Could Anger Be Your New Tool for Goal Achievement?

By Jiri Kaloc

The time for setting goals and New Year’s resolutions is here. Let’s take a look at a new way to improve your chances of success. Researchers from Texas A&M University explored the impact of anger on goal achievement. They conducted several experiments to identify what kind of goals benefit from anger and what to look out for. Here is what they found.

The role of emotions in attempting challenging tasks

The study involved six experiments with over 1,000 participants and survey data from more than 1,400 respondents. In each experiment, researchers created an emotional response in participants (anger, amusement, desire, sadness, etc.) or a neutral emotional state, and then presented them with a challenging task. The tasks included solving a series of word puzzles or getting a high score in a skiing video game.

“The view that positive emotion is ideal for mental health and well-being has been prominent in lay and psychological accounts of emotion, but previous research suggests that a mix of emotions, including negative emotions like anger, result in the best outcomes,” said lead author Heather Lench, PhD, about the motivation for setting up these experiments.

Anger enhances persistence and effectiveness

One of the experiments in the study that involved 233 undergraduate students from Texas A&M University had aparticularly interesting outcome when it comes to anger. Each participant was randomly assigned to feel either anger, desire, sadness, amusement, or a neutral state. This was achieved by showing images designed to elicit these emotions. For example, those in the anger group saw insults about the school’s football team. The study found that those in the anger group solved 39% more puzzles when compared to those in a neutral emotional state. This suggests that anger can enhance persistence and effectiveness in challenging situations.

Road cyclist
One of the experiments in the study that involved 233 undergraduate students from Texas A&M University had aparticularly interesting outcome when it comes to anger. © Profimedia

“These findings demonstrate that anger increases effort toward attaining a desired goal, frequently resulting in greater success,” commented Heather Lench, PhD.

There are downsides to using anger

It’s important to keep in mind that the influence of anger was not universally positive. While it improved performance in demanding tasks, it didn’t enhance performance in simpler assignments. Also, intense anger can increase heart rate, cause difficulty breathing, and may even contribute to health issues like cardiovascular diseases. And it’s no secret that anger causes problems in interpersonal relationships.

Anger can be viewed positively

The researchers argue that mild or moderate anger can be a positive force in someone’s life, serving as a signal that something needs to change and potentially a source of motivation to achieve challenging goals. They also emphasized that it’s key to understand why one is angry to harness this emotion constructively.

“People often prefer to use positive emotions as tools more than negative and tend to see negative emotions as undesirable and maladaptive. Our research adds to the growing evidence that a mix of positive and negative emotions promotes well-being, and that using negative emotions as tools can be particularly effective in some situations,” concluded Heather Lench, PhD.