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Feeling angry can help people achieve their goals, study finds

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If you want to achieve your goals, get angry.

New research indicates that anger can help people overcome challenges or obstacles that might hinder their ambitions.

A study published this week in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that participants who completed various difficult tasks in a state of anger performed better than those who felt other emotions such as sadness, longing or anger. fun.

Heather Lench, lead author of the study and professor of psychology and brain sciences at Texas A&M University, said the findings suggest people may use anger as a motivator.

“We found that anger led to better outcomes in difficult situations and involved obstacles to goal achievement,” Lench said. But according to the study, anger doesn’t improve people’s performance when it comes to easier tasks.

The study included six experiments, each testing whether anger helped people complete specific tasks. Lench said the most interesting result came from the first experiment, which measured how many word puzzles participants could solve in different emotional states.

This experiment involved 233 Texas A&M undergraduate students. Each student was randomly assigned an emotion: anger, desire, sadness, amusement, or a neutral state. To arouse emotion, they were shown a series of images for five seconds per image. People affected by anger, for example, received insults against the school football team.

Then, participants were given 20 minutes to decipher as many words as possible from four sets of seven anagrams displayed on a computer screen. The sets varied in difficulty, and once participants completed a puzzle, they could not return to try again. A computer program recorded the time participants spent on each puzzle.

The results showed that angry participants solved more puzzles than participants feeling any other emotion. Specifically, angry students solved 39% more puzzles than neutral students. Angry participants also showed greater persistence by spending more time trying to solve the puzzles, Lench said.

“When people were angry and persistent, they were more likely to succeed,” she said. “But in all other emotional states, when they persisted, they were more likely to fail. So this seems to suggest that people persisted more effectively when they were angry.

Other experiments tested whether anger could motivate students to sign a petition, help them get high scores in a video game, or inspire them to cheat on logic and reasoning puzzles in order to win prizes.

In all difficult situations, angry participants were more likely to achieve their desired goal.

Is anger always a good thing?

According to psychology experts, not all forms of anger are helpful in achieving goals.

Intense anger is sometimes associated with physical reactions like sweaty palms, difficulty breathing, and rapid heart rate. A 2022 study from the European Heart Journal found that anger may contribute to the development of certain cardiovascular diseases, including heart failure in men and people with diabetes. A 2021 study from the same journal found that acute anger was associated with the occurrence of strokes.

During an argument between lovers, anger can lead to aggressive and demeaning communication that can harm the relationship, Lench said. But it could also help someone express their needs if their goal is to feel heard and supported by their partner.

“Anger can be motivating. But that doesn’t mean we stop thinking,” Lench said. “So when we feel angry, stopping and thinking about why we are angry is probably an important step too.”

If taken too far, severe outbursts of anger can degrade a person’s ability to complete tasks, said Raymond Tafrate, a clinical psychologist and professor in the department of criminology and criminal justice at Central Connecticut State University.

“There’s sort of a happy medium. Some anger is helpful, but there’s this other side that I think we need to talk about as well,” said Tafrate, who was not involved in the new research. “Mild or moderate anger probably improves the lives of many people.”

The key is to accept anger as a potentially helpful emotion rather than trying to avoid it, Tafrate said.

“Anger can be an important signal that things are not going well and you need to make a change,” Tafrate said.

Communicating anger immediately in social situations might even encourage others to listen to your point of view and increase the chances of reaching a resolution, said Todd Kashdan, a psychology professor at George Mason University, who also no longer participated in the new research.

“I call it the discomfort caveat, and it just lets the other person know that you don’t want to be judged on how you word things. You just want them to know that there’s a problem here, you recognize that you want to point it out and you want to offer an alternative,” Kashdan said. “Then what happens is you lower their defenses.”

Even if your words are biting or aggressive, Kashdan said, people may still be receptive to your concerns.

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