-something innocent kids die, and at least that many worthless congress-critters live on to trample on our rights. There's something way wrong with that picture!”
To this person, the tragedy wasn’t that 27 people were killed, it’s that the wrong 27 people were killed.
As I was writing this, a friend alerted me to the story on NPR about the AR-15, the gun used by the shooter in Connecticut. Melissa Block interviewed gun expert, Malcolm Brady, who described the gun as “cool” several times, even referring to it as “the Rambo effect.” When pressed about his description of it as cool, he couldn’t really answer other than to say that some may be reliving their days in the military. Later in the interview, he estimated that sales of this gun will go up in response to this tragedy. Again, when pressed, he couldn’t really give a clear answer other than to say that “the people who will be buying them will be buying them in the premise that I can prevent that same thing happening at my house or my business or my location.”
But I think the real answer is something he already said several times. I think the reason sales are going to go up is largely because some people think this gun is cool and will make them tough. They don’t think of it as a tool. They think of it as accessory. They want to be like Rambo and on some level they hope they get a chance to use it. The question that needs an answer is the one Melissa Block asked but didn’t get a real answer to:
“I have to ask you, Mr. Brady, you’re talking about the coolness of a weapon that was just used to mow down 20 children?”
By Ryan Martin
While psychologists cannot prove that viewing violent media causes violent behavior, there is a body of evidence that suggests a relationship between viewing violent media and aggressive behaviors. This research, while important, does not cover the multitude of ways that someone can witness violence. There are thousands of children who witness or are victims of violence in their home or neighborhood. In fact, a 2009 study of over 4,500 adolescents in Pediatrics revealed that over 60% had been exposed to violence within the past year as either a victim or a witness. These circumstances can contribute to the cycle in which the victim of violence becomes the producer of violence. More recently, Dr. Eva Kimonis examined the relationship between anger, exposure to violence, and the likelihood of perpetrating violent crimes.
The 2011 study, in Child and Youth Care, explored a sample of male juvenile offenders between 14 and 17 years old to examine a possible link between anger and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms and its relation to violence perpetration. Participants’ level of violence exposure, anger, PTSD symptomology, and violence perpetration both prior to and while inside the facility was assessed. Anger was found to mediate violence perpetration but PTSD symptomology did not show this same correlation.
According to Dr. Kimonis, “violence exposure can result in problematic outcomes” such as PTSD and anger. Her research focused on juvenile offenders because “they have extremely high rates of violence exposure.” She also states that this exposure, if severe enough, can lead to changes in the brain in areas that respond to threats and stressors. As a result, children that are exposed to large amounts of violence respond stronger and in more aggressive ways than children who are not exposed to violence.
Dr. Kimonis’ research has shown that anger can, at least partially, provide a link between being a victim of violence and committing violent acts. It is important to realize that this study was correlational, so we cannot conclude that being a victim or witnessing victimization causes any one person to victimize others. However, it is important to note that we can try to identify those individuals who are at risk for becoming violent offenders or those who are already violent offenders.
Dr. Kimonis’ research seeks to “understand why adolescents act violently. Gaining this knowledge can be helpful to developing prevention and treatment programs to intervene with violent youth or youth at risk for violence.” Early intervention in young children may be able to save countless lives from violent crimes. If problem behaviors are addressed early, interventions can be implemented before more severe problem behaviors arise.
By Sarah Bohman
Sarah is a senior with a major in Psychology and a minor in Human Development at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. After graduation, she plans on attending graduate school to earn a PhD in Clinical Psychology after graduating.
Do Violent Offenders Simply Lack the Capacity for Empathy? New Research Suggests it’s Not that Simple
If the ability to empathize with another plays an important role in regulating and controlling one’s anger, empathy could ultimately be the key to avoiding violence in certain situations. Thus, it is easy to surmise that aggressive individuals or violent offenders must not be able to empathize in the way others are able.
