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Anger And Emotion

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Studies on Anger and Aggression

Implications for Theories of Emotion

James R. Averill University of Massachusetts, Amherst

ABSTRACT: A series of surveys on the everyday experience

of anger is described, and a sample of data

from these surveys is used to address a number of

issues related to the social bases of anger. These issues

include the connection between anger and aggression;

the targets, instigations, and consequences of typical

episodes of anger; the differences between anger and

annoyance; and possible sex differences in the experience

and/or expression of anger. In a larger sense,

however, the primary focus of the paper is not on anger

and aggression. Rather, anger is used as a paradigm

case to explore a number of issues in the study of

emotion, including the advantages and limitations of

laboratory research, the use of self-reports, the proper

unit of analysis for the study of emotion, the relationship

between human and animal emotion, and

the authenticity of socially constituted emotional responses.

The history of theories of emotion during the 20th

century appears to be a welter of crosscurrents and

conflicting trends. Yet, against the background, a certain

periodicity can be discerned, Particular themes

well up, become dominant for a time, and sink back

into the general stream of thought. Each wave seems

to endure for roughly 20 years, as illustrated in Figure


The first wave depicted in Figure 1 represents

the psychophysiological theories stemming from the

earlier speculations of James (1890) and Dewey

(1895). This wave crested around 1910 and was on

the decline by the end of the decade, in part because

of Cannon's (1914) influential criticisms. The next

wave represents the ascendency of the behaviorist tradition,

as represented, for example, by Watson (1924)

and Tolman (1923). Neobehaviorism followed, in

which emotions were denned less as overt responses

than as intervening variables. This third wave is epitomized

by Brown and Farber (1951), who worked

within the Hull-Spence tradition, and by Lindsley

(1951), who provided a physiological locus (the reticular

activating system) for emotional activation or

drive. The 1960s saw the beginnings of the cognitive

"revolution," with the work of Arnold (1960),

Schachter (1964), and Lazarus (1966) deserving spe-

Figure 1

Historical Trends In Theories of Emotion During

the 20th Century

Behaviorist Cognitive





I 9 IO I930 I960


1970 I990

cial mention. There are now signs that this cognitive

wave is on the wane.2

What will the next wave be like? It is difficult

to say, for the field is in a state of flux. Biologically

based theories, with an emphasis on expressive reactions

as opposed to physiological changes, have articulate

advocates in Tomkins (1980), Izard (1977),

1 These 20-year epochs should be taken very loosely. They are

meant to illustrate general trends, and I do not want to imply strict

historical accuracy. Obviously, each wave had its antecedents in

preceding periods, and its influence continued to be felt in subsequent

epochs. (To take but one example, Schachter's cognitive

theory is, by his own account, "neo-Jamesian") The reader should

also note other theoretical traditions not mentioned in Figure 1вЂ"

for example, dimensional theories, stemming from Wundt; ethological

(evolutionary) theories, stemming from Darwin; centralneural

theories, stemming from Cannon; and psychoanalytical theories,

stemming from Freud. These approaches have provided a

consistent background, input, and critique, the cumulative effect

of which has been extremely important. However, they have never

come to dominate the field at any given time as have the four types

of theories mentioned in Figure 1. For a detailed history of theories

of emotions during the 20th century, see Mandler (1979).

2 The demise of the cognitive revolution is difficult to document

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