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Sociologist Studies What Makes People Angry

  • Rose Hoban

Literature is filled with images of the angry young man or woman. New research into human psychology suggests the hot-headed youth of fiction have a basis in scientific fact.

Rushing adds stress and leads to anger

Scott Schieman, a sociologist at the University of Toronto, has made a career of studying angry people. He's dedicated his research to finding out what makes people explode in a rage or simply feel annoyance. Schieman, an American, conducted extensive surveys of about a thousand Americans of all ages. He asked about many factors that can contribute to feeling angry and he found three main reasons why younger people reported being angry more often than older respondents.

"The big one was being rushed for time. And this comes out of, in a way, theory and evidence about people saying, 'Look, I feel rushed, I feel too many demands at work, I feel too many demands in family life,' and they don't have any hours left after all of the demands being placed on [them]. So that feeling rushed for time was the strongest predictor of anger, and it was much more frequent among people in their 20s and 30s," Schieman says.

He adds the other two big stressors for young people are financial strain and problems at work. He also found that people who have young children at home tend to express anger more frequently.

Older, wiser and better able to cope

Schieman says the findings make sense. As people age, he notes, they tend to cope a little better with the pressures of life.

"There is something about aging that [enables] people [to leave] relationships that aren't as healthy, they become more selective in terms of emotional experiences. So it's sort of like, out with the problematic, and in with the more relaxed, calm," he says.

Schieman also found that people with more education tend to experience anger less frequently.

"When well-educated individuals do experience anger, they tend to be more likely to act pro-actively. In other words, they try to change the situation; they try to talk it over with others. And so some of the theoretical thinking behind that is just that education equips individuals with more cognitive flexibility, they can think through a variety of different options, potentially control emotions better, think through different opportunities for resolution, that kind of thing," Schieman says.

But he says respondents of all ages and education levels know what it feels like to be annoyed. He says everyone faces annoyances whether it's a traffic tie-up, a balky appliance or rudeness, and neither age nor education seemed to protect people from these everyday frustrations..

Schieman's research will become a chapter in a reference book called the International Handbook of Anger.

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