6 August 1999

It's OK - get angry!

by Kate Melville

Anger may not be an unchanging personality trait but rather a state that fluctuates according to on-the-spot situations.

Scientists from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and State University of New York have developed a new way to measure anger hostility at the moment that individuals are experiencing their anger.

According to Dr. Laura Porter, "Anger expression is likely to be tied to situational factors such as the person who triggers the anger or the location where the anger episode takes place. The same person who yells and slams doors during an argument with a family member at home may inwardly seethe at an unreasonable boss at work without saying anything."

Up until recently the bulk of research looking at anger and heart disease assumed that anger expression constitutes a stable individual personality trait. The research published in the current issue of Psychosomatic Medicine involved one hundred college students. Initially, participants completed self-report questionnaires before starting a seven-day period of report anger episodes occurring in their everyday lives.

This was the first study to look at the relationship between blood pressure and state measures of anger expression as it occurs in natural settings.

The researchers took account of the persons and places in the anger episodes, and also of mood and appraisal factors such as the anger intensity involved, whether the situation was resolved, the amount of control the person had over resolving the situation, and whether the outcome was beneficial or harmful.

The report concludes that there is a statistically significant relationship between how people say they respond when angry and what they actually do. There is also a great variance in state measures of anger expression that is unexplained by trait measures. State measures of anger expression were notably associated with the persons and places involved in the anger episode as well as mood/appraisal variables, indicating that situational factors played an important role in the way individuals expressed their anger.