Exploring the Psychology of Anger and Motivation

A new study published in Psychological Science links anger to increased motivation for reward, a feature that some might associate with more positive emotions. Interestingly, this study doesn’t just link anger in general with motivation in general: instead, people actually showed the strongest desire for specific items they associated with anger. The study’s authors relate this tendency to evolution: if food supply is limited, for example, those who feel food-related anger will fight harder to win that food. This backs up one of the chief understandings behind anger management therapy: that anger is a healthy part of adult life, which helps us protect ourselves and meet our needs. But like any strong emotion, there are both healthy and unhealthy ways of channeling it.

© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Amelia


    November 5th, 2010 at 9:23 PM

    Fighting over food is one thing: that’s about fulfilling survival needs. It’s when you see men or women fighting over a parking space or something equally trivial that’s crazy. Anger may be a good thing, but only in moderation.

  • Rosalyn


    November 5th, 2010 at 10:18 PM

    I cannot think of even a single instance where anger can be positive!That is because although it may help you gain the reward it also means that you are nudging out someone else in order to gain the reward.And just pushing someone out is not healthy competition.

  • Joy


    November 5th, 2010 at 10:39 PM

    I don’t understand folks that don’t ever get angry. I find them more frightening than the kind that bawl and throw things around. At least they are venting their anger openly. The quiet controlled type, now they are downright scary. That’s not channeling anger. That’s suppressing it.

  • Ethan


    November 6th, 2010 at 11:32 AM

    I think this study is a load of hokum. You want to see aggressiveness and anger over wanting something? Go visit with a group of two year olds and not enough toys to go around. Do we encourage them to be angry and aggressive to get what they want? No we do not. It’s not a positive emotion in a child or an adult when the sole reason is material gain.

  • Kyle


    November 6th, 2010 at 11:32 AM

    It’s like the whole fight or flight. You fight for it when it is important, and sometimes anger makes for a great motivator.

  • alexis


    November 6th, 2010 at 12:04 PM

    When you’re protecting your loved ones from an intruder or mad enough to break down the door of a burning building to get to them, anger’s healthy and positive. That’s about the only justification there is in my book.

  • Alison


    November 6th, 2010 at 1:08 PM

    I have experienced a couple of times that anger has actually persuaded me to perform better in order to achieve somethig.It’s like they say-sometimes you need a kick in the rear to get working!

  • Gordon R.

    Gordon R.

    November 6th, 2010 at 6:03 PM

    I never get angry. When you’re angry, you’ve lost control. It’s important to remain calm and keep your wits about you at all times. You cannot succeed in life any other way. Anger isn’t in my makeup.

  • Dorothy


    November 6th, 2010 at 6:41 PM

    What, you never get angry about the past or present or anything? I feel sorry for you. Anger is a great form of release when you can express it in a healthy and healing way. The best place is in therapy. You’ll learn how to control and manage it, rather than let it cast you around like a cowboy on an unbroken pony.



    November 7th, 2010 at 12:13 PM

    Anger at a particular person in school has once led me to actually work harder and beat him on the field…in athletics…but we need to be very careful because anger can very easily spiral out of control and get everybody involved into trouble…

  • Danielle


    November 8th, 2010 at 5:47 AM

    Anger only motivates you to get even, not to bring an issue to resolution.

  • Jesse Jane

    Jesse Jane

    November 8th, 2010 at 3:10 PM

    Mark my words Gordon R., someday you will and it will all flooding come out. All of it. Wouldn’t you want to do that in a safe, controlled, non-judgmental environment like a therapist’s or counselor’s office? You need help, buddy. Anger’s a natural emotion.

  • Miguel


    August 14th, 2012 at 12:16 AM

    I get angry quite a bit but it’s only when I want to. I can control myself completely, well at least my anger that is. I’m normally very clumbsy but once I let myself become angry or let out some of that anger, it helps me preform better. Say I’m at work and we’re falling behind because of me. Thats when I realize that Its acceptable to be angry but only at myself since I’m the one messing up. I take responsibility for my actions and use my anger to do better. Gordon may have a point that we need to always stay in control but he fails to realize that anger can be controlled like any other emotion. I use it to my advantage on a regular basis and am always in control of it. I don’t let my anger consume me like other people who say they “black out” once they’ve gotten angry. Those who do are either too weak to control it or just don’t want to be held accountable for they’re actions.

  • Ken


    March 6th, 2014 at 1:13 PM

    I believe that people like myself have a difficult time expressing our emotions, namely anger. It can be scary letting others know what we think, because of the fear over how they’ll react to what we say. “What will they say? What will they think about me? Will they still accept me for who I am?” These questions bring about low self-esteem, and cause me to go back to hiding in my own little shell. I don’t like to be angry, and I have accepted anger as a human emotion; however, I get afraid of myself when I do get angry. I get scared of what I might say or do to other people, because I don’t want to hurt them. I realized that I can hurt people when I’m angry, but I’ve been constantly trying to work through it, not by suppressing my anger, but by attempting to tell others what bothers me, doing my best to calmly find a solution, rather than running away from it. I don’t have the best control of my emotions, but I’m learning how to express myself in a more appropriate manner. I think that anger isn’t completely bad. Like others have said before, it is a motivator, but I have found that it has lead me to learn more about myself.

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