Anger is an emotional state that may range from minor irritation to intense rage. The physical effects of anger include increased heart rate, blood pressure, and levels of adrenaline and noradrenaline. Some view anger as part of the fight or flight brain response to the perceived threat of pain. Anger becomes the predominant feeling behaviorally, cognitively and physiologically when a person makes the conscious choice to take action to immediately stop the threatening behavior of another outside force.

The external expression of anger can be found in facial expressions, body language, physiological responses, and at times in public acts of aggression. Animals and humans for example make loud sounds, attempt to look physically larger, bare their teeth, and stare. Anger is a behavioral pattern designed to warn aggressors to stop their threatening behavior. Rarely does a physical altercation occur without the prior expression of anger by at least one of the participants. While most of those who experience anger explain its arousal as a result of "what has happened to them," psychologists point out that an angry person can be very well mistaken because anger causes a loss in self-monitoring capacity and objective observability.

In the world of humans, the unique use of codified symbols and sounds -written and spoken language, pain or the threat of pain can be perceived from written and verbal sources. Humans may not perceive an immediate physical threat, but pain can be felt psychologically. Due to humans' capacity to imagine the distant future, the threat of pain can also arise purely from the imagination, and not be based on anything happening in the immediate present. In humans, anger often arises when another human being is perceived to violate expected behavioral norms related to social survival. These violations break social or interpersonal boundaries, or may be ethical or legal violations.

Modern psychologists view anger as a primary, natural, and mature emotion experienced by all humans at times, and as something that has functional value for survival. Anger can mobilize psychological resources for corrective action. Uncontrolled anger can however negatively affect personal or social well-being.

While many philosophers and writers have warned against the spontaneous and uncontrolled fits of anger, there has been disagreement over the intrinsic value of anger. Dealing with anger has been addressed in the writings of earliest philosophers up to modern times. Modern psychologists, in contrast to the earlier writers, have also pointed out the possible harmful effects of suppression of anger. Displays of anger can be used as a manipulation strategy for social influence.

Etymology and Conception

The English term "anger" originally comes from the term angr of Old Norse language; a language that was spoken by the inhabitants of Scandinavia and their overseas settlements during the Viking Age, until about 1300. According to the linguist Anna Wierzbicka, the exact conception of anger can vary from culture to culture. For example, the Ilongot language of Philippines does not have a term exactly corresponding to the English term "anger." In this language, the closest term expressing the concept of "anger" is liget (glossed as ‘energy, anger, passion’).

This term plays a crucial role in the culture and life of Ilongots and has a competitive character related to envy and ambition. Wierzbicka explains the distinction between the English anger and the Ilongot liget more explicitly as follows:

X feels anger
(a) X thinks: R did something bad
(b) X doesn't want such 'bad' something to happen
(c) X feels badly toward R because of that 'bad' something happening
(d) X wants to do something bad to R because of that
X feels liget
(a) X thinks: I don’t want people to think that they can do things that I cannot do
(b) I want to do something because of that
(c) I don’t want to think:
“Someone will feel something bad because of that”
“I don’t want to do it because of that”
(d) X feels something because of that
(e) X can do things because of that which other people can’t.

Modern psychology

Anger is viewed as a natural and healthy response that has evolved to enable us to deal with threats. Three types of anger are recognized by psychologists: The first form of anger, named "hasty and sudden anger" by Joseph Butler, an 18th century English bishop, is connected to the impulse for self-preservation. It is shared between humans and animals and occurs when tormented or trapped. The second type of anger is named "settled and deliberate" anger and is a reaction to perceived deliberate harm or unfair treatment by others. These two forms of anger are episodic. The third type of anger is however dispositional and is related more to character traits than to instincts or cognitions. Irritability, sullenness and churlishness postures are examples of the last form of anger.

Anger can potentially mobilize psychological resources and boost determination toward correction of wrong behaviors, promotion of social justice, communication of negative sentiment and redress of grievances. It can also facilitate patience. On the other hand, anger can be destructive when it does not find its appropriate outlet in expression. Anger, in its strong form, impairs one's ability to process information and to exert cognitive control over his behavior. An angry person may lose his/her objectivity, empathy, prudence or thoughtfulness and may cause harm to others. There is a sharp distinction between anger and aggression (verbal or physical, direct or indirect) even though they mutually influence each other. While anger can activate aggression or increase its probability or intensity, it is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for aggression.


