Context Explains Divergent Effects of Anger on Risk Taking

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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.