The experiments suggest people who are angry perform better on a set of challenging tasks than those who are emotionally neutral.
“These findings demonstrate that anger increases effort toward attaining a desired goal, frequently resulting in greater success,” said Dr Heather Lench, the first author of the study.
The study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, details how researchers at Texas A&M University conducted experiments involving more than 1,000 people, and analysed survey data from more than 1,400 people, to explore the possible impact of anger on people in various circumstances.
In one experiment, students were shown images previously found to elicit anger, desire, amusement, sadness or no particular emotion at all. Participants were subsequently asked to solve a series of anagrams.
The results reveal that for a challenging set of anagrams, those who were angry did better than those in the other possible emotional states – although no difference was seen for easy anagrams.
The researchers say one explanation could be down to a link between anger and greater persistence, with the team finding those who were angry spent more time on the difficult set of anagrams.
In another experiment, participants who were angry did better at dodging flags in a skiing video game than those who were neutral or sad, and were on a par with those who felt amusement or desire.
“This pattern could indicate that general physical arousal had a benefit for game scores, as this would be greater in anger, amused, and desire conditions compared to the sad and neutral conditions,” the researchers write. However, no such differences in performance was found when it came to an easier video game.
One experiment suggested being angry increased the degree to which participants cheated on tasks compared with the other emotions – except amusement – while another experiment found anger was associated with lower reaction times on a task.
In addition, responses to surveys around the 2016 and 2020 US general elections suggested people who were more angry about a hypothetical win for a presidential candidate they did not support were more likely to vote in the subsequent election.
“People often prefer to use positive emotions as tools more than negative and tend to see negative emotions as undesirable and maladaptive,” Lench said. “Our research adds to the growing evidence that a mix of positive and negative emotions promotes wellbeing, and that using negative emotions as tools can be particularly effective in some situations.”