Healthcare Training Institute - Quality Education since 1979
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Anger Labeling, Frequency, and Duration
The responses to the hypothetical situation provided a sharp contrast between typical and situation-specific anger duration. When participants were asked to describe their typical response to an anger-provoking situation, the most frequent anger duration ranged from "a few minutes" to "up to a couple of hours" (students, 83%; employees, 74%). However, in response to the specific work/school-related situation, 34% of the students indicated an anger duration of "several days" and 58% of the employees indicated an anger duration of either "a week or more" or "several days."
In their descriptions of emotional reactions to the hypothetical situation, participants often reported more than one emotion. Table I presents the emotions identified as coexisting with anger. The emotions stereotypically associated with anger (i.e., frustrated and annoyed) are presented in the upper panel of the table. The emotions less stereotypically associated with anger (i.e., sad and hurt) are presented in the lower panel. Thirty-nine percent of the employees and 26% of the students reported feeling sad and mad at the same time. There were no significant differences between employees and students on frequency of a particular coexisting emotion.
Contextual Influences on Anger Experience and Expression
When faced with a situation in which a goal was blocked (hypothetical situation), participants first indicated the extent to which various factors would increase, decrease, or have no effect on feeling angry. Next, they indicated which factors would increase, decrease, or have no impact on expressing anger. The moderators of anger experience were similar for students and employees. Both groups were more likely to experience anger if the situation had happened before, presumably with an unsatisfactory outcome. Conversely, if reasons for denial appeared legitimate or if there was a promise of future reward, both groups were less likely to feel angry about the blocked goal. Very few students and employees (less than 10%) indicated that the various factors would have no effect on their feelings or actions.
Yet, there were differences between the two groups on two factors. Employees were more likely to experience anger than were students "if others received the benefit" (e.g., had received the raise or the scholarship), chi2(1,N = 281) = 15.2, p < .001. On the other hand, trust in one's supervisor/administrator was less likely to reduce students' anger compared with employees' anger, chi2( 1,N = 281) = 12.2, p < .001. In the student scenario, the context is trust in a school administrator rather than a work supervisor. Hence, the difference on this item may be related to the low likelihood that the student knows the administrator well enough to have developed a trust relationship. In this case, the issue of personal trust may be a less salient factor for the student population. Age was not a factor in either comparison.
In terms of the moderators of anger expression, a shared pattern of influences was found. The majority of students and employees reported that "the importance of the situation" (students, 88%; employees, 95%) as well as "high personal stress" (91% and 95%, respectively) would increase the likelihood of expressing anger. Both groups were less likely to express anger if "the anger was not justified" (students, 83%; employees, 80%), "the situation occurs in public" (86% and 90%, respectively), or "the target person will feel hurt" (86% and 82%, respectively). Gender of the target did not appear to have an effect on the likelihood of anger expression for either group.
In sum, there were similarities in trait anger characteristics among the participants. Some employees and students reported that feelings of sadness and hurt coexist with anger. Employees and students were equally likely to respond to the blocked goal with anger/frustration, and common factors moderated the experience of anger. As for the differences, students reported more intense reactions to an anger-provoking situation than did employees. Students also indicated greater likelihood of expressing anger, even when age was controlled.
The present study examined the anger and expression of females who differed by work status and age. For both students and employees, issues of violated trust and unfair treatment increased anger. But even when angered, concern about the target's feelings or concern about being observed by others reduced the likelihood of expressing that anger. Further, anger often coexisted with "more acceptable feminine emotions," such as sadness. These commonalities point to the effectiveness of the socialization of females regarding emotional expression. Yet, there were differences between the students and employees. Independent of age, students were more likely to express anger in response to the hypothetical situation, and responded more intensely, compared with employees. These results offer some support for the hypothesis that a "less feminine" work environment (e.g., academia) may be conducive to anger expression.
However, anger experience does not necessarily translate into anger expression. The childhood socialization practices that emphasize harmonious relationships again play a role. In general, females are concerned about the potential negative impact of anger expression on others and thus will temper their anger expression to avoid hurting the feelings of the target person. Further, beginning in early childhood, females understand that showing their anger will likely result in social censure. This is evident in the findings presented here: participants indicated that they are less likely to express their anger if the situation occurs in public. The potentially negative evaluation by others influences the decision to express anger.
Differences by Work Status
We can extrapolate from Stein's work on the function of an emotional response to a blocked goal. If a woman assumes that a goal (e.g., receiving a raise or a scholarship) is nonattainable, her emotional response is likely to be sadness or resignation, but not anger. However, if the goal is perceived as attainable, the predicted emotional response would be anger. Students may perceive a scholarship as attainable, perhaps even an entitlement, and therefore respond with anger if the scholarship is not received. Further, employees may view their work competence as independent of an increase in salary, whereas students may view a scholarship as tangible evidence of their academic success. Thus, it is possible that some of the differences in the responses to the hypothetical situation may be related to female students' and employees' investment in the work role and how they define success in that role.
Nevertheless, we found that similar situations provoke anger in females across work status and age. In addition, the possibility of negative social evaluation constrains anger expression in young students and older office employees alike. However, females in more gender-stereotypic work environments (i.e., office employees) are less likely to express their anger when compared to females in an environment with gender-balanced expectations (i.e., university students).
Some females may label their emotional experiences, as well as behave, in ways that avoid the appearance of anger. For example, sadness or hurt feelings may reflect an appreciation of the social costs of anger expression, or may reflect the perceived failure to successfully negotiate conflict. Whether discomfort with the label of anger is a pervasive phenomenon merits further scrutiny, because there are implications for effective problem-solving in a work environment. If women do not acknowledge their anger or have little practice in effectively expressing their anger, work productivity can suffer.
The lengthy anger duration in response to the hypothetical situation suggests a ruminative cognitive style. Women who ruminate play out the situation over and over in their minds. Such a pattern does not resolve the anger-provoking situation or the uncomfortable emotions. We also need more in-depth data from women who rarely become angry or who indicate a lack of anger response. One focus would be to explore the possibility of a connection with indirect anger/aggression. Women who have devised a plan for covert retaliation (indirect aggression) may not see themselves as experiencing anger. In conclusion, we need to be cognizant of the interactive influences of socialization and work role expectations on women's ability to describe and manage their anger.
Reflection Exercise #2