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Anger

One of the primordial emotions, along with fear, grief, pain, and joy.

Anger is usually caused by the frustration of attempts to attain a goal, or by hostile or disturbing actions such as insults, injuries, or threats that do not come from a feared source. The sources of anger are different for people at different periods in their lives. The most common cause of anger in infants, for example, is restraint of activity. Children commonly become angry due to restrictive rules or demands, lack of attention, or failure to accomplish a task. As children reach adolescence and adulthood, the primary sources of anger shift from physical constraints and frustrations to social ones. In adults, the basis of anger include disapproval, deprivation, exploitation, manipulation, betrayal, and humiliation, and the responses to it become less physical and more social with age. The tantrums, fighting, and screaming typical of childhood give way to more verbal and indirect expressions such as swearing and sarcasm. Physical violence does occur in adults, but in most situations it is avoided in deference to social pressures.

Like fear, anger is a basic emotion that provides a primitive mechanism for physical survival. The physiological changes that accompany anger and fear are very similar and include increased heart rate and blood pressure, rapid breathing, and muscle tension. However, anger produces more muscle tension, higher blood pressure, and a lower heart rate, while fear induces rapid breathing. Unlike the adrenalin-produced "fight or flight" response that characterizes fear, anger is attributed to the secretion of both adrenalin and another hormone, noradrenalin. Other physical signs of anger include scowling, teeth grinding, glaring, clenched fists, chills and shuddering, twitching, choking, flushing or paling, and numbness.

People use a number of defense mechanisms to deal with anger. They may practice denial, refusing to recognize that they are angry. Such repressed anger often finds another outlet, such as a physical symptom. Another way of circumventing anger is through passive aggression, in which anger is expressed covertly in a way that prevents retaliation. Both sarcasm and chronic lateness are forms of passive aggression. In the classroom, a passive aggressive student will display behavior that is subtly uncooperative or disrespectful but which provides no concrete basis for disciplinary action. Passive aggressive acts may even appear in the guise of a service or favor, when in fact the sentiments expressed are those of hostility rather than altruism. Some of the more extreme defenses against anger are paranoia, in which anger is essentially projected onto others, and bigotry, in which such a projection is targeted at members of a specific racial, religious, or ethnic group.

See also Aggression

Further Reading

Carter, William Lee. The Angry Teenager. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995.

Dentemaro, Christine. Straight Talk About Anger. New York: Facts on File, 1995.

Ellis, Albert. Anger: How to Live With and Without It. New York: Citadel Press, 1977.

Letting Go of Anger: The 10 Most Common Anger Styles and What To Do About Them. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, 1995.

Licata, Renora. Everything You Need to Know About Anger. New York: Rosen Publishing Group, 1994.

Luhn, Rebecca R. Managing Anger: Methods for a Happier and Healthier Life. Los Altos, CA: Crisp Publications, 1992.

Additional topics

Psychology EncyclopediaPsychological Dictionary: Abacus to Courage