A new study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin finds that people tend to become more economically conservative when they are angry.
The research involved several studies with more than 1,000 participants. In the first study, the researchers asked 538 undergraduate students to score how prone they were to anger, how competitive they typically were and how strongly they agreed or disagreed with statements like, “Laws of nature are responsible for differences in wealth in society,” and “If people work hard, they almost always get what they want.”
The researchers found positive associations between anger proneness, economic conservatism, and competitiveness. These findings provide preliminary evidence that anger enhances support for economic conservatism by making people feel more competitive.
Next, the researchers recruited 203 paid participants from Amazon Mechanical Turk, a crowdsourcing Internet marketplace, to write essays and then answer surveys. A control group was asked to write about their typical day, and a second group was asked to describe experiences that illustrate what it feels like to be angry. This activity prompted the last group of respondents to feel what the researchers call “incidental anger.”
“We got people angry that way, and then we asked them, ‘Oh by the way, we want to ask you a few basic personality questions,'” said co-author Dr. Anthony Salerno, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Cincinnati.
“We had things like age and gender, but along with those, we had a measure of people’s economic views. We embedded that in with a longer list of questions, and people had no idea that their responses were being influenced by this previous writing task.”
Salerno conducted the study with co-author Dr. Keri Kettle, an assistant professor at the University of Manitoba.
The anger-provoking writing task caused a statistically significant rightward shift in the participants’ economic views. The question of what makes people angry elicited a wide range of responses, including:
“Traffic makes me angry. People tend to leave all rational thoughts behind them when they get behind the wheel of a car. People don’t pay attention to what they are doing when they drive, and it leads to dangerous situations. It is even worse when there is rain or heavy congestion. Traffic makes me angry because it brings out the aggression of others.”
“I get angry when people ask me for advice, and then don’t follow the advice I give them. I also get angry when people try to think for me. When either of these things happen, I get restless and stressed. I will try to leave the room or calm down in a place by myself and away from anyone else.”
When Salerno and Kettle began the study, they originally thought that anger might just make people more conservative in general, but that turned out to not be the case.
“It’s this very specific aspect of a person’s political views,” said Salerno. “When you make people angry, you also make them more competitive.
“If you think about competition, it’s about trying to win out over someone else, and it’s usually over some type of valuable or desirable resource. By making people more competitive, we think that people become more focused on acquiring resources.”
Another study conducted on Amazon Mechanical Turk supports this notion. Here, the researchers used the same anger influence from their previous study, but they factored in a new concept: resource scarcity versus resource abundance.
They gave each of the participants 10 sets of five words and asked them to form sentences by unscrambling the words. Some of the participants given words like “scarce,” “insufficient,” and “broke,” while others received words like “abundant,” “plenty,” and “sufficient.”
The researchers found that the economic views of those who were influenced to believe that resources were scarce shifted much more than those influenced to believe they were abundant.
In another study, a group of participants were asked what makes them grateful before being asked about their political beliefs. The incidental gratitude — which stems from the belief that another person has caused a positive outcome in one’s own life — led to a more economically liberal response.
“Once people were reminded of a time they were grateful, they actually became more likely to support policy that would promote resource redistribution,” said Salerno.
Rousing people’s anger is a time-honored tradition during election season, and Salerno doesn’t doubt that someone might try to put the findings of this study to unethical uses. His hope, however, is that the study will help people become aware of how their emotions can be used to manipulate them.
“By making people more aware, they’re less susceptible to its influence,” he says.
Source: University of Cincinnati