A Study of Anger and Its Effects — Implications for Mediation?

What is his perspective? (photo by Marilyn Swanson)

By: Donald L Swanson

Have you ever been in a mediation—or other negotiation context—where one party blows-up in a fit of anger?  And wondered about the effect of that moment on the negotiation effort?

A 2019 study on “Losing your temper” shows that “anger reduces perspective-taking.” [Fn. 1] This is important for mediation!

Perspective-taking

One of the challenges for a mediator is this: getting each party to accurately see the other side’s point of view.  Each party typically goes into a mediation convinced of, (i) the rightness of its own cause and correctness of its own views, and (ii) the error—even idiocy—of the other side’s contrary perspective.

So, mediators do such things as asking each party to explain the other side’s position—and to do so accurately and fully.  That’s because the tendency of human nature is to ignore, and then  discount and denigrate, opposing views.  Getting parties to accurately see the other side’s point of view is called “perspective-taking.”

The study performs six experiments that investigate the relationship between anger and perspective-taking, and it identifies a “robust’ and negative effect.

Anger

Anger is a negative emotion that’s typically triggered by a sense of injustice, unfairness, or blocked goal.  

The study divides anger into two categories, as triggered by prior events that are either related or unrelated to the current situation: (i) “incidental” = triggered by prior unrelated events, and (ii) “integral” = triggered by prior related events.

Study Findings

Here is what the six experiments find:

  1. Participants who felt anger were less likely to see the others’ perspectives than those who felt neutral emotion; and
  2. Prompting individuals to correctly attribute their feelings of anger moderates the relationship between anger and perspective-taking.

Study Conclusion

Across the six experiments involving both incidental and integral anger, a consistent and robust finding is established: Anger reduces perspective-taking.

Conclusion

The study and its findings and conclusion have important implications for conflict resolution efforts.  And that, of course, is what mediation is all about.

———————

Footnote 1.  The study is “Losing your temper and your perspective: Anger reduces perspective-taking,” Vol. 150, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, pages 28-45 (January 2019).  Its authors are Jeremy A. Yip and Maurice E. Schweitzer.

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