Tag Archives: anger

High unemployment makes song lyrics angrier — but not sadder or anxious

Music helps us estimate how healthy a country’s economy is, a new study surprisingly reveals. More to the point, national unemployment rates can predict the negative emotional content in lyrics in a country’s songs.

Image via Pixabay.

Songs have a very powerful emotional component, and past research has shown that people tend to listen to tunes that match their current moods or preoccupations. Starting from that chain of thought, a new paper aimed to find if music can be used to estimate the socioeconomic health of a community (in this case, a country).

The team worked with popular song lyrics from the US and Germany and report that unemployment rates predicted feelings of anger portrayed in songs in both countries.

Rage against the economy

“This study aimed to examine how sentiments in top songs coincide with changes in national unemployment rate. In particular, we focused on three common negative emotions (i.e., anxiety, sadness, and anger) expressed in lyrics,” the researchers say.

For the study, the team used a text analysis program called the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) to trawl through the lyrics of the top 10 most popular songs in the US and Germany between 1980 and 2017. Songs with no lyrics were removed from the analysis.

The final sample of US songs included 370 lyrics (149,660 words) while the German sample totaled 366 lyrics (120,076 words). From there, the team used the LIWC to estimate emotional content in three categories: anger, sadness, and anxiety. They also looked at how word frequency denoting each emotion compared to unemployment rates in each country at the time these songs were written.

At first, the team writes, there seems to be no discernible link between unemployment rates and such negative emotional content in music. However, after controlling for other. elements that impact individuals’ economic prospects, especially ones that tie into inflation (GDP per capita, housing prices, inflation, and population density), the unemployment rate showed itself to be a “significant predictor” of anger content in US lyrics, they report.

German lyrics fared similarly: there was no immediate discernable link between unemployment and sadness or anger. After controlling for the same indicators, however, it was a good predictor of anger in lyrics.

As to why this dynamic forms, the authors have two theories. The first one is that socioeconomic factors can impact the emotional state, and thus behavior, of consumers. High rates of unemployment can nurture feelings of stress and anger, and consumers might favor songs that reflect such a state, driving them up in the charts. The second theory is that such factors impact artists and composers who transpose their feelings of stress and anger into their work.

The explanation could, of course, lie somewhere in the middle of these tho theories.

One interesting tidbit of these findings is that sadness or anxiety didn’t seem to change in response to employment rate — suggesting that anger is the primary public response to poor economic prospects.

“This is consistent with preliminary research illustrating that unemployment can lead to various affective responses, but the central emotional response is anger when the adversity is attributed to external causes,” the paper reads.

One of the study’s most obvious limitations is that it only looked at the lyrical component of songs, ignoring the musical frame around them. This frame could alter the emotional message being conveyed by the songs. It also focused on two countries in the Western world. Thus, it is unclear whether dramatically different cultures would show the same response.

In the future, the authors plan to control for “melodic attributes” in songs as well, in order to better gauge their emotional content.

The paper “Unemployment Rate Predicts Anger in Popular Music Lyrics: Evidence From Top 10 Songs in the United States and Germany From 1980 to 2017” has been published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media.

Faces balloons.

Researchers map how our sensitivity to emotions change over time

We tend to become more emotionally-resilient as we age, a new study suggests.

Faces balloons.

Image credits Gino Crescoli.

Adults tend to have an overall more positive attitude than adolescents, and it may be because they’re less able to pick up on negative emotions, a new paper reports.

Why the long face?

“We found that sensitivity to anger cues improves dramatically during early to mid-adolescence,” says first author Lauren Rutter from the McLean Hospital, Massachusetts. “This is the exact age when young people are most attuned to forms of social threat, such as bullying. The normal development of anger sensitivity can contribute to some of the challenges that arise during this phase of development.”

The team developed a digital test (using the web platform TestMyBrain.org) to gauge the levels of emotion sensitivity across age and socioeconomic groups. Nearly 10,000 participants aged 10 to 85 completed their survey. The test was designed to measure how easily each person picked up on subtle differences in facial cues for fear, anger, and happiness — and, given the wide and diverse sample group, how this sensitivity fluctuates over time.

Each participant was shown images of different faces, presented in pairs, and was asked to compare and contrast the levels of anger, happiness, and fear they conveyed — through questions such as “Which face is more angry?”, etc. The online platform helped the researchers tap into a “much larger and more diverse sample set” than previous studies, Rutter says, and the novel testing method helped improve the accuracy of the results for decoding facial cues.

All in all, the study revealed that sensitivity to facial cues for anger and fear decreases as people age — but the sensitivity to happiness holds firm. The team says that these findings mirror previous studies and anecdotal evidence that point to declines in the ability of people to decode emotional cues, but that the results pertaining to happiness are novel.

 “These findings fit well with other research showing that older adults tend to have more positive emotions and a positive outlook,” Rutter adds.

“It’s well established that there is an age-related decline in the ability to decode emotion cues, in general, but here we see very little decline in the ability to detect differences in happiness,” co-author Laura Germine adds. “This is even though the study was designed to be sensitive to differences in happiness sensitivity with age, based on principles from psychometrics and signal detection theory.

The team plans to expand on their findings by examining how emotional sensitivity fluctuates in relation to differences in mental health, such as anxiety disorders. They also want to investigate how sensitivity to anger and happiness cues might be related to the development of poorer mental health after trauma.

The paper “Emotion sensitivity across the lifespan: Mapping clinical risk periods to sensitivity to facial emotion intensity” has been published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

Dog bad mood.

Get a good night’s sleep if you don’t want to be angry the next day

You’ll be on edge if you don’t get a good night’s sleep, a new paper reports.

Dog bad mood.

Image credits Manfred Richter.

Cutting a few hours of sleep out of your schedule isn’t as good an idea as it may appear. Researchers at the Iowa State University report that missing sleep will make you angrier, leaving you ill-equipped to deal with frustrating situations. This is one of the first studies to provide evidence that sleep loss causes anger.

Get mo’ sleep

“Despite typical tendencies to get somewhat used to irritating conditions — an uncomfortable shirt or a barking dog — sleep-restricted individuals actually showed a trend toward increased anger and distress, essentially reversing their ability to adapt to frustrating conditions over time. No one has shown this before,” said Zlatan Krizan, paper first author and a professor of psychology at Iowa State.

The link between lack of sleep and a predisposition to foul mood (anger included) has been documented in past research, but a direct cause-effect relationship couldn’t be established. In other words, we knew that the two come together, but not whether one causes the other. In the current study, Krizan and co-author Garrett Hisler, an ISU doctoral student in psychology, tackle this question — and also provides new insight into our ability to adjust to irritating conditions when tired.

Participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups. The control group maintained their normal sleep routine, while the experimental group cut two to four hours each night for two nights. The first group averaged almost seven hours of sleep a night, while the restricted group got about four and a half hours each night. Krizan says this difference is an accurate reflection of the sleep loss we regularly experience in everyday life.

In order to measure anger, the duo had participants visit the lab before and after the sleep manipulation to rate different products. All the while, they were listening to brown noise (similar to the sound of spraying water) or more aversive white noise (similar to a static signal). Krizan says the purpose was to create uncomfortable conditions, which tend to provoke anger.

“In general, anger was substantially higher for those who were sleep restricted,” Krizan said. “We manipulated how annoying the noise was during the task and as expected, people reported more anger when the noise was more unpleasant. When sleep was restricted, people reported even more anger, regardless of the noