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A recent study in Cognition and Emotion found that anger can sometimes make us more critical thinkers by inhibiting our confirmation bias. Instead of only searching for information that supports our beliefs, anger can create a “moving against” tendency that motivates us to seek alternative information that opposes our assumptions.

The study had participants do two different experiments (which they thought were unrelated). In the first experiment, Group A wrote about an experience that made them angry, while Group B wrote about a mundane, ordinary experience. This has shown in previous research to facilitate a mood change.

In the next experiment, each participant was asked to evaluate their opinions on hands-free mobile kits. All participants were chosen beforehand because they believed the hands-free kit to be safer while driving than holding the phone to your head. Researchers had participants choose several articles to read about the safety of hands-free kits. What they found was that those who were primed to be angry were more likely to choose articles that went against their opinion. Meanwhile, those who were in the neutral state were more likely to choose articles that supported their opinion (an example of confirmation bias).

By the end of the experiment, those who were primed to be angry were more likely to shift from their original opinions. This demonstrates that anger can sometimes be a useful emotion for playing “devil’s advocate” and seeking alternative viewpoints.

A similar study was also conducted in 2008 regarding the election between Obama and McCain. Supports of Obama who were primed to be angry were more likely to seek positive information about McCain and shift their opinions. Meanwhile, supports of McCain who were primed to be angry were more likely to see positive information about Obama and shift their opinions. Anger doesn’t automatically make us change our minds, but by seeking information that goes against our opinions it can help us be more understanding of alternative viewpoints.

I often like to emphasize on this blog how “negative” emotions can serve a positive function, and this research is one good example of that. Have you ever had a positive outcome due to your anger? Share it with us in the comments section!

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