Psychology Anger
Kirby Deater-Deckard, Zhe Wang
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 August 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 September 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0016


Anger is a complex psychological construct and behavior. Some researchers conceptualize anger from a “state-emotion” perspective, whereas others define it as an “affective trait.” Some researchers consider anger to be largely a cognitive process that indicates how people appraise their worlds, whereas others argue that the experience of anger also involves affective and behavioral components in addition to the cognitive component. Therefore, much of the research utilizes empirical evidence to test the various theories and conceptualizations of anger. Theoretical orientations aside, there is a clear consensus that anger is an important dimension of personal attributes that differentiate people from one another, ranging from those who are easily provoked and always angry to those who seem to hardly ever get irritated. Thus, another area of major research activity is dedicated to examining the biological and social origins of individual differences in anger. Chronic anger has been established as a major risk factor that contributes to a variety of psychological and physical health problems. Accordingly, researchers are also investigating how and why anger contributes to poor health and functioning, and how to most effectively treat and prevent persistent and high levels of anger in individuals. This article provides a general overview of the most common conceptualizations and theories regarding the nature and causes of anger. It then reviews the methodologies that are used to measure and study anger, followed by a summary of studies that have examined how anger develops over childhood and adolescence into adulthood. Studies that have examined the role gender plays in anger are also reviewed. This is followed by an examination of the biological and environmental processes that interact to influence individual differences in anger. Finally, the article describes some of the many links between anger and a variety of psychological and physical health problems, and the evidence that effective intervention and prevention methods can be used to reduce anger and improve people’s health and functioning.

The authors were supported by NIMH grant R01 MH 99437 and NSF grant DRL-1118571 during the preparation of this article. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institute of Mental Health or National Institutes of Health.

General Overviews

Anger is one of the most common emotions in daily life, and it has a great impact on people’s behaviors, health, and societal functioning. Due to its profound influence, researchers strive to understand the nature of anger and to explain why some individuals frequently experience anger while other individuals hardly ever become angry. Some of the papers and chapters included here provide a general overview of the common theoretical frameworks researchers use to study anger. Potegal and Novaco 2010 summarizes a brief history in which our understanding of the nature of anger has been built gradually over decades of innovations in theory and methods. Zentner and Bates 2008 reviews a temperament and personality framework, in which dispositional anger is examined as a stable, biologically based trait. Wilkowski and Robinson 2010 utilizes a social-cognitive perspective to emphasize that human variation in anger reflects individual differences in three interconnected thought processes. More specifically, Wranik and Scherer 2010 summarizes a “componential appraisal” approach that describes how anger emerges from the cognitive evaluations of situations. In contrast, Kuppens, et al. 2008 provides a theoretical framework and empirical evidence that challenge the dominant status of the componential appraisal approach in anger research, and argues that anger arises from both appraisal and nonappraisal processes. Furthermore, Carver and Harmon-Jones 2009 presents a motivational approach to anger that emphasizes the concept of goals in anger experiences. Averill 1993 provides a distinct theoretical framework of studying emotion, namely the social interactionist perspectives. Averill argues that anger is a subjective social construct rather than an objective being. Finally, Lewis 2010 argues that to precisely define anger as an emotion, it is important to clearly differentiate it from other emotions.

  • Averill, James R. 1993. Illusions of anger. In Aggression and violence: Social interactionist perspectives. Edited by Richard B. Felson and James T. Tedeschi, 171–192. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

    DOI: 10.1037/10123-000

    This theoretical paper examines emotion from a constructivist point of view. In particular, like other emotions, anger is considered a subjective phenomenon. It is a moral concept that is constructed based on cultural norms and social rules, according to which people give explanations and justifications of their behaviors.

  • Carver, Charles S., and Eddie Harmon-Jones. 2009. Anger is an approach-related affect: Evidence and implications. Psychological Bulletin 135.2: 183–204.

    DOI: 10.1037/a0013965

    This article takes a motivational approach to emotion. It reviews evidences from a variety of research areas examining cortical electric activities, cardiovascular and hormonal correlates, development of temperament and personality, psychopathology, and person perception, and concludes that anger is an approach-related affect.

  • Kuppens, Peter, Iven van Mechelen, and Frank Rijmen. 2008. Toward disentangling sources of individual differences in appraisal and anger. Journal of Personality 76.4: 969–1000.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.2008.00511.x

    This paper introduces a novel model that challenges the componential appraisal theory of anger. Specifically, this theory proposes that individual differences in anger experience emerge from appraisal as well as nonappraisal processes.

  • Lewis, Michael. 2010. The development of anger. In International handbook of anger: Constituent and concomitant biological, psychological, and social processes. Edited by Michael Potegal, Gerhard Stemmler, and Charles D. Spielberger, 177–191. New York: Springer.

    From a functional and a developmental perspective, this chapter reviews the developmental process of anger, with an emphasis on distinguishing anger from other emotions. In particular, the author argues that anger can be differentiated from other negative emotions both in terms of its role in motivation and the way it develops.

  • Potegal, Michael, and Raymond W. Novaco. 2010. A brief history of anger. In International handbook of anger: Constituent and concomitant biological, psychological, and social processes. Edited by Michael Potegal, Gerhard Stemmler, and Charles D. Spielberger, 9–24. New York: Springer.

    This chapter provides a concise overview of a history in which humans attempt to understand the nature of anger. Evidence from ancient myths, religious narratives, arts, and philosophies of human nature all suggest that anger is fundamentally linked to our representations of personal and societal order and disorder.

  • Wilkowski, Benjamin M., and Michael D. Robinson. 2010. The anatomy of anger: An integrative cognitive model of trait anger and reactive aggression. Journal of Personality 78.1: 9–38.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.2009.00607.x

    This paper presents a cognitive model of trait anger. According to this model, individual differences in hostile attribution, ruminative attention, and cognitive self-regulatory processes all contribute to the level of trait anger. The authors argue for an integrative cognitive model for organizing the existing literature on trait anger.

  • Wranik, Tanja, and Klaus R. Scherer. 2010. Why do I get angry? A componential appraisal approach. In International handbook of anger: Constituent and concomitant biological, psychological, and social processes. Edited by Michael Potegal, Gerhard Stemmler, and Charles D. Spielberger, 243–266. New York: Springer.

    This chapter summarizes a componential appraisal approach to the conceptualization and study of anger. Accordingly, anger emerges from how individuals subjectively give meaning to and evaluate situations. The authors argue that this integrative approach is useful in differentiating and relating similar constructs, such as anger and aggression.

  • Zentner, Marcel, and John E. Bates. 2008. Child temperament: an integrative review of concepts, research programs, and measures. European Journal of Developmental Science 2.1–2: 7–37.

    This review paper provides a comprehensive overview of the research on child temperament. It is important because it offers insights into a temperament-based perspective on how anger is conceptualized, measured, and studied as a temperament/personality facet over childhood and adulthood.

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