ANGER CAN TRIGGER STRESS, depression and even violence in extreme cases, but a new research study co-authored by Harvard Kenney School Professor Jennifer Lerner and led by NIH scientist Rebecca Ferrer suggests that anger can also drive risky behavior—particularly among men—which could lead to financial rewards.  The study is published in the July 5 issue of the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making.

The article is the latest in a robust body of research examining human emotions and decision making, much of which has been pioneered by Lerner, who developed a theoretical framework that successfully predicts the effects of specific emotions on specific judgment and choice outcomes.   

In the newest study, Lerner and her co-authors–Rebecca A. Ferrer, Alexander Maclay, and Paul M. Litvak–focused specifically on the role that gender plays in the interplay between anger and risk-taking, and on the juxtaposition of that interaction with economic gains. 

“Across three experiments, as well as a meta-analytic synthesis of the data, results reveal that incidental anger is significantly more likely to drive risky decision making among males than among females,” the authors concluded. “Moreover, the experiments document that, under certain circumstances, such risk-taking pays off financially. Indeed, the present experiments demonstrate that, because the expected-value-maximizing strategy in these studies rewarded risk-taking, angry-male individuals earned more money than did both neutral-emotion males and angry females. 

Lerner and her co-authors argue that their findings have important real-world implications.

“In the present set of choices, the expected value of each gamble rewarded risk seeking behavior; thus, experiencing anger produced greater financial rewards.  In other choices, risk seeking behavior can lead to a greater loss overall.  It remains to be seen whether men in an angry state can shift behaviors from risk-seeking to risk aversion when the expected value of a gamble is negative.  Future research should examine that.”

Read the study, “Revisiting the Effects of Anger on Risk-Taking: Empirical and Meta-Analytic Evidence for Differences between Males and Females,” in the July 5 issue of the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making.

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