Dr. Jerry Deffenbacher, an anger researcher at Colorado State University, helped us answer that question in a 1996 book chapter, Cognitive-Behavioral Approaches to Anger Reduction, where he outlined a model of how and why we feel anger when we do.
In this article, he defined anger as
“an internal affective experience that may vary in intensity and chronicity and can refer both to the experience of the moment (state anger) and to the propensity to experience state anger across time and situations (trait and situation-specific anger)” (p. 33).
In other words, anger is an emotional experience that can be sparked by a variety of experience. For example, he described four main types of provocations, what he calls “precipitants”:
- External situation: Being cut off while driving
- External situations that trigger memories: Being insulted may remind you of a time when you were insulted as a child.
- Internal states: Continuing to ruminate about an event well after it has happened.
- Immediate preanger state: What the person is feeling and thinking when the experience the precipitant.
Deffenbacher also explains that a person’s preanger state, which refers to both what the person is thinking and feeling at the time of the event and to his or her long-standing personality characteristics, influences the likelihood of getting angry. For example, someone who is more narcissistic or close-minded tends to become angry more easily. Likewise, when you feel tired, hungry, or are already frustrated, you are more likely to get angry.
Third, and probably most important is what Deffenbacher refers to as the appraisal process. When we are faced with any sort of precipitant, we ask ourselves some questions: Was the event blameworthy? Was the event justified? Should it have happened? Can I cope with it? The answer to those questions predicts whether or not you get angry and how angry you get.