Pay attention when you’re angry, the author of a new study suggests
Seeing red? You could wind up voting that way, too.
Anger drives people toward economic conservatism, according to new research published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. And sources of so-called “incidental anger” can run the gamut from traffic jams to interpersonal conflict, per the series of four studies conducted by University of Manitoba professor Keri Kettle and University of Cincinnati professor Anthony Salerno.
“You can get people feeling angry from a number of different situations and sources, and yet the experience of anger still has that general response to make people more competitive, and because of that we also see them more inclined to agree with conservative economic views,” Salerno told Moneyish. (Anger did not, meanwhile, appear to make people more socioculturally conservative.)
The first study, in which 538 undergrad students answered survey questions about their anger proneness, competitiveness and attitudes toward economic conservatism, established “preliminary evidence that anger enhances support for economic conservatism by making people more competitive,” the authors wrote.
Then came time to manipulate anger. The next study had 203 Amazon Mechanical Turk participants complete writing tasks, with one group asked to recall a time of rage: “We asked them to basically think about a time when they were really angry, and just describe the situation and what aspects of it made them angry,” Salerno said. “Basically just to elaborate on it and place themselves back in that moment again.” A control group, meanwhile, was instructed to write about a “typical day” unlikely to elicit any particular emotional response.
Once participants wrapped up their writing tasks, Salerno said, they were told the study was over and they just needed to answer “a few additional personality and demographic questions.” That way, the researchers could capture economic leanings without risking study participants seeing “a relationship between the emotional manipulation we used and the measures that we had them complete afterwards,” the professor said.
In an outtake from their final paper, the authors also found a link between gratitude and economic liberalism (or, as Salerno put it, a tendency to support distributing resources more equally among people in society). “When people are made to feel grateful, they feel less competitive,” he said. “It was basically the same explanation for anger, but in the opposite direction.”
A key takeaway, he added, is that “people aren’t consciously aware that the way that they’re feeling is actually having an influence on their opinions of things.” Be cognizant of your current emotional state, Salerno advised: “There is some research that shows once you’re able to identify the source of your emotion and how you’re feeling in that moment, it tends to eliminate some of these effects, these carryover effects into unrelated situations.”
After all, Salerno warned, political campaigns could wind up leveraging his and Kettle’s findings. “If I am just your typical American watching TV and seeing these campaigns, just being aware of how one is feeling in that moment can do a lot to reduce these types of influences,” he said.
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