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May 2017
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What is anger? Anger is a normal emotion and it is considered fundamental by all psychological theories since it is possible to identify a specific functional origin for it, as well as antecedent characteristics, facial expressions, constant physiological changes and predictable actions of anger. Being a primitive emotion, anger can be seen in humans of all ages and even other species.

Therefore, together with joy and pain, anger is one of the most precocious emotions.
Showing signs of this emotion is largely inhibited by culture and society, and some very interesting evolutionary studies have analysed the pure expression of anger before it is limited by social rules which control the exhibition of it. Furthermore, anger is part of the triad of hostility, which goes together with disgust and contempt, and it is a core and basic emotion. These feelings often occur in combination with others and although they have origins, experiences and various consequences, it is difficult to identify which emotion predominates over the others. There appear to be many linguistic terms referring to this emotional reaction: anger, frustration, rage and wrath represent the emotional state of intense anger, while others express the same sentiment but of lesser intensity, such as irritation, annoyance and impatience.

Where does anger come from?
According to the majority of theories, anger is a common reaction to physical and psychological frustration and constraint.
Although they are common denominators, frustration and constraint are not, in themselves, sufficient and necessary conditions which can create anger. The causal relationship linking frustration to anger is not that simple and it appears that other factors can cause anger too. The responsibility and the knowledge that is attributed to a person who causes frustration or constraint also seem to be important factors.

Other than actual, physical damage, what also makes the situation worse when anger is induced, seems to be the will to hurt another person and the possibility of avoiding the frustrating event or situation.
In short, we get angry when someone or something opposes what we want, especially when the intent to impede our desire is obvious.

Who do we get angry with?

Anger can be defined as a reaction that follows a precise sequence of events:

  1. We need something
  2. A person or thing gets in the way of our need
  3. We consider that person to be intentionally opposing our need
  4. We are not afraid of the frustrating person/thing
  5. We have a strong desire to attack and tackle the frustrating person/thinge
  6. Active aggression; we attack the person/thing.

This is what happens in nature, even if evolution seems to have created strong signals which induce fear and, as a consequence, escape, thus preventing the attack of the opponent. In humans, normally we not only see an inhibition of the tendency to be aggressive and attack, but also a covering-up of signs of anger towards the frustrating person/thing.

There are three possible, fundamental recipients of our anger:

  • an object which provokes frustration;
  • a different object to the one which caused frustration (displacement from the original objective);
  • ourselves: anger can be directed towards ourselves, turning into self-harm and self-aggression.

How does the body express anger?
No matter how hard we try to suppress our feelings of anger, anger is always shown on our faces and it is recognisable in all cultures. The furrowed forehead and eyebrows and baring and grinding your teeth are the usual changes to the face which occur when we are angry. The whole body may even be paralysed with anger.
The most common, subjective feelings can be: the fear of losing control, the stiffening of muscles, restlessness and getting hot. In addition, one’s voice gets more intense with a hissing, screeching and threatening tone. Then, the body prepares for action, attack and aggression. The psycho-physical changes which occur are typically a strong activation of the sympathetic nervous system; for instance, accelerated heart beat, increase in arterial pressure, perfusion of peripheral blood vessels, increased muscle tension and sweating. Studies about the expression of anger seem to indicate that those who do not express it in any way tend to experience this feeling for more time..

What are the functions of anger?
The psycho-physiological changes which occur because of the powerful impulsivity and the strong propensity to be aggressive happen in order to get rid of the frustrating object. Anger is definitely an emotional state which increases the body's energy so that it can resort to force, which may be physical or only verbal. Removing the object that is in our way of achieving our aim can occur by inducing fear and making it flee, or through a violent attack.

Extensive research regarding the behaviour of species other than mankind has shown that anger and resulting aggressive manifestations are determined by reasons directly or indirectly related to the survival of the individual and species. Animals often attack because something has scared them or because they are being hunted by predators, they want to beat a rival for their mate, to catch an intruder of their territory or to defend their offspring.

As far as humans are concerned, the reasons we attack mainly concern frustration with actions which are linked to image and self-realisation. The aim, in these cases, seems to be to change a form of behaviour which is not considered adequate. Getting angry and clearly justifying the reasons of discontent seem to be procedures for obtaining a useful change.

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