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Why when we are angry we are not ourselves

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It happens many times that, when we are in a bad mood, we find ourselves in situations in which, it is not known how, we end up arguing with someone. Anger is a magnet for these kinds of situations; As soon as we notice that the intentions or points of view of others rub against our own, there is an exchange of arguments that normally leads nowhere.

This fact in itself seems annoying, but there is something worse about this tendency to get into trouble: when we are in a bad mood we are significantly worse reasoning and making decisions. And no, this does not happen with all emotions.

Anger causes us to take a more aggressive policy when it comes to expressing our point of view instead of maintaining a discreet attitude, but at the same time it distorts our way of thinking, so what we say and the way we act it does not reflect who we really are; our identity is totally distorted by a flurry of emotion. Let's see what this curious psychological effect consists of.

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Emotions mixed with rationality

For decades, research in psychology has shown that when we learn about the environment, from others, or of ourselves, we do not do it simply by accumulating objective data that comes to us through the senses.

Rather, what happens is that our brain creates explanations about reality using the information that comes from outside. He acts, more or less, like the spectator of a movie, who instead of memorizing the scenes he is watching construct a meaning, imagine the plot of it and from that foresee what can happen in the scenes future.

In short, we maintain an active role constructing in our imagination an explanation of the facts that goes beyond what we see, touch, hear, etc.

This idea, which was already investigated in the first half of the 20th century by the Gestalt psychologistsIt means that our analysis of situations is influenced by everything that is happening in our brain; rather than relying solely on sensory data.

That is our emotions mix with those mental processes that we usually consider rational: the creation of arguments with which to refute the point of view of a partner, the decision-making when choosing a new car... and also the interpretation of what others do, for example.

Emotions and moods totally influence cognitive processes that are theoretically only based on logic and reason. And anger and anger, in particular, have a great capacity to interfere in these phenomena, as we will see.

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When anger controls us

Different investigations have shown that a few drops of anger are enough to distort our ability to use reason, even if we compare this with what happens when under the influence of other emotions.

For example, being in a bad mood makes us much more likely to perceive strange and ambiguous behavior as a provocation towards us, or it can even cause a neutral explanation of events to be seen by us as an attack on our ideology or opinion.

In the same way, being in a bad mood will make it easier for us to remember past experiences in which we were also angry, and at the same time it will be easier for us to attribute a bad mood to others. To put it in some way, when we are angry we tend to interpret reality in a way that is congruent with that emotional state, with the glasses of bad humor.

Although we do not realize it, anger totally conditions our social life, and significantly increases the possibility that we react in an unrational way, even betraying our ethical values ​​and our convictions. Let's look at some examples.

Bad mood takes over

An American researcher welcomes a number of volunteers who have volunteered to participate in his project and then asks them remind them of an experience that made them feel very angry and explain in detail how it happened. To another group of participants, the researcher asks something similar, but instead of recalling and explaining an experience that produced anger, they should do it with one that is very sad. Members of a third group are asked to recall and explain any experience of their own choosing.

The investigator then asks the volunteers to imagine being on a jury that will decide the guilt of some people in cases of bad behavior. To do this, they are provided with detailed information about these fictitious people and what they did, and from that data they must give a verdict. However, in half of the cases the person whose guilt is to be judged has a Hispanic name, while in the rest of the cases the name does not bear any relation to a minority.

Well, the results show that the people who had remembered the experiences that produced anger, but not the other two groups, they were significantly more likely to see guilt in the person with a Hispanic name. The fact of having rekindled part of the anger they once experienced had made them xenophobic for a few minutes.

The explanation

The experiment that we have seen and its results were part of a real investigation whose conclusions were published in the journal European Journal of Social Psychology.

The team of researchers explained this phenomenon by pointing out that anger is an emotion that has extraordinary power when it comes to cause rationality to be dominated by the irrational, unfounded and intuitive beliefs and, in general, biases, which include stereotypes about each person's race and cultural origins.

Thus, while emotions such as sadness have a more cognitive and thought-dependent component abstract, anger is more primary, depends less on the mental processes linked to abstractions and depends more of the amygdala, one of the brain structures of the limbic system, the part of our nervous system that generates emotions. Somehow, the power of influence of this emotion is more powerful, and can interfere in all kinds of mental processes, since it acts "from the root" of our brain.

This is also why, when the same team of researchers that carried out the previous experiment did a similar one, asking participants to give their opinion about a article advocating a particular political measure, they saw that people who had been led into a slightly sad mood decide their opinion about of the article based on the content of the article, while angry people were rather influenced by the authority and curriculum of the alleged authors of the article. text.

So, when you notice that the bad mood takes over you, keep in mind that not even your rationality will be saved of the influence of this emotion. If you want to maintain a constructive attitude towards your social relationships, it is better that you avoid arguing over unimportant details with others.

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