Don’t Act Angry Unless You Mean It

Imagine your 16-year-old daughter comes home an hour after curfew. Because you remember what it was like to be a teenager, you’re not that angry. However, you’d still like your daughter to obey her curfew, and so you start thinking it’s in your best interest to appear angry. That way your daughter will be under the impression she made a serious mistake that she cannot repeat. Would faking anger actually be a good idea?

In general, research suggests that expressing anger is helpful during a negotiation because it signals dominance and toughness. For example, in lab experiments people tend to respond to displays of anger by lowering their demands and making large concessions. However, in these experiments participants have little reason to doubt the authenticity of the anger. Usually participants are unable to scrutinize the anger because it’s conveyed in a non-visual format, such as an email, or they are led to believe their opponent is unaware he is being observed, which would mean there is no incentive to fake an emotion. That bring up an interesting question: What happens when anger is not authentic?

A new study led by the University of Toronto’s Stephane Côté aimed to uncover the answer by examining the difference between “surface acting anger” — which in the experiments involved actors pretending to be angry — and “deep acting anger” — which involved actors who had been told to remember something that made them angry. When participants engaged in negotiations over the sale of a used car, they demanded more money when faced with surface anger, less money when faced with deep anger, and an amount in between the two (but significantly different from both of them) when faced with a neutral reaction. In sum, real anger elicited more concessions and a better outcome, but fake anger led to an inferior outcome.

Negotiations involving anger are not all that common outside certain business environments, but one place where the do frequently arise is in the context of parenting.  When a child does something wrong a parent tends to get angry, and what ensues is essentially a negotiation over future behavior. The parent makes a demand or sets a punishment, and their child makes a concession that involves a conscious or unconscious commitment to avoid the offending behavior for a certain about of time. The implication of the study is that faking anger could lead a child to make a lesser concession. For example, when a parent acts authentically and neutrally in response to a broken curfew, the child might respond to the expressed disappointment and/or punishment by deciding not to break curfew for at least three months. However, if the child judges the parent’s anger to be inauthentic, they may reduce their concession and merely decide they won’t break curfew for one month. The lesson, as always, is for parents to act sincerely (unless they’re really really good at faking anger.)

Côté, S., Hideg, I., & van Kleef, G. (2013). The Consequences of Faking Anger in Negotiations Journal of Experimental Social Psychology DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2012.12.015

3 Responses to Don’t Act Angry Unless You Mean It

  1. Randall Smith says:

    While I’ll agree with the majority of what is written, I find that you’re missing a key factor. Being honestly angry doesn’t necessarily mean that your child will adhere to your rules or your punishment for breaking said rules. Abraham Maslow’s theory of motivation would suggest that it is dependent on the child’s psychological growth. If the child has had a consistent form of consequence for certain decisions, it would seem as though the child would understand and learn from the punishment itself rather than the emotion of anger.

  2. Zach Baker says:

    I believe that faking anger to try and make things go the way you want them is a terrible mistake for parents and children. I have a very close friend who has parents who always were angry at her, or appeared to be. Every day the daughter gets home from school, before she even got in the door, was in trouble for something little. Such as the dishes or house being dirty. No matter how hard she tried to defend herself, the parents never let up. As soon as she started cleaning, the parent’s personality changed. From my point of view I see the parents acting angry so the daughter will feel bad and clean the house for them. This way of getting chores done has almost destroyed the relationship. The daughter fears going home because she knows she will be in trouble for something. This has also hurt the psychological personality of the daughter. She always thinks she’s in trouble and has issues enjoying things due to the stress or guilt of knowing she will be in trouble as soon as she gets home. The parents will tell her that she puts stress on the family when the dishes aren’t done. It’s hard for the daughter to do the dishes they dirtied while she was gone when she is not at home. This makes the daughter feel that she can leave the house and hurts her social behaviors. In the end I don’t think acting angry will benefit anyone.

    • Djiril says:

      That sounds like a pretty unhealthy relationship to me. At least a parent might be genuinely worried about a teenager breaking curfew, and thus the anger might be somewhat justified. Using that as a way to get them to do chores instead of just asking is weird and unnecessary.

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