LONDON — Getting angry could help you achieve your goals, new research suggests.
Often perceived as a negative emotion, anger can actually be a powerful motivator for people to meet challenging targets in their lives.
It is useful in achieving more challenging goals, but does not appear to be linked to easier tasks, the study suggests.
The findings suggest emotions that are often considered negative, such as anger, boredom or sadness, can be useful.
Lead author Heather Lench, a professor in the department of psychological and brain sciences at Texas A and M University, USA, said: “People often believe that a state of happiness is ideal, and the majority of people consider the pursuit of happiness a major life goal.
“The view that positive emotion is ideal for mental health and wellbeing has been prominent in lay and psychological accounts of emotion, but previous research suggests that a mix of emotions, including negative emotions like anger, result in the best outcomes.”
She added that the functionalist theory of emotion suggests that all emotions, good or bad, are reactions to events within a person’s environment and serve the purpose of alerting that person to important situations that require actions.
In the study researchers conducted experiments involving more than 1,000 people, and analysed survey data from more than 1,400 respondents.
In each experiment, the study elicited either an emotional response – such as anger, amusement, desire or sadness – or a neutral emotional state, before presenting the group with a challenging goal.
One experiment involved people being shown visuals designed to elicit specific emotional or neutral responses and then asked to solve a series of word puzzles.
In another, the goal was to get high scores on a skiing video game, with one game that involved challenging play – avoiding flags on a slalom course – and one easier game that involved only a jump.
The researchers found that across all games anger improved people’s ability to reach their goals compared with a neutral condition in a variety of challenging situations.
In some the emotion was associated with increased scores or shorter response times.
In one experiment, anger also increased cheating so that a better outcome could be achieved.
Data from a series of surveys collected during the 2016 and 2020 US presidential elections was also analysed.
Before the elections, people were asked to rate how angry they would be if their favourite candidate did not win.
After the elections, they reported if they voted and who they voted for.
People who indicated they would be angry if their candidate did not win were more likely to vote, but anger had no effect on which candidate they voted for.
Dr Lench said: “These findings demonstrate that anger increases effort toward attaining a desired goal, frequently resulting in greater success.”
She added that the effects of anger in spurring people to reach for and frequently achieve their goals were specific to situations where the goals were more challenging.
Anger did not appear to be associated with reaching goals when the goals were easier, such as in the ski-jump video game.
Dr Lench also noted that while anger was associated with increased success across the board, in some cases, amusement or desire were also associated with increased goal attainment.
She concluded: “People often prefer to use positive emotions as tools more than negative and tend to see negative emotions as undesirable and maladaptive.
“Our research adds to the growing evidence that a mix of positive and negative emotions promotes well-being, and that using negative emotions as tools can be particularly effective in some situations.”