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22 January 2019

Using Anger to Persuade Audiences May Do More Harm Than Good

Anger expression is ubiquitous in Western mass media. Politicians in particular increasingly use anger to persuade the audience of a certain point of view. A study in Motivation and Emotion investigates the effectiveness of anger as a persuasive tactic in news media and shows that it may do more harm than good.   

Take aways

  • The use of anger as a strategy to persuade an audience of one’s point of view may do more harm than good, because: 
    • expressed anger is likely to be perceived as socially inappropriate by the audience, and as a result they are less likely to agree with the opinion; 
    • senders of angry messages are more likely to be seen as unfriendly and incompetent.  
  • Politicians and other public figures should be aware that using anger as a persuasive strategy could potentially backfire. 

Study information

  • Who?

    Study 1: 67 undergraduate students (mean age: 19, 72% female)  

    Study 2: 148 undergraduate students (mean age: 22, 77% female) 

    Study 3: 95 undergraduate students (mean age: 20, 88% female)  

    Study 4: 96 undergraduate students (mean age: 23, 77% female) 

  • Where?

    The Netherlands

  • How?

    The students read one out of several versions of a news article in which a person was quoted making an argument against a decision by a public institution. All versions of the news article were the same, except for the level of anger expressed by the person who was quoted. After reading the news article, the participants filled out a questionnaire containing questions about the person quoted in the article, the perceived appropriateness of the reaction of the person quoted in the article, as well as agreement with this person’s opinion. 

Facts and findings

  • When anger was expressed in a news article (rather than non-emotional disagreement), participants saw this contribution as less appropriate, which in turn led them to agree less with the opinion expressed in the article. 
  • When a person expressed anger in a news article, participants perceived this person as less likable and competent, but more dominant than when the person expressed non-emotional disagreement.