Anger Can be Beneficial for Achieving Challenging Goals


Anger, which is frequently associated with negative emotions, can, according to new research, serve as a potent incentive for individuals to accomplish difficult life goals.

“People often believe that a state of happiness is ideal, and the majority of people consider the pursuit of happiness a major life goal,”

said lead author Heather Lench, Ph.D., a professor in the department of psychological and brain sciences at Texas A&M University.

Previous research indicates that a combination of emotions, including negative ones such as anger, produces the most favorable results for mental health and well-being, contrary to the prevalent belief in popular and psychological explanations of emotion.

Emotional Functions

According to Lench, the functionalist theory of emotion, an extensive field of study spanning several decades, posits that all emotions — positive and negative — are responses to stimuli in an individual’s surroundings and function to notify the individual of critical situations necessitating action.

Each emotion may call for a different response. For example, sadness may indicate that a person needs to seek help or emotional support, while anger may suggest they need to take action to overcome an obstacle.

Researchers conducted a series of experiments involving over 1,000 participants and evaluated survey data from over 1,400 respondents to better understand the function of anger in completing goals. In each experiment, researchers evoked either an emotional response (such as anger, humor, desire, or grief) or a neutral emotional state from participants before presenting them with a difficult goal.

Anger Increases Effort

Participants in one experiment were shown imagery tailored to generate certain emotional or neutral responses before being asked to complete a series of word problems. In another, the goal was to get high scores on a skiing video game, with one game requiring difficult play (avoiding flags on a slalom course) and another requiring merely a jump.

Across every experiment, anger boosted people’s capacity to achieve their goals in a range of difficult conditions when compared to a neutral condition. It was linked to higher scores or faster response times in some circumstances. It also promoted cheating to gain a better outcome in one trial.

The researchers also analyzed data from a series of surveys collected during the 2016 and 2020 U.S. presidential elections. Before the elections, people were asked to rate how angry they would be if their favorite candidate did not win.

Following the election, they disclosed if and for whom they had cast ballots. Participants in the survey who said they would be upset if their candidate lost were more likely to cast ballots, but their choice of candidate was unaffected by their level of anger.

“These findings demonstrate that anger increases effort toward attaining a desired goal, frequently resulting in greater success,”

said Lench.

Anger is an Energy

According to Lench, the impacts of anger in motivating people to pursue and regularly accomplish their goals were particular to circumstances in which the goals were more difficult. When the goals were simpler, such in the ski-jump video game, anger did not seem to be linked to achieving them.

Lench also noted that while anger was associated with increased success across the board, in some cases, amusement or desire were also associated with increased goal attainment. Negative emotions, such as boredom, anger, or sadness, may be beneficial, according to the findings.

People often prefer to use positive emotions as tools more than negative and tend to see negative emotions as undesirable and maladaptive. Our research adds to the growing evidence that a mix of positive and negative emotions promotes well-being, and that using negative emotions as tools can be particularly effective in some situations,”

she said.


Functional accounts of emotion have guided research for decades, with the core assumption that emotions are functional—they improve outcomes for people. Based on functional accounts of emotion, we theorized that anger should improve goal attainment in the presence of challenges. In seven studies, goal attainment was assessed in situations that involved varying levels of challenges to goal attainment. Across studies, anger compared to a neutral condition resulted in behavior that facilitated greater goal attainment on tasks that involved challenges. With a goal to solve difficult puzzles, anger resulted in more puzzles correctly solved (Study 1). With a goal to attain prizes, anger increased cheating rates and numbers of unearned prizes (Study 2). With a goal to do well in a video game, anger increased scores on a game with challenges to be avoided, but not other scores (Study 3). In two studies, examining the consequences of anger in response to the challenging task that was the focus of that anger, anger decreased reaction time with goals to win trials (Study 4), and predicted making the effort to vote in two contentious elections (Study 5). With a goal to protect financial resources, anger increased action taken to prevent loss compared to a physiological arousal condition (Study 6).

  1. Heather Lench et al. Anger Has Benefits for Attaining Goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (2023). DOI: 10.1037/pspa0000350.