Anger is often perceived as a negative emotion that should be suppressed – but this powerful feeling could be useful in driving motivation to achieve ambitious goals, overcoming obstacles, and accomplishing difficult tasks, according to a recent American study.
Published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, this study was carried out by researchers at Texas A&M University with more than 1,000 people who took part in various experiments.
The aim was to assess the role of anger, and other emotions, in certain situations, and to determine that “anger could improve goal attainment in the presence of challenges”.
In one experiment, 233 undergraduates were randomly assigned an emotional state: anger, desire, sadness, amusement, or neutral. To elicit these emotions in the participants, the researchers showed them a series of 15 images displayed for five seconds each. Those assigned anger, for example, were shown images of insults to the university football team.
Participants were then asked to work out a series of anagrams. The results revealed that angry people solved 39% more of these than students who were feeling neutral. Overall, according to the researchers, angry people showed greater perseverance when it came to solving these puzzles.
In another experiment, participants had to achieve a high score in a skiing video game, including a difficult and an easy mode. Once again, the angry group of participants fared better than those assigned neutral or sad feelings.
“Across all the experiments, anger improved people’s ability to reach their goals compared with a neutral condition in a variety of challenging situations,” the study noted. “In some cases, it was associated with increased scores or shorter response times. In one experiment, it even increased cheating to achieve a better outcome.”
The researchers pointed out, however, that for some of the experiments, amusement and desire also enabled people to achieve their goal.
Nevertheless, “a mix of emotions, including negative emotions like anger, result in the best outcomes”, and the results “support the assertion that anger results in greater goal attainment in situations that involve challenges”, the study concluded.