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Biology 202
2000 First Web Report
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The Anger We All Share

Dena Gu

Anger, it is an emotion that we are all familiar with and in a way, an important part of the average normally functioning human. Who hasn't encountered anger in a friend, family member, or even the random person you met on the street? In literature, it is absolutely necessary in order to generate a tale with the right tension and motive for character behavior. Authors use creative wording to fashion the various images necessary to convey this emotion: fiery, smoldering, explosive, seething, etc., they're all employed to describe anger. Anger seems to be something we can't avoid. Every time you're bitter, cynical, holding a grudge, sullen, or frustrated, it was either because of anger you're experiencing these emotions or will result in anger. So what is anger, and what causes it? Why does this emotion play such an important part in our lives, and in some cases, cause so much trouble?

Anger can be mild, as with annoyance at a younger sibling, or intense like the rage felt if you returned home to find it burglarized. Though in this society, we have generally been taught that anger is bad, this is actually a normal and healthy emotion (1). That is, if experienced in moderation; anything to excess tends to result in trouble. When anger gets out of control, it can become a serious problem, which could not only damage your relationships with other people but also leave you feeling helpless to an unpredictable emotion (1).

The Forebrain, namely the Cerebellum, is responsible for our emotions, anger being one of them (8). Like other strong emotions, it is accompanied by physiological and biological changes. These changes include, but aren't restricted to, the increase of heart rate and blood pressure, as well as levels of energy, hormones, adrenaline and noradrenaline (1). Adrenaline is usually associated with fear, while noradrenaline is with anger and hostility. This suggests that fear and anger are linked, and it is no great surprise that anger is often the response to a fear inducing threat. This anger quickly escalates into aggressive self-defense, which is sometimes a necessary component to keeping alive. So you see, a certain amount of anger is actually essential for survival (1).

Anger is generally the result of frustration and feelings of inadequacy when the attainment of a goal is blocked (6). It can be triggered by both external and internal events, even events that happened a long time ago or to unrelated people. A person could be angry at specific targets, like a coworker or neighbor, or at an overall event, such as a delayed flight. Anger can even result from an individual's brooding or anxiety over personal problems (1). Intense anger can even be caused by dreams, causing the person who experienced this brain produced 'movie' to wake up seething over an imaginary event.

In class, we talked about how the brain affects behavior in humans. Anger is a great example to demonstrate this point. First, an outside stimulus; for example, a delayed airport shuttle, is acknowledged by the brain. This is immediate cause for concern, for the brain quickly calculates that the shuttle's delay could potentially result in missing the scheduled flight. This is the threat that causes heart rate go up, adrenaline and noradrenaline are quickly released and the person waiting for the shuttle becomes both anxious and irate. As children, we are taught acceptable behaviors in society and the expression of anger is usually on the top of the list (6). Therefore this late shuttle probably won't cause the client to suddenly start throwing their luggage into the middle of the street and attacking the first person they see. But the body prepared by the brain to face danger (6), is coursing with hormones, and the result is usually pacing or fidgeting. The brain's activity is affecting the body and in consequence, the person's behavior.

As the shuttle still is not present, brain demands farther action and the corresponding behavior will be to contact the shuttle provider for answers. At this point, the anxiety felt by the person could still be contained, or maybe begin to leak through just a bit. While on the phone with the shuttle company, the person might be more curt then normal, taking on a more aggressive stance. At this point, if the shuttle arrives, the threat would then be over and the body restored to it's normal 'relaxed' state. But supposing the shuttle still doesn't arrive, the next time the client calls, there might be visible anger (yelling, swearing, kicking/hitting objects nearby, etc.). As the threat of missing the flight escalates, the brain sends out even more 'under threat' signals and the person's behavior changes even more, becoming more aggressive and ready to take on the menace. People around this individual would observe all these actions and quickly conclude that this person was angry.

Though it is natural and easy, anger is not always a good way to resolve problems. Sure, it's going to happen once in a while but in our society, a lot of things can cause a person to become frustrated. The way we go about our daily lives often forces us to work closely with people we are often not very close with, and it is impossible to please everyone (7). Hence, someone is not going to reach the goals they set, and regardless of what we do, people will be angry. Studies in the past few years show that there is a link between anger and increased risk of heart disease. With each episode of anger, the heart rate and blood pressure not only raises, the coronary arteries narrow and the blood actually becomes more viscous (4). The effects of anger could seriously affect people who already have heart problems, leading to a condition called myocardial ischemia, or even a heart attack (4).

So what can be done in the event of an angry episode? How do we deal with frustrating problems without damaging our health and our relationships? An important part to dealing with anger seems to be understanding yourself and your feelings. Often times, it is not the event that causes the anger, but what the person thinks of the event (6). Instead of automatically thinking angry thoughts, use logic to reason out what certain events might be happening. Accept that your are angry, think about why and at what you are angry with, release that pent up energy with exercise or taking a 'time-out' from the situation and then resume what you were doing before you started to become angry (6). Once again, this is using your brain to effect behavior and physical responses from your body.

Anger is something we will always be experiencing, but there is not reason that let it control us and negatively affect our health. With understanding of how it works and why we do it, we can work with this emotion and even put it to work for us. The interesting thing is, both anger and the ways to control it are the actions of the brain. Brain = behavior seems even more likely because the behavior to anger and the behavior to dealing with it all come from this bundle of neurons.

WWW Sources

1)Controlling Anger Before It Controls You, What is anger and strategies on managing it

2)Psychological Self-Help: Anger and Aggression, signs of anger, theories about how and why aggression develops, and means of preventing or coping with anger

3)He@lth: Anger and Aggression, Consumer tips

4)Heart Information Network, Anger and its effect on the heart: a review of research studies

5) Building Better Human Relationships, Anger Toolkit

6)Counseling and Career Center, A Brigham Young University Website

7)Mean Genes, Comparing aggression in humans and other primates

8)The Brain, Biology and Behavior, A number of definitions regarding the brain

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