The external expression of anger can be found in facial expressions, body language, physiological responses, and at times in public acts of aggression. The facial expression and body language are as follows:

The facial and skeletal musculature are strongly affected by anger. The face becomes flushed, and the brow muscles move inward and downward, fixing a hard stare on the target. The nostrils flare, and the jaw tends toward clenching. This is an innate pattern of facial expression that can be observed in toddlers. Tension in the skeletal musculature, including raising of the arms and adopting a squared-off stance, are preparatory actions for attack and defense. The muscle tension provides a sense of strength and self-assurance. An impulse to strike out accompanies this subjective feeling of potency.

Physiological responses to anger include an increase in the heart rate, preparing the person to move, and increase of the blood flow to the hands, preparing them to strike. Perspiration increases (particularly when the anger is intense). A common metaphor for the physiological aspect of anger is that of a hot fluid in a container. According to Novaco, "Autonomic arousal is primarily engaged through adrenomedullary and adrenocortical hormonal activity. The secretion by the andrenal medulla of the catecholamines, epinephrine, and norepinephrine, and by the andrenal cortex of glucocorticoids provides a sympathetic system effect that mobilizes the body for immediate action (e.g. the release of glucose, stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen). In anger, the catecholamine activation is more strongly norepinephrine than epinephrine (the reverse being the case for fear). The adrenocortical effects, which have longer duration than the adrenomedullary ones, are modiated by secretions of the pituitary gland, which also influences testosterone levels. The pituitary-adrenocortical and pituitary-gonadal systems are thought to affect readiness or potentiation for anger responding."

Neuroscience has shown that emotions are generated by multiple structures in the brain. The rapid, minimal, and evaluative processing of the emotional significance of the sensory data is done when the data passes through the amygdala in its travel from the sensory organs along certain neural pathways towards the limbic forebrain. Emotion caused by discrimination of stimulus features, thoughts, or memories however occurs when its information is relayed from the thalamus to the neocortex. Based on some statistical analysis, some scholars have suggested that the tendency for anger may be genetic. Distinguishing between genetic and environmental factors however requires further research and actual measurement of specific genes and environments.


Most commonly, those who experience anger explain its arousal as a result of "what has happened to them" and in most cases the described provocations occur immediately before the anger experience. Such explanations confirm the illusion that anger has a discrete external cause. The angry person usually finds the cause of his anger in an intentional, personal, and controllable aspect of another person's behavior. This explanation is however based on the intuitions of the angry person who experiences a loss in self-monitoring capacity and objective observability as a result of their emotion. Anger can be of multicausal origin, some of which may be remote events, but people rarely find more than one cause for their anger. According to Novaco, "anger experiences are embedded or nested within an environmental-temporal context. Disturbances that may not have involved anger at the outset leave residues that are not readily recognized but that operate as a lingering backdrop for focal provocations (of anger)." According to Britannica Encyclopedia, an internal infection can cause pain which in turn can activate anger.

Philosophical perspectives


Ancient philosophers argued that anger can be only experienced by humans: animals cannot become angry because they lack reason. Ancient Greek philosophers, describing and commenting on the uncontrolled anger, particularly toward slaves, in their society generally showed a hostile attitude towards anger. Galen and Seneca regarded anger as a kind of madness. They all rejected the spontaneous, uncontrolled fits of anger and agreed on both the possibility and value of controlling anger. There were however disagreements regarding the value of anger. For Seneca, anger was "worthless even for war." Seneca believed that:

The disciplined Roman army regularly defeats the fury of the Germans.... In sporting contests, it is a mistake to become angry ..., and in response to personal injury, the only relief for great misfortunes is to bear them and submit to their coercion... If the misfortune is unbearable, then suicide should be preferred to rage.

Aristotle on the other hand, ascribed some value to anger that has arisen from perceived injustice because it is useful for preventing injustice. Furthermore, the opposite of anger is a kind of insensibility, Aristotle stated. The difference in people's temperaments was generally viewed as a result the different mix of qualities or humors people contained. Seneca held that "red-haired and red-faced people are hot-tempered because of excessive hot and dry humors." Ancient philosophers rarely refer to women’s anger at all, according to Simon Kemp and K. T. Strongman perhaps because their works were not intended for women. Some of them that discuss it, such as Seneca, considered women to be more prone to anger than men.

