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Encyclopedia of Psychology Alan E. Kazdin, PhD, Editor-in-Chief


Cognition and Anger

To get angry about something one must pay attention to it. Anger is often the result of selective attention to cues having high provocation value. A principal function of cognitive systems is to guide behavior, and attention itself is guided by integrated cognitive structures, known as schemas, which incorporate rules about environment-behavior relationships. What receives attention is a product of the cognitive network that assigns meaning to events and the complex stimuli that configure them. Expectations guide attentional search for cues relevant to particular needs or goals. Once a repertoire of anger schemas has been developed, events (e.g., being asked a question by someone) and their characteristics (e.g., the way the question was asked, when it was asked, or who asked it) are encoded or interpreted as having meaning in accord with the preexisting schema. Because of their survival function, the threat-sensing aspect of anger schemas carries urgent priority and can preempt other information processing.

Perceiving malevolence pulls for anger by involving the important theme of justification, which includes the externalization of blame. When harm or injustice have been done, social norms of retaliation and retribution are engaged. Indeed, one view of anger is that it is a socially constituted syndrome or a transitory social role governed by social rules. Thus, its meaning and function would be determined by the social systems in which it occurs and of which it is an integral part.

Correspondingly, anger and physical aggression are often viewed as applying a legitimate punitive response for transgression or as ways of correcting unjustice. Frequently, however. an embellished justification serves the exoneration of blame for destructive outcomes of expressed anger.

Tags: encyclopedia of psychology
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