Joel is a journalist and researcher with a background in developmental and behavioral psychology, as well as cognitive development.
Wheel of Emotions
The Growth of Anger in Society
Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne of Psychology Today observes that society is getting noticeably angrier in recent years.
This case is strengthened by a 2016 NBC survey which showed that Americans were angrier than they were a year prior (by almost twice, depending on demographic).
Science Direct notes a increase of DCV (desire for consumer vengeance), meaning consumers are no longer focused on the improvement of products and services, but instead are interested in getting vengeance on service providers whom they feel haven’t satisfied them.
Art Markman, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin observes that the internet, especially, is a source of rage among society at large.
Political pundits are getting more and more attention, both by those who agree with their intense criticism of the other side, and those who disagree with them, and seem to enjoy voicing their anger.
But who would enjoy something so unpleasant as anger?
Why Anger Is Attractive
As it happens, anger is only unpleasant when one is on the receiving end. The angry person may actually enjoy the experience. Why is this?
Despite the overall damage anger does to others, and to the world at large, it is an impulse one’s brain produces as a safeguard against emotional damage – in much the same way that one’s body produces adrenaline when experiencing a traumatic injury or physical emergency.
Speaking of adrenaline, this is one of three chemicals the brain releases in times of rage. Adrenaline is, of course, a physical boost giving a sense of heightened awareness and increase of physical energy.
The other chemicals released by the brain during intense moments of anger include norepinephrine and dopamine. The first is a chemical designed to numb the brain, especially negative feelings like fear and anxiety. In other words, anger is actually therapeutic in terms of reducing other mental stressors.
Dopamine is, of course, a pleasure hormone, briefly offering a mental high that the body craves.
Besides its physiological highs, anger has been shown to have significant psychological effects. Feeling angry can work as a substitute emotion, taking one's attention away from oneself, and focusing it on some "other" towards which the anger is directed.
Consequently, anger can become a coping mechanism for anxiety, boredom, pain, depression, or a number of other unpleasant self-focused thoughts.
If there is some "other" which can become a consistent source of anger, people may start to "self-medicate" by actually seeking out reasons to be angry with this "other."
As a result, anger can have an aspect of dependency to it, making it a habit-forming behavior.
Dr. Harry Mills of Mentalhealth.net puts it this way:
"In addition to providing a good smoke screen for feelings of vulnerability, becoming angry also creates a feeling of righteousness, power and moral superiority that is not present when someone is merely in pain. When you are angry, you are angry with cause. "The people who have hurt me are wrong - they should be punished" is the common refrain. It is very rare that someone will get angry with someone they do not think has harmed them in some significant fashion."
Whether justified or unjustified, the seductive feeling of righteousness associated with anger offers a powerful temporary boost to self-esteem.
The Attraction of Hatred
Jedi Master Yoda asserts that “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
The Jedi Master seems to have contained some wisdom, fictional though he might be.
Once one has come to the point that they are physically dependent on feelings of anger in order to feel good and cope with one’s other stressors (fear, for instance), one begins to identify certain “others” to which they may attach their anger. This constant feeling of anger toward an individual or group transforms into hatred – insofar as the individual may obsess or return to this object of anger (as one does by constantly engaging in political or internet groups with which one strongly disagrees). In fact, studies show that the feeling of hatred shares some neural pathways with infatuation (the early excitement one feels toward an object of affection at the outset of a romantic relationship).
Here one sees the best of Pavlovian and Skinnerian psychology combined. The mere sight or thought of the object of hatred triggers the neurological response associated with hatred, and one craves the trigger, and thus returns to the subject consistently in order to feel the high - as one might with a fetish or voodoo doll.
But much like pornography, one is liable to eventually become desensitized to the object of hatred after frequent “highs.”
Consequently, one must dig deeper into the subject matter in order to intensify the anger. As a result, the individual chases the high, looking to achieve the same level of hatred.
The Social Impact
This does a good deal to explain how one might come to intentionally look for reasons to be angry at the other – even to the degree of irrationality. Practically speaking, this might look like nitpicking and misinterpreting the intentions of another in order to remain angry with this “other.”
Should any of this information look familiar to the reader, it might be because this is a powerful dynamic that is driving human behavior as the social network has expanded beyond immediate community to the world at large in a day of universal connectivity.
While there is no sweeping solution to the problem of anger addiction, it is helpful to make this information available, and to be personally conscious of one’s obsessions and actions in order to assess how much of one’s ideology is driven by rational assessment, and how much is driven by the need to create an “other” towards which one may direct one’s anger.
Doubtless there are individuals or groups whose actions require criticism, but such criticism is better spent in the attempt to persuade others toward a common solution. But the impulse to further the divide and animus between oneself and the “other” simply escalates a cycle of hatred which can be habit forming and insidious.