Clinical and Research News
Anger May Give Birth To Optimism
Psychiatric News
Volume 37 Number 9 page 25-25

Although most people assume that anger leads to a pessimistic outlook on life, a new study suggests just the opposite—that anger can lead to optimism.

Jennifer Lerner, Ph.D., an assistant professor of social and decision sciences at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, and her colleagues hypothesized that anger, at least relative to the negative emotion of fear, would lead to optimism. They tested this hypothesis in a national field experiment with almost 1,000 Americans, aged 13 to 88. The sample represented the U.S. census so that results would apply to the American population at large.

First Lerner and her colleagues asked subjects about their reactions to the terrorist attacks of September 11 nine days after the attacks occurred, then determined whether subjects who were angry or whether subjects who were fearful were more optimistic. They found that those who were angry were more optimistic.

Then, eight weeks later, using television imagery and newspaper reports about the September 11 attacks, they studied the same subjects again. But this time, half of the subjects were exposed to fear-inducing media reports, and half were exposed to anger-inducing media reports. The researchers found that the fear-inducing media reports increased subjects’ perceptions that they might be hurt in terrorist attacks—that is, made them more pessimistic, whereas the anger-inducing media reports decreased subjects’ perception of personal risk—that is, made them more optimistic.

Thus, "regardless of whether we randomly exposed people to emotion-inducing media stories or if we measured naturally occurring emotions, greater anger led to greater optimism," Lerner said in a press release issued by Carnegie Mellon University.

The study, which was funded by the National Science Foundation and the American Psychological Association, is in press with Psychological Science. ▪

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