“Anger is an interesting emotion for psychologists. On the one hand, it’s negative, but then it also has some of the features of positive emotions. For a new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, researchers find that associating an object with anger actually makes people want the object—a kind of motivation that’s normally associated with positive emotions.
People usually think of anger as a negative emotion. You’re not supposed to get angry. But anger also has some positive features. For example, it activates an area on the left side of the brain that is associated with many positive emotions. And, like positive emotions, it can motivate people to go after something. “People are motivated to do something or obtain a certain object in the world because it’s rewarding for them. Usually this means that the object is positive and makes you happy,” says Henk Aarts of Utrecht University in the Netherlands, first author of the new study. He and his colleagues wanted to examine whether this also applies to the link between anger as a negative emotion and the desire to get your hands on something.
For the study, each participant watched a computer screen while images of common objects, like a mug or a pen, appeared on the screen. What they didn’t realize was that immediately before each object appeared, the screen flashed either a neutral face, an angry face, or a fearful face. This subliminal image tied an emotion to each object. At the end of the experiment, the participants were asked how much they wanted each object. In a second version of the experiment, they had the person squeeze a handgrip to get the desired object—those who squeezed harder were more likely to win it. ”