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Think Before You Explode? The Neuroscience Of Anger

posted Jul 20, 2017, 4:44 AM by Dr. Curtis Cripe   [ updated Jul 20, 2017, 4:44 AM ]
Anger is often perceived as a destructive emotion, even a negative social construct manifested in anti-social behaviors such as the instigation of wars and violence. However, neuroscience, with the participation of evolutionary psychology, is proposing a new understanding of anger. It is, after all, at once a biological and emotional response, but its expression shouldn’t be as strange as spontaneous combustion.

Neuroscience locates anger and all its expressions in the brain’s frontal cortex, where emotions are processed. The left frontal lobe rules rational and goal-oriented responses, while the right governs reactions such as withdrawal, avoidance, and fear of punishment. Anger is essentially a reaction occurring in either of these two lobes, and like other reactions, it is triggered by stimuli such as threats, stressful situations, and general unpleasantness.

Cognitive science further clarifies the adaptive role of anger. Anger moves people to action and solutions-based goal-getting since it activates the left anterior cortex. It is, therefore, an emotion that allows humans to respond productively to stressful situations. When managed, anger is actually a useful emotion.

Similarly, anger management attempts should target the frontal cortex, which can be trained to perceive and react to environmental threats in a controlled manner. Because anger essentially prepares humans to fight, its management involves understanding the neural circuitry that guides reactive impulses.

Dr. Curtis Cripe is the director of research and development at NTL Group Inc., which delivers BrainRecovery™, a program targeting head injury and anger and mood management. For more information on this program, visit this website.