Medieval era

During the period of the Roman Empire and the Middle Ages, philosophers elaborated on the existing conception of anger, many of whom did not make major contributions to the concept. For example, many medieval philosophers such as Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Roger Bacon and Thomas Aquinas agreed with ancient philosophers that animals cannot become angry. On the other hand, al-Ghazali (also known as "Algazel" in Europe), who often disagreed with Aristotle and Ibn Sina (Avicenna) on many issues, argued that animals do possess anger as one of the three "powers" in their Qalb ("heart"), the other two being appetite and impulse. He also argued that animal will is "conditioned by anger and appetite" in contrast to human will which is "conditioned by the intellect.

A common medieval belief was that those prone to anger had an excess of yellow bile or choler (hence the word "choleric"). This belief was related to Seneca's belief that "red-haired and red-faced people are hot-tempered because of excessive hot and dry humors."

Modern times

The modern understanding of anger is not much more advanced than that of Aristotle. Immanuel Kant rejected vengeance as vicious because it goes beyond defense of one's dignity, and at the same time rejected insensitiveness to social injustice as a sign for lack "manhood." Regarding the latter, David Hume had argued that since "anger and hatred are passions inherent in our very frame and constitution, the lack of them is sometimes evidence of weakness and imbecility." Two main differences between the modern understanding and ancient understanding of anger can be detected, Kemp and Strongman state: One is that early philosophers were not concerned with possible harmful effects of the suppression of anger. The other is that recent studies of anger takes the issue of gender differences into account. This does not seem to have been of much concern for the earlier philosophers.

The American psychologist Albert Ellis has suggested that anger, rage and fury has partly roots in the philosophical meanings and assumptions humans interpret transgression through. According to Ellis, these emotions are often associated and related to the leaning humans have to absolutistically depreciating and damning other peoples humanity when their personal rules and domain are transgressed.

Religious perspectives

Anger in Buddhism is defined here as: "being unable to bear the object, or the intention to cause harm to the object." Anger is seen as aversion with a stronger exaggeration, and is listed as one of the five hindrances. The Buddhist spiritual saints, such as Dalai Lama, the spiritual Guru of Tibetan monks, sometimes get angry. However, there is a difference; most often a spiritual person is aware of the emotion and the way it can be handled. Thus, in response to the question: "Is any anger acceptable in Buddhism?' the Dalai Lama answered:

"Buddhism in general teaches that anger is a destructive emotion and although anger might have some positive effects in terms of survival or moral outrage, I do not accept that anger of any kind as a virtuous emotion nor aggression as constructive behavior. The Gautama Buddha has taught that there are three basic kleshas at the root of samsara (bondage, illusion) and the vicious cycle of rebirth. These are greed, hatred, and delusion--also translatable as attachment, anger, and ignorance. They bring us confusion and misery rather than peace, happiness, and fulfillment. It is in our own self-interest to purify and transform them."

Medieval Christianity vigorously rejected anger as one of the seven cardinal, or deadly sins although some Christian writers at times regarded the anger caused from injustice as having some value. Saint Basil viewed anger as a "reprehensible temporary madness." Joseph F. Delany in the Catholic Encyclopedia (1914) defines anger as "the desire of vengeance" and states that a reasonable vengeance and passion is ethical and praiseworthy. Vengeance is sinful when it exceeds its limits in which case it becomes opposed to justice and charity. For example, "vengeance upon one who has not deserved it, or to a greater extent than it has been deserved, or in conflict with the dispositions of law, or from an improper motive" are all sinful. An unduly vehement vengeance is considered a venial sin unless it seriously goes counter to the love of God or of one's neighbor.

In Hinduism, anger is equated with sorrow as a form of unrequited desire. The objects of anger are perceived as a hindrance to the gratification of the desires of the angry person. Alternatively if one thinks one is superior, the result is grief. Anger is considered to be packed with more evil power than desire.

