Chapter 9: Anger

Defining Anger

Anger definitions vary. Berkowitz and Harmon-Jones (2004) define anger as a “syndrome of relatively specific feelings, cognitions and physiological reactions linked associatively with an urge to injure some target” (p. 108). Shiota and Kalat (2012) define anger as “the emotional state associated with feeling injured or offended, with a desire to threaten or hurt the person who offended you” (p. 176). Both these definitions highlight that anger causes approach behavior – approaching either the person who hurt us or any nearby target. Shiota an Kalat (2012) further highlight that one cognitive appraisal is the perception of someone offending us. Anger represents the emotion and aggression is the term used to discuss the behavior change that occurs from anger. In empirical studies, sometimes aggression is measured in lieu of the emotion anger.

Anger can be divided into types of anger. The first categorization of anger is based on the goal or purpose of the anger. In hostile aggression, the goal is to cause physical or psychological pain to another person. Hostile aggression is caused by our perceptions that someone or something has blocked our goals, threatened us, or shows hostility toward us. Sometimes hostile aggression is called reactive anger or hot anger because we are aggressing in response to some threat. In instrumental aggression, the goal of the aggressor is to obtain some reward or resource, but not to hurt or harm someone. The reward could be winning a game, increasing social status, or obtaining money. Instrumental aggression is sometimes called proactive or cold anger because this aggression is in response to well thought-out plan that will achieve the goal. In addition, instrumental aggression is not accompanied by physiological arousal, as seen in hostile aggression. It is important to note that injury to another person could occur during instrumental aggression, even though the goal was not to harm another person. For instance, during a football game the goal is to win. Thus, most football players are engaging in instrumental aggression, even though during the game the other team could still be injured. Typically, in anger emotion studies, hostile aggression is viewed as the behavior change that results from an anger emotion.

Another way to categorize aggression is based on the type of harm that is caused to the target individual. Physical aggression is when physical harm or discomfort results from the anger, whereas relational aggression is when harm to a person’s social standing or relationships occur. Examples of relational aggression include ostracism, gossip, manipulation, and verbal (insulting, name calling) or nonverbal behaviors (rolling eyes, sighing). Both physical and relational aggression could be considered behavior changes that result from an anger emotion. Physical aggression is also called overt or direct aggression, whereas relational aggression is sometimes called social, covert, or indirect aggression.

Combining these two categorizations together means every aggressive behavior can be classified as instrumental or hostile AND as physical or relational. For instance, someone could engage in gossip (a form of relational aggression) for proactive (obtaining higher social status) or reactive reasons (to hurt another person’s self-esteem).

In the following sections, we will break down the emotion components of anger.

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Psychology of Human Emotion. by Michelle Yarwood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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