Self-Control Linked to Anger

Self-regulating behavior is considered desirable socially. People practice self-control every day such as dieting or refraining from alcohol. However, such self-control could also result in more anger, aggression and irritability. Participants in four experiments in this study made choices representing self-control or indulgence. They then indicated their perceived anger over different provocative situations. The study found that self-control is linked with subsequent choices of anger-based behavior, attraction to angry facial expressions, sanction of appeals framed in angry language and reactivity toward attempts to manipulate behavior.

Aggressive behavior is considered inappropriate and is overtly discouraged. People use self-control strategies, which are considered positive behavior, while under provocation. One theory maintains that exerting self-control leads to depletion of psychological resources required for self-control. Consequently, the person is more likely to display anger later. For example, medical field studies have shown that people on diets tend to be irritable and aggressive. But such studies have not focused on the entire spectrum of angry behavior except for aggression. This study aimed to find the effect of initial self control on later angry behavior across wider domains.

* The first experiment tested the link between snack choices and movie preferences. The 239 participants chose between apples (associated with virtue) and chocolate candy (associated with temptation) as a participants’ reward, either before the experiment or afterward. They then chose one movie title from pairs.
* The second experiment included 139 females who chose between a spa session (indulgence) and grocery shopping (self-control) as a reward. Participants then looked at six pictures of angry or fearful faces, and indicated how much they were aroused.
* The third experiment included 209 participants who chose between an apple and a chocolate candy as a reward. They then read messages containing words like “should,” “must” and rated the messages on perceived irritability.
* In the fourth experiment, 204 participants chose between an apple and a chocolate candy as a reward. They then read three anger- and three sadness-framed public policy messages and indicated how favorably they viewed these messages.

* Individuals who first opted for the apple before the experiment instead of waiting until after the experiment were more liable to favor the anger-themed movies.
* Participants that opted for shopping for groceries first, over going to a spa rated the angry faces as more interesting than the fearful faces.
* Participants expressed greater irritation with the public policy message when they chose an apple before the experiment, instead of the group that chose an apple after completion of the experiment.
* Choosing a chocolate or spa session as a reward either before or after finishing the experiment did not matter in terms of response.

Next steps/Shortcomings
Anger is universally discouraged. So, an aversion to anger is likely to be deeply entrenched in the mind. This may mean that all anger behavior is likely to be automatically suppressed. The study design consisted of an immediate response choice after a self-control decision. In practice, a choice made after a time period, and on a continuing basis, might be more important.

People use self-control daily, making choices such as not yelling at a baby or avoiding a slice of chocolate cake. The study indicates that anger-related behavior increases after self-regulation. So, anger might be more prevalent than previously thought. The findings could have implications in marketing. For example, in a supermarket, anger-related movie titles may be likely to sell more if they are placed closer to health food (a self control decision). Policy makers should consider the emotional consequences of food education. Messages of healthy eating, calorie content and ingredients printed on food packages might produce irritation or guilt for indulging in unhealthy food.

For More Information:
Grapes of Wrath: The Angry Effects of Self-Control
Publication Journal: Journal of Consumer Research, 2011
By David Gal; Wendy Liu; Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois and University of California San Diego, La Jolla, California

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.


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