Anger Types and Anger Personality Traits: Their Categories and Implications
Anger is an extremely powerful emotion that at times can be life changing, either through single massive instances of anger or the smaller inconveniences and conflicts of day to day life. Since anger can be so potent, knowing how people manage and deal with anger types is important for defining themselves as a person as well as interacting with other people. As such, being able to understand and break down anger types could be very useful. Categorizing anger into traits could allow psychologists to address people on a more individualistic level, and allow for further helpful research (Tafrate, Kassinove, and Dundin, 2002). If different styles of dealing with anger could be related to personality traits, that could also lead to a deeper understanding of the emotion itself. However, the current systems of categorizing anger types are weak in terms of their reliability and predictability, as well as their relation to personality traits.
One of the most common forms of breaking down anger into anger traits is habitual anger responses such as those determined by the State-Trait Anger Expression Inventory, or the STAXI (Forgays, Forgays, and Spielberger, 1997). This test addresses four different categories: trait anger, anger-out, anger-in, and anger control. Trait anger is loosely defined as the overall inclination towards anger. This inclination is broken down using a three factor model with the dimensions of affect or the self-report and emotional aspect of anger, behavior or the verbal and physical actions of the person, and the cognitive or bodily reactions such as temperature and heart rate. Anger in itself refers more to the affective experience, and is not to be confused with hostility or aggression which are separate (Martin, Watson, and Wan, 2000). Anger-out implies that a person is more likely to deal with anger through outward expression such as verbal or physical behavior. This is generally a more direct and immediate response to anger. Anger-in has an inward focus of anger, and the expression of anger is generally more indirect. The last factor, anger control, refers to the tendency to engage in behavior that is intended to reduce overt anger expression.
The habitual anger responses, in particular anger-in and anger-out, are not the same as actual anger responses. Actual anger responses refer more to the individual responses a person can make in a situation of anger. These are obtained from using the same three factor model that trait anger addresses. There are four actual anger responses, and each with their own high and reciprocal low forms: anger intensity, suppression, denial, and repression. Anger intensity, like trait anger, is the overall stimulus of all three components. High suppression involves a high affect and cognitive reaction, and a low behavioral reaction. Denial has a high cognitive and behavioral reactions, and low affect. Repression involves a high cognitive reaction, and a low affect and behavioral reaction. These individual responses that can classify particular anger episodes can be used to address the predictability of the habitual anger responses (Böddeker, and Stemmler, 2000).
High trait anger is the easiest of the traits to find correlations and predictability. This is most likely due to the basic and encompassing nature of the trait. However, the implications of having high trait anger are not without their meaning. Having high trait anger not only means being more inclined to anger in general, but also being bias and more readily able to process anger related information (Martin, Watson, and Wan, 2000). Whether being inclined towards anger causes the bias or the bias causes the inclination is unknown. A person high in trait anger is also more likely to exhibit physical aggression and violence, problems with substance abuse, and poorer health in general (Tafrate, Kassinove, and Dundin, 2002). There are also of course problematic consequences for angry behavior, and how all these implications are related more specifically can be speculated upon.
Negative social consequences are often a result of being high in trait anger as well. Angry behavior and many of the above implications of trait anger can make interacting with other people more difficult. This is especially true for those who tend to express negative effect in situations that are not anger provoking. Being negative in such situations can be inclined to make other people angry or respond negatively, and this in turn can create more conflict. This means that people high in trait anger are more likely to generate conflict, and thus have more reasons for being angry. Expression of negative affect in neutral situations can make getting to know new people more difficult. Even if the person is able to control their anger for the initial meeting such as an interview, it is likely that the long term relationship will suffer. A person high in trait anger is more likely to report weaker relationships with other people in general, especially after an anger episode. They would be less likely to make contact with the source of anger afterwards, thus create distance in the relationship. People low in trait anger, however, might even report stronger relationships after an episode of anger. Also, anger episodes just have a much less impact in general (Edmondson, Conger, and Conger, 2007).
Anger-in and Anger-out are more complicated and less reliable in their implications. The two categories in themselves are generally agreed upon and observable. Some people tend to express anger more outward whereas others more inward, and this is not much contended. Interestingly enough neither can be proven to be a more preferable tendency than the other (Ausbrooks, Thomas, and Williams, 1995). Anger can be detrimental when at both extremes, and a middle ground isn’t usually expressed as a variation in tendencies so much as variations in trait anger and anger control. Also, anger-in and anger-out are not consistent in their cognitive aspect, in particular their cardiovascular reactivity (Suchday, and Larkin, 2001). Even though physiological reactions are harder to control when compared to behaviors, it has been shown that people proficient with different emotion regulating techniques can be effective in altering their physiological responses, possibly by dealing with the emotion more as it comes. The large amount of research on cardiovascular reactions stemming from the interest in their health implications, has shown a large amount of discrepancies.
