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Could Anger Make People Want Things More?

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 3 (HealthDay News) -- Anger can be a potent motivator in increasing a person's desire to obtain things, a new study finds.

While people generally regard anger as a negative emotion, it activates an area on the left side of the brain that is associated with many positive emotions. And like positive emotions, anger can drive people to go after something, explained the researchers at Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

"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," first author Henk Aarts said in an Association for Psychological Science news release.

He and his colleagues examined whether this also applies to anger and the desire for objects. Participants watched images of common objects, such as a mug or pen, appear on a computer screen. They were unaware that just before each object appeared, the screen quickly flashed either an angry, fearful or neutral face. These subliminal images tied an emotion to each object.

The participants had to squeeze a handgrip to get an object they wanted, and those who squeezed hardest were more likely to get it. The participants expended more effort to get objects associated with angry faces, the study found.

The finding makes sense in terms of human evolution, Aarts said. For example, in situations where there is limited food, people who associate food with anger and become aggressive in order to obtain the food are more likely to survive.

"If the food does not make you angry or doesn't produce aggression in your system, you may starve and lose the battle," Aarts explained.

The study was released online and published in the October print issue of the journal Psychological Science.

More information

The American Psychological Association has more about anger.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Association for Psychological Science, news release, Nov. 1, 2010

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