How Anger Affects Thinking & Decision-Making

Learn how anger affects thinking and decision-making from anger management expert Dr. J. Ryan Fuller in this Howcast video.


I'm Ryan Fuller. I'm a clinical psychologist with a private practice in New York City. I'm going to talk to you a little about how anger can affect our thinking in decision making. So most of us even more experiencing normal levels of anger, annoyance and irritation have probably experienced moments where we said something we would regret and might believe we had to apologize to a loved one or a co-worker, something like that. But when anger is really extreme it can even make matters worst. So first let's talk a little bit about what anger does physiologically. Really, anger is functionally about protecting the organism to survive a physical threat. So it has this protective functioning. To do that it is basically going to experience high levels of metabolism where energy is going to be the major function of the day.

How do I get this organism to survive the next few minutes? Higher level hours of thinking may not be, even though there might be sharpness of mind sometimes, it's really about survival and so the frontal lobe which is involved in sort of executive functioning which means planning and judgement and things like that, sometimes doesn't make the best decisions when we're angry. And there's been some really interesting research done on this that demonstrates that when people are really experiencing high levels of anger and especially if they have high trait anger, meaning they experience this frequently, they tend to make riskier decisions that have higher payoffs. And so that can have detrimental effects as you can imagine in the work place.

If you're in finance and suddenly you became angry, suddenly this high payoff, high risk option in fact seems much, much more desirable. There’ve also been plenty of studies that indicate our calculation skills in terms of just doing simple math actually declines when we're incredibly angry and aroused. So, here are two situations that become quite problematic in a work setting. If you can imagine lots of anger management people take that... those kinds of calculations also into their cars and so you have people you are now... they're under estimating the potential likelihood of something bad when they're angry and they're sort of hoping for this high payoff. That's not the kind of decision making we want when we're making decisions about changing lanes or getting off exits, speeding up and slowing down.

Those were the kinds of thinking patterns and decision making that can become impaired when we're incredibly angry.

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