If you want to achieve your goals, get angry. 

New research indicates that anger can help people overcome challenges or obstacles that might get in the way of their ambitions.

A study published this week in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that participants who completed a variety of challenging tasks in a state of anger performed better than participants who felt other emotions such as sadness, desire or amusement. 

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

“We found that anger led to better outcomes in situations that were challenging and involved obstacles to goals,” Lench said. But anger did not improve people’s performances when it came to easier assignments, according to the study.

The study consisted of six experiments, each testing whether anger helped people achieve specific tasks. Lench said the most interesting outcome came from the first experiment, which measured the number of word puzzles participants could solve in different states of emotion.

That experiment involved 233 undergraduate students at Texas A&M. Each student was randomly assigned one emotion: anger, desire, sadness, amusement or a neutral state. To elicit the emotion, they were shown a series of images for five seconds per image. Those assigned to anger were shown insults about the school’s football team, for example. 

Next, the participants had 20 minutes to unscramble as many words as possible from four sets of seven anagrams displayed on a computer screen. The sets varied in difficulty, and once participants moved on from a puzzle, they couldn’t return to try again. A computer program recorded how long participants spent on each puzzle.

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

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

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

Across all challenging situations, participants in the angry state were more likely to attain the desired goal.

Is anger always a good thing?

Not all forms of anger are useful for achieving goals, according to psychology experts. 

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

During a lover’s spat, anger could lead to aggressive and belittling communication that may harm the relationship, Lench said. But it could also help someone articulate their needs if their goal is to feel heard and supported by their partner.

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

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

“There’s kind of a middle ground. Some anger is helpful, but there is that other side that I think we need to talk about as well,” said Tafrate, who wasn’t involved in the new research. “Anger that’s sort of mild or on the moderate end of the spectrum is probably life-enhancing for many people.”

The key is to embrace anger as a potentially useful emotion rather than try to avoid it, Tafrate said.

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

Communicating one’s anger right away in social situations could even encourage others to listen to your perspective and increase the chances of coming to a resolution, said Todd Kashdan, a psychology professor at George Mason University, who also wasn’t part of the new research.

“I call this the discomfort caveat, and it just lets the other person know that you don’t want to be judged for how you phrase 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’re bringing their defenses down.” 

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


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