Ivory Towers: What makes women angry

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The Independent Culture
PSYCHOLOGISTS in Amsterdam have been giving women frustrating and impossible tasks to complete, in over-heated rooms, not bringing them promised cups of tea, and generally being abrupt, commanding and offensive. It is all part of a study to discover what makes women angry. 'Anger Proneness in Women: Development and Validation of the Anger Situation Questionnaire' by H M van Goozen, N H Fridja, M Klindt and N E van de Poll (Aggressive Behavior, vol 20, 1994) reports the results.

Studies on anger have already produced the Buss-Durkee Hostility Inventory, the State Trait Anger Scale and the Anger Expression Scale, but none of these helps to solve problems relating specifically to women's propensity to anger.

Accordingly, the present researchers developed the Anger Situation Questionnaire, containing 33 vignettes of potentially irritating real-life episodes. They give the following as an example:

You find out that a friend has passed on a secret you told her in confidence. You had explicitly asked her not to reveal this to anyone.

The respondent is then asked to express her feelings: nothing, sad, helpless, disappointed or irritated/angry. Also an indication is required of the intensity of those feelings: a little, slightly, rather, quite or very intense. Finally, what would you feel like doing in this situation: something else to try to forget it, nothing at all, tackle her about her conduct on next meeting, ring her up and ask why she did it, ring her up and shout at her. From these responses, scores on Anger, Intensity and Angry Readiness were calculated and related to six different categories of anger-provoking situations exemplified in the vignettes. Frustration produced the greatest anger, followed by Abuse, Inattention and Provocation. (Invasion of) Privacy and Incompetence tended to produce more disappointment.

The second phase of the experiment was designed to show whether scores on the questionnaire related to behaviour. Subjects were given difficult puzzles to solve, in overheated rooms (previous research had shown that people become angrier as the temperature rises). 'In addition, the experimenter provoked the subject by faking problems with the equipment and blaming the subject for this in an aggressive manner.'

Each subject's behaviour was assessed for signs of irritability and the provocation was so successful that '85 per cent of the subjects have been angry one moment or another'. At the end of the experiment, the subject was asked to assess the fee to be paid to the experimenter. Results showed that women with high Angry Readiness scores did behave in an angrier manner when provoked. They also rewarded the experimenters with lower fees than the low Angry Readiness scorers. While differences between male and female anger remain a problem for researchers, the study did conclude that: 'Although heat in itself is not sufficient to induce anger in female subjects, it is a convenient element to induce an irritable state.'