In a recent study in the International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, author Dr. Andrew Day investigated this very question by examining the presence of perspective-taking abilities in violent prisoners and comparing them to a student sample with regard to anger and aggression. Perspective taking refers to the ability of one to relate to others and perceive their thoughts or feelings or to see something from another’s point of view. What Dr. Day and his colleagues found was that the ability to perspective-take did act as an inhibitor of angry or aggressive behavior. However, Dr. Day claims, “there was no evidence to suggest that the relationship was any stronger for violent offenders than for students.” He advises, “it would be wrong to assume that violent offenders lack the ability to empathize, rather that careful assessment of the situations and circumstances when they choose to… is important.”
With an increasing abundance of exposure to criminal behavior—both fictional and non-fictional—particularly through media, it is easy to make assumptions about the perpetrators involved and deny any similarities that they may have to you; no one wants to believe that they could actually share similar characteristics with a violent offender, especially in terms of what often makes a criminal violent: his or her anger. Nonetheless, Dr. Day proposes, “this study shows that in many ways violent offenders may be more similar to other people than the stereotype suggests, especially in relation to their ability to empathize and the types of thing that makes them angry. However, it is likely that once aroused they have much less ability to regulate both their emotion and their behavior.” This is an important piece of information when considering different types of treatment or rehabilitation strategies for violent offenders as well as when considering the stereotypes we place on such individuals. It is not necessarily their ability—or lack-there-of—to empathize that must be contemplated; rather, as Dr. Day puts it, “there is a need to understand how the relationship between anger and empathy works for each individual.”
By Lauren Vieaux
Lauren is a junior Psychology and Human Development major with a minor in Women and Gender Studies at the University of Wisconsin- Green Bay. She plans on attending graduate school to earn a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology.
Take a minute and recall a time when you saw a customer being cruel towards one of your colleagues. It doesn't take long to recall that moment does it? Did you ever think about how that observation affected your ability to work? Current research has looked at how observing other people’s anger affects one's own ability to complete complex and creative problems. Specifically Dr. Ella Miron-Spektor and her team completed a study where they analyzed people's ability to do complex problems that involved routine actions verses their ability to complete more creative problem solving that did not involve a routine solution. So, as an employee observing someone else's anger, do you think you would be able to complete a new task or an old task that was familiar to you?
Miron-Spektor and her team decided to do this study because "most research on anger examined the effect of experienced anger (what happens to me when I feel angry). In this research we wanted to understand the effects of observing others’ anger (what happens to me when I observe anger expressions of others)." According to Miron-Spektor and her research team, displays of anger can have both positive and negative effects on people. For example, they found that those who are working on redundant tasks and who observe anger are more likely to work harder and actually increase their work effort, whereas those working to solve more creative problems were negatively affected by observing anger. In fact, those creative problems were unlikely to be completed at all when the individual observed anger.
Miron-Spektor and her team were not only interested in people observing anger, but they were also interested in learning the influence of sarcasm on people's work abilities. Now, take a minute and think back to when you were at work and you overheard a customer's sarcastic remark to one of your colleagues. Perhaps the customer said " wow, what great service this is” or something similar. How do you think that influenced your ability to work? Do you see this type of anger to be more positive or negative? In Miron-Spektor’s study, they found that people view sarcasm as a more positive way to express anger. Thus, observing sarcasm actually has been shown to improve one's ability to solve creative problems.
Miron-Spektor believes that her "research shows that the effects of anger are much broader than originally thought. People who merely hear someone displaying anger without being the actual target are shown by our analyses to be influenced by the anger displays." Miron-Spektor’s research has shown that people who observe anger are more likely to improve on their work when their work is a routine task versus a creative task. Miron-Spektor also says "the popular conception is limited because anger seems to get people going only in simple, well-known, and uncreative routes. However, with some irony and humor, an anger-evoking situation can improve performance even if the problem at hand is complex."
Now, think about a time when you were a customer and you were angry with the store workers, did you yell at them? If so, the next time you are an angry customer remember that the way you express your anger does in fact influence the employees work ability. Perhaps you will decide not to yell at or insult someone and instead bring some humor into the conversation.
By Rebecca Arrowood
Rebecca is a senior Psychology major and Human Development minor at the University of Wisconsin- Green Bay. She plans on attending graduate school to earn a Masters in Counseling Psychology next fall.