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.

Observing anger: Does it influence one’s ability to work?

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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.

Workplace Fairness, Anger and Retaliation

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Does our perception of workplace fairness affect our performance and overall mental health on the job? That is the question Dr. Isabelle St-Pierre and Dr. Dave Holmes sought to answer in their research, published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, exploring the effects of perceived injustices in the workplace. Dr. St-Pierre, whose background is rooted in occupational health nursing, describes the motivation behind her work: “I was able to witness first hand the consequences on employees of an unhealthy work environment. For example, I was able to observe what happens when employees perceive they are not treated with respect and dignity, are not part of the decision making process and feel they are victim of injustice”.

According to Dr. St-Pierre’s article, previous research had found a link between aspects of workplace fairness, referred to as organizational justice, and other aspects of job satisfaction, citizenship behavior, and performance. Specifically, she points to the Handbook of Organizational Justice, written in 2005 by Jerrold Greenberg and colleagues, which highlights several different dimensions of organizational justice: distributive justice (a comparison an employee makes between his or her contribution to the workplace and what he or she receives in return from the workplace), procedural justice (an employee’s perceptions of fairness with regard to how decisions are made by employers), and interactional justice (the perception of the employee that he or she is being treated with respect and dignity and being provided with a rationale for how decisions are made).

That being said, just how does organizational justice affect an individual in the workplace, and in particular, what is its relationship to workplace aggression? It turns out that when employers focus on these three dimensions of organizational justice, they may reduce retaliation behavior and aggression among employees. Specifically, the authors point to various factors among nursing staff that contribute to perceived injustices in the workplace: feeling overworked or unsure about responsibilities associated with their position, limited support, limited training, having to manage employees who may display workplace aggression, and having to give negative feedback to employees.

Dr. St-Pierre says that the take-home message of her work is that “there is a strong link between the concept of justice and ethics principles. As such, licensed health care professionals bound by standards of practice and a code of ethic must uphold principles of justice, equity and respect”. On the subject of employee-manager relations, she notes that “For their part, employers must create work environments where such principles are at the core of business so that employees can practice in accordance with the requirements of their profession”.

If you have any questions for Isabelle St-Pierre, she can be reached by email at

By Katie Kordus
Katie Kordus 
is a junior Psychology and Spanish major at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.  She has a minor in Human Development and plans on attending graduate school after graduating in December 0f 2011.