The Qur'an, the central religious text of Islam, attributes anger to Prophets and believers and Muhammad's enemies. It mentions the anger of Moses against his people for worshiping a golden calf; the anger of Jonah at God in a moment and his eventual realization of his error and his repentance; God's removal of anger from the hearts of believers and making them merciful after the fighting against Muhammad's enemies is over.. In general suppression of anger is deemed a praiseworthy quality and Muhammad is attributed to have said, "power resides not in being able to strike another, but in being able to keep the self under control when anger arises.

In Judaism, anger at the sight of wrong done is holy. If the anger kindles into passion, it will become however conducive to strife. According to the Hebrew Bible: "He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding, but he that is hasty of temper[A. V. "spirit"] exalteth folly...A wrathful man stirrers up strife: he that is slow to anger appeases strife...He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty...Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry; for anger rests in the bosom of fools." In the Book of Genesis, Jacob condemned the anger that had arisen in his sons Simon and Levi: "Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce; and their wrath, for it was cruel"

Of God or gods

In many religions, anger is frequently attributed to God or gods. Primitive people held that gods were subject to anger and revenge in anthropomorphic fashion. The Hebrew Bible says that opposition to God's Will results in God's anger. The Hebrew Bible explains that:

God is not an intellectual abstraction, nor is He conceived as a being indifferent to the doings of man; and His pure and lofty nature resents most energetically anything wrong and impure in the moral world: "O Lord, my God, mine Holy One... Thou art of eyes too pure to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity."
Christians also subscribe to the God's holiness and his anger in the sight of evil. This anger, they hold is not inconsistent with God's love. They also believe that the wrath of God comes to those who reject Jesus.

In Islam, God's mercy outweighs his wrath or takes precedence of it. The characteristics of those upon whom God's wrath will fall is as follows: Those who reject God; deny his signs; doubt the resurrection and the reality of the day of judgment; call Muhammad a sorcerer, a madman or a poet; do mischief, are impudent, do not look after the poor (notably the orphans); live in luxury or heap up fortunes; persecute the believers or prevent them from praying;...

Coping strategies

According to Leland R. Beaumont, each instance of anger demands making a choice.. A person can respond with hostile action, including overt violence, or they can respond with hostile inaction, such as withdrawing or stonewalling. Other options include initiating a dominance contest; harboring resentment; or working to better understand and constructively resolve the issue

Ancient philosophers

Seneca addresses the question of mastering anger in three parts: 1. how to avoid becoming angry in the first place 2. how to cease being angry and 3. how to deal with anger in others. Seneca suggests that in order to avoid becoming angry in the first place, Seneca suggests that the many faults of anger should be repeatedly remembered. One should avoid being too busy or deal with anger-provoking people. Unnecessary hunger or thirst should be avoided and soothing music be listened to. To cease being angry, Seneca suggests "one to check speech and impulses and be aware of particular sources of personal irritation. In dealing with other people, one should not be too inquisitive: It is not always soothing to hear and see everything. When someone appears to slight you, you should be at first reluctant to believe this, and should wait to hear the full story. You should also put yourself in the place of the other person, trying to understand his motives and any extenuating factors, such as age or illness." Seneca further advises daily self-inquisition about one's bad habit.. To deal with anger in others, Seneca suggests that the best reaction is to simply keep calm. A certain kind of deception, Seneca says, is necessary in dealing with angry people.

Galen repeats Seneca's points but adds a new one: finding a guide and teacher can help the person in controlling their passions. Galen also gives some hints for finding a good teacher. Both Seneca and Galen (and later philosophers) agree that the process of controlling anger should start in childhood on grounds of malleability. Seneca warns that this education should not blunt the spirit of the children nor should they be humiliated or treated severely. At the same time, they should not be pampered. Children, Seneca says, should learn not to beat their playmates and not to become angry with them. Seneca also advises that children's requests should not be granted when they are angry.

Middle ages

Maimonides considered being given to uncontrollable passions as a kind of illness. Like Galen, Maimonides suggested seeking out a philosopher for curing this illness just as one seeks out a physician for curing bodily illnesses. Roger Bacon elaborates Seneca's advices. Many medieval writers discuss at length the evils of anger and the virtues of temperance. John Mirk asks men to "consider how angels flee before them and fiends run toward him to burn him with hellfire." In The Canon of Medicine, Ibn Sina (Avicenna) modified the theory of temperaments and argued that anger heralded the transition of melancholia to mania, and explained that humidity inside the head can contribute to such mood disorders.

