Anger is one of our central emotions, but it is also one of the most troubling.
We know that anger can cause a great deal of emotional upheaval for ourselves, but we also know that anger has the potential to lead people into violence or hatred. It is because anger is simultaneously so central and so problematic that it deserves some attention. Perhaps it is for that exact reason that NPR ran a series investigating the role of anger in our emotions.
There is no room to discuss each of these, but we’ll draw your attention to “Anger Can Be Contagious”, “Searching for Anger’s Animal Roots”, and “If You’re Often Angry or Irritable, You May Be Depressed.”
In the first case, we have previously written on the process of emotional contagion, but the role of anger is certainly worth emphasizing on its own. This first interview points out how easy it is for emotions to influence other people, but Dr. Jeff Hancock of Stanford University emphasized that emotions like anger are even more contagious than positive ones.
While analyzing communication on Facebook, Dr. Hancock found that when friends tend to make emotionally loaded posts, they will result in increased emotional posts for various members of their friend group. This was even more evident for sadness and anger.
This interview focuses primarily on the spread of emotions on social media, but we already know that interpersonal interaction, or even just seeing somebody’s face, can have similar effects.
Second, NPR dives into the evolutionary history of anger. This expands on our previous writings on the role of evolution in developing our basic emotions, but it takes a different angle.
Specifically, Dr. David Anderson from Caltech discusses the challenges in studying emotion in animals, namely the fact that it is hard to identify. Instead, Dr. Anderson looks at hormone levels, heart rate, and brain activity to explain how animals experience anger.
He finds that anger is often triggered when an animal is under attack, and that the physiological markers of anger are very similar across species. This can be triggered when various animals see their fellow species in violent conflict, for instance.
The third interview emphasizes the connections between central emotions, namely anger and sadness. While most people think those are pretty distinct, that may not be the case. This interview discusses how common it is for people who suffer from depression to mistake those symptoms for anger, or to experience sharp surges of anger or outbursts.
Dr. Maurizio Fava from the Harvard Medical School elaborates, pointing out that irritability and a lack of control over the temper are common symptoms of depression. These outbursts often lead to remorse and deepened feelings of anger.
Hopefully, we have shown how important the subject of anger is and motivated you to check out the full interview series!