Such discrepancies and weak predictability involving anger-in and anger-out bring into question their usefulness, especially in relation to specific situations and actual anger responses. Determining someone’s anger traits entirely through self report questionnaires can be questionable considering the nature of the differences that occur between affect and cognition in anger (Böddeker, Stemmler, 2000). Also, the habitual response styles have issues being predictors of actual responses because the actual responses are too situation specific. Similar to arguments concerning personality traits, this might be because the research in itself is too specific. The literature is bound to conflict when research on the actual responses concerns a very limited time period. It might be possible to find stronger correlations and predictability between the habitual and actual responses if the actual responses are tested over time, as opposed to testing single instances of actual responses against traits that are supposed to measure general tendencies. Habitual response styles are more likely to find correlation with broader personality traits (Böddeker, Stemmler, 2000).
However, most of the Big Five personality traits have not been shown to demonstrate a very strong relation to anger traits. Of the Big Five, extraversion and neuroticism are the best candidates because they are related to reactivity to emotions, with neuroticism showing the best success. Neuroticism has been shown to relate well to anger affect. Personality traits have been shown to be linked fairly well with some actual anger responses, or more specific behaviors. For example, someone low on extraversion and high on neuroticism is likely to react with high denial. Also, behavioral aggression has been associated with low agreeableness, with possible influence from neuroticism (Martin, Watson, and Wan, 2000). In general correlations between personality traits and anger traits have not been heavily investigated. However, self-efficacy and optimism have shown to be strongly related to anger control (Ausbrooks, Thomas, and Williams, 1995). Possibly, if a person is able to approach a situation with more confidence in their ability to both handle and come out positively in a conflict they are less prone lose control. They would then be able to engage in more constructive methods of expressing anger.
What can be helpful is to raise awareness in a person’s own tendencies when dealing with anger (Edmondson, Conger, and Conger, 2007). This can be done on a very individualistic level, and sometimes it may even be necessary in order to begin attempting to modify negative expressivity in the first place. Being aware helps gain better perspective on a situation, and can help improve anger control. Sometimes this is difficult enough that having someone watch themselves on video tape is needed, which might also say something about the reliability of self report concerning anger.
Categorizing anger types in a reliably useful and predictable manner has proven to be difficult. Although raising awareness towards an individual’s tendencies is helpful, being able to break anger down into traits would still be valuable. Understanding how different people react to anger differently more deeply opens up the possibility of improved treatments for those with anger issues. The potential use of categorizing anger types reliably warrants more research.
Ausbrooks, E. P., Thomas, S. P., & Williams, R. L. (1995). Relationships among self-efficacy, optimism, trait anger, and anger expression. Health Values: The Journal of Health Behavior, Education & Promotion, 19(4), 46-54.
Böddeker, I., & Stemmler, G. (2000). Who responds how and when to anger? the assessment of actual anger response styles and their relation to personality. Cognition and Emotion, 14(6), 737-762.
Edmondson, C. B., Conger, J. C., & Conger, A. J. (2007). Social skills in college students with high trait anger. Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology, 26(5), 575-594.
Forgays, D. G., Forgays, D. K., & Spielberger, C. D. (1997). Factor structure of the state-trait anger expression inventory. Journal of Personality Assessment, 69(3), 497-507.
Martin, R., Watson, D., & Wan, C. K. (2000). A three-factor model of trait anger: Dimensions of affect, behavior, and cognition. Journal of Personality, 68(5), 869-897.
Parrott, D. J., & Zeichner, A. (2003). Effects of trait anger and negative attitudes towards women on physical assault in dating relationships. Journal of Family Violence, 18(5), 301-307.
Parrott, D. J., Zeichner, A., & Evces, M. (2005). Effect of trait anger on cognitive processing of emotional stimuli. Journal of General Psychology, 132(1), 67-80.
Pauls, C. A. (2004). Physiological consequences of emotion regulation: Taking into account the effects of strategies, personality, and situation. The regulation of emotion. (pp. 333-358). Mahwah, NJUS: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.
Suchday, S., & Larkin, K. T. (2001). Biobehavioral responses to interpersonal conflict during anger expression among anger-in and anger-out men. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 23(4), 282-290.
Tafrate, R. C., Kassinove, H., & Dundin, L. (2002). Anger episodes in high and low trait anger community adults. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58(12), 1573-1590.
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