On the other hand, Ahmed ibn Sahl al-Balkhi classified anger (along with aggression) as a type of neurosis, while al-Ghazali (Algazel) argued that anger takes form in rage, indignation and revenge, and that "the powers of the soul become balanced if it keeps anger under control.

Modern times

According to R. Novaco, anger is an emotional response to provocation. R. Novaco recognized three modalities of anger: cognitive (appraisals), somatic-affective (tension and agitations) and behavioral (withdrawal and antagonism). In order to manage anger the problems involved in the anger should be discussed Novaco suggests. The situations leading to anger should be explored by the person. The person is then tried to be imagery-based relieved of his or her recent angry experiences.

Modern therapies for anger involve restructuring thoughts and beliefs in order to bring about a causal reduction in anger. These therapies often comes within the schools of CBT (or Cognitive Behavioural Therapies) like modern systems such as REBT (or Rational Emotional Behavior Therapy). Research shows that people who suffer from excessive anger often harbor and act on dysfunctional attributions, assumptions and evaluations in specific situations. It has been shown that with therapy by a trained professional, individuals can bring their anger to more manageable levels.

The therapy is followed by the so-called "stress inoculation" in which the clients are taught "relaxation skills to control their arousal and various cognitive controls to exercise on their attention, thoughts, images, and feelings. They are taught to see the provocation and the anger itself as occurring in a series of stages, each of which can be dealt with."


While the early philosophers were not concerned with possible harmful effects of the suppression of anger, modern psychologists point out that suppression of anger may have harmful effects. The suppressed anger may find another outlet, such as a physical symptom, or become more extreme. John W. Fiero cites Los Angeles riots of 1992 as an example of sudden, explosive release of suppressed anger. The anger was then displaced as violence against those who had nothing to do with the matter. Another example of widespread deflection of anger from its actual cause toward a scapegoat, Fiero says, was the blaming of Jews for the economic ills of Germany by the Nazis.

As a strategy

As with any emotion, the display of anger can be feigned or exaggerated. Studies by Hochschild and Sutton have shown that the show of anger is likely to be an effective manipulation strategy in order to change and design attitudes. Anger is a distinct strategy of social influence and its use (i.e. belligerent behaviors) as a goal achievement mechanism proves to be a successful strategy.

Tiedens, known for her studies of anger, claimed that expression of feelings would cause a powerful influence not only on the perception of the expresser but also on his power position in the society. She studied the correlation between anger expression and social influence perception. Previous researchers, such as Keating, 1985 have found that people with angry face expression were perceived as powerful and as in a high social position. Similarly, Tiedens et al. have revealed that people who compared scenarios involving an angry and a sad, attributed a higher social status to the angry character. Tiedens examined in her study whether anger expression promotes status attribution. In other words, whether anger contributes to perceptions or legitimization of others’ behaviors. Her findings clearly indicated that participants who were exposed to either an angry or a sad person were inclined to express support for the angry person rather than for a sad one. In addition, it was found that a reason for that decision originates from the fact that the person expressing anger was perceived as an ability owner, and was attributed a certain social status accordingly.

Showing anger during a negotiation may increase the ability of the anger expresser to succeed in negotiation. A study by Tiedens et al. indicated that the anger expressers were perceived as stubborn, dominant and powerful. In addition, it was found that people were inclined to easily give up to those who were perceived by them as a powerful and stubborn, rather than soft and submissive. Based on these findings Sinaceur and Tiedens have found that people conceded more to the angry side rather than for the non-angry one.

A question raised by Van Kleef et al. based on these findings was whether expression of emotion influences others, since it is known that people use emotional information to conclude about others’ limits and match their demands in negotiation accordingly. Van Kleef et al. wanted to explore whether people give up more easily to an angry opponent or to a happy opponent. Findings revealed that participants tended to be more flexible toward an angry opponent compared with a happy opponent. These results strengthen the argument that participants analyze the opponent’s emotion in order to conclude about their limits and carry out their decisions accordingly.

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