Expressing anger may be a tool for attaining prestige or status, in some circles. Observers associate anger with dominance, strength, competence, and smarts, according to research published in 2001.
But a study by Chicago Booth’s Celia Gaertig and Emma Levine, New York University’s Alixandra Barasch, and University of Pennsylvania’s Maurice Schweitzer suggests there’s a limit to the respect anger commands. Too much anger, particularly in relation to the offense committed, can backfire, especially on people climbing corporate or social ladders, the researchers argue. Exhibiting too much anger can harm the perceptions of competence and warmth, traits that tend to drive hiring and leadership decisions. The more intense the anger, the more likely others may suspect self-serving or harmfully intentioned motives.
The researchers conducted seven studies, some involving fake beverage tasting. In one of the studies, they asked groups of six participants to rate the best-tasting beverage presented in a lab. Both options were actually Coca-Cola, and the researchers didn’t tabulate participants’ responses, as the study was essentially just a decoy. Each group secretly included two actors, one of whom spilled soda on the other’s cell phone, eliciting an angry reaction that was either moderate or more intense. Then the participants had to pick a leader for a group activity, and in doing so rated each other’s (including the angry actor’s) competence and leadership potential.
Actors who reacted with intense anger rather than annoyance were perceived as less competent and were less likely to be selected for leadership roles. The responses held for participants who watched a video of the lab charade rather than participating in it. “Expressing high-intensity anger can be harmful for how an individual is perceived in social settings,” the researchers write.