August 11, 2010
Angry People Respond More To Rewards Than Threats?

Make someone angry so they'll respond more to the prospect of rewards?

Anger is a negative emotion. But, like being happy or excited, feeling angry makes people want to seek rewards, according to a new study of emotion and visual attention. The researchers found that people who are angry pay more attention to rewards than to threats—the opposite of people feeling other negative emotions like fear. 

Previous research has shown that emotion affects what someone pays attention to. If a fearful or anxious person is given a choice of a rewarding picture, like a sexy couple, or a threatening picture, like a person waving a knife threateningly, they’ll spend more time looking at the threat than at the rewarding picture. People feeling excitement, however, are the other way—they’ll go for the reward. 

But nobody knows whether those reactions occur because the emotions are positive or negative, or because of something else, says Brett Q. Ford of Boston College, who wrote the study with Maya Tamir, also of Boston College, and four other authors. For example, she says, “emotions can vary in what they make you want to do. Fear is associated with a motivation to avoid, whereas excitement is associated with a motivation to approach. It can make you want to seek out certain things, like rewards.” The research is published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. 

Can you manipulate a person's behavior by careful sequencing of the emotional states you evoke in them? Seems that way. Though you obviously need the means by which to evoke the sequence of emotional states.

The anger that you evoke doesn't have to be aimed at you. If you know, for example, the political affiliations of someone you can point out something bound to make them angry about their evil political opponents. Then offer them some reward for doing something you want them to do.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 August 11 10:47 PM  Brain Emotions

Lyle said at August 11, 2010 11:11 PM:

It seems to me this done all the time in politics. Tell a story about the horrible opponents that makes people mad. Then ask for money.

matthew said at August 12, 2010 7:18 AM:

This makes intuitive sense. After all, if you are angry then you don't fear negative stimuli but instead are attracted to "positive" stimuli. And those who are fearful who are attracted to negative stimuli were weeded out of the population a long time ago...

Michael L said at August 12, 2010 4:27 PM:

this strikes me as first and foremost intuitively useful feature for human behavior. If you are angry, it means that something is going wrong around you. So, maybe a decisive and relatively risky action is now required of you to try address the situation. And to be willing to undertake such an action you would need to focus on the rewards it promises if successful but not on threats if it fails. Let's say if the common problem that shows up in a less-than-civilized environment is whether you should fight to get or recover a mate, risking defeat and death, or play it safe and don't do that, presumably the ones that got angry at the competition and then focused on rewards and not risks inherent in the fight ended up with more mates and more kids on average. The ones who were too scared to fight may have uniformly survived but didn't get to mate.

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