Involved In Anger

Research shows that there is considerable agreement within a given society on what exactly the events, agents, interpretations, and appraisals that appropriately lead to anger might be (Averill, 1982; Ben-Zur & Breznitz, 1991; Russell & Fehr, 1994; Scherer & Wallbott, 1994). This agreement is far from being a trivial point, which is clear from an analysis of the homicide law in the United States (Averill, 1982; Oatley, 1992). To summarise, in the US legal system it is possible for a verdict of (voluntary)

manslaughter, based on anger, rather than one of murder to be given if the killing was done in the heat of that passion and not in cold blood, and if it is shown that there was adequate provocation that caused the defendant to be angry and that would have roused any reasonable person to anger. In contrast, in the United Kingdom if it is judged that the homicide was voluntary, a verdict of murder is mandatory. It could be argued, therefore, that in this instance anger (temporary insanity) is viewed by society as sufficiently appropriate that it can be weighed against the value of human life in the eyes of American law. At the very least, anger in this case is considered to be sufficient vindication for the taking of human life.

Homicide apart, there have been numerous studies and surveys of the more everyday experience of anger and the events, agents, interpretations, and appraisals associated with them. Early studies were carried out by Gates (1926), Meltzer (1933), Anastasi, Cohen, and Spatz (1948) and McKellar (1949, 1950) (see Table 8.1 for a summary). However, the findings of all these surveys are mirrored in the work of James Averill (e.g., 1979, 1982, 1983) and we will devote much of our space in this section to a consideration of his research.

Averill (1982) reported a series of five questionnaire and diary studies looking at individuals' experiences of their own anger, individuals' experiences of another person's anger, differences between the experiences of anger and of annoyance, temporal dimensions of anger, and finally the differences between men and women in the everyday experience of anger. We will concentrate here on the data pertaining to anger as experienced by the angry person; however, we will examine the data on the differences between anger and annoyance in the section on anger-related emotions at the end of the chapter.

Averill's main study included 160 participants; 80 were randomly chosen from the community, were aged between 21 and 60, and were married; the other 80 were single, under 21 years old, and were volunteers from a university. Averill's questionnaires comprised 88 items and required participants to estimate the number of anger episodes they had experienced and to provide detailed descriptions of instances that had made them most angry over a given time period. Such anger episodes were almost invariably perceived as having been instigated by another human being (88%) or a human institution (7%). In only 6% of episodes was the anger directed at inanimate objects; however, as Averill points out, even in these cases there was a large amount of anthropomorphism or indirect reference to human agency.

Averill (1982) provides a number of illustrative examples of anger towards inanimate objects: one woman became angry at being seriously ill and actually envisioned a little man (personifying her illness) to whom she could direct her anger. A plumber became angry at a trap he had installed (after it developed a hair-line leak) and described his response as follows: "I made the hole in the trap bigger, as if to say -'That's what you should look like if you are going to leak'." When describing his motives, he added: "Silly, but if I am doing my job, why can't the trap do its job?" (p. 166). The agents of anger were most often individuals whom the participant knew well and liked, such as parents, friends, partners, and children.

In Averill's study the agents or individuals provoking the anger were most usually perceived as doing something voluntarily which they had no right to do, or as doing something avoidable. Relatively few incidents involved behaviour that was perceived as voluntary and justified or unavoidable (see Table 8.2).

Table 8.1 Instigations to anger as classified in early studies

Study

Sample

No. of

Nature of the instigation

Percentage

incidents

of

reported

incidents

Gates

51 college

All incidents

Frustration of routine

37

(1926)

students;

during 1

activities

female

week; total =

Frustration of self-

64

145

assertive activities:

1) defensive reactions to

persons (36%)

2) assertive reactions to

persons (7%)

3) defensive reactions to

things (21%)

Meltzer

93 college

All incidents

Frustration of routine

14

(1933)

students;

during 1

activities

male and

week; total =

Frustration of self-

86

female

393

assertive activities:

1) defensive reactions to

persons (38%)

2) assertive reactions to

persons (13%)

3) defensive reactions to

things (35%)

Anastasi

38 college

All incidents

Thwarted plans

52

et al.

students;

during 1

Inferiority and loss of

21

(1948)

female

week; total =

prestige

598

Schoolwork

13

Family relationships

10

Abstract problems

5

McKellar

200 adult

1 or 2 recent

Need situations

47

(1949)

education

incidents;

Personality situations

53

students;

total = 379

male and

female

Based on Averill, 1979.

Based on Averill, 1979.

Turning to anger-inducing events, the majority were perceived as frustrating or as interrupting some ongoing, planned activity. However, frustration or interruption was rarely the sole cause. Over 90% of the participants in the study who mentioned frustration as a factor also invoked: violation of important personal expectation; a loss of personal pride; violation of socially accepted rules; possible or actual property damage; or personal injury. However, 19% of participants did not mention frustration.

Table 8.2 Instigation to anger described in terms of justification

Justification Percentage of incidents (n = 160)

1.

Voluntary and unjustified: The instigators knew what they were

51

doing and that they had no right to do it

2.

Potentially avoidable accident or event: The results of negligence,

31

carelessness, or lack of foresight

3.

Voluntary and justified: The instigators knew what they were doing

11

and that they had no right to do it

4.

Unavoidable accident or event: It could not have been foreseen or

7

was beyond anyone's control

The reasons they provided for their experience of anger were: loss of self-esteem; violation of personal wishes or expectations; or violation of socially accepted rules. Averill summarised his findings by compiling a table of a partial list of the rules and norms related to anger. These are partly reproduced in Table 8.3.

Subsequent studies largely confirm the findings from Averill's more comprehensive analysis, although with some exceptions that we will return to (e.g., Berkowitz, 2003). Snell, McDonald, and Koch (1991) examined the nature of anger-provoking experiences in psychology students. Responding to the question: "What makes you feel angry?", participants revealed 48 categories of anger-eliciting experiences characterised by three dimensions: (1) individual inadequacies and failures related to unattained pursuits and goals; (2) frustrating events associated with the public, social aspects of the self; and (3) incidents associated with interpersonal exploitation. Similarly, Ben-Zur and Breznitz (1991) carried out three studies with university students and concluded that anger was affected by three basic aspects of a harmful event: the extent of damage; the causes of the damaging act; and the likelihood of damage occurrence.

In summary, systematic diary studies in psychology have given flesh to the philosophical analysis we presented in the previous section. According to Averill's work, anger is most usually directed at another person who is perceived to have deliberately or negligently caused personal offence. However, there do appear to be exceptions to this normative case and we discuss these exceptions in more detail in our analysis of anger within the SPAARS model later in the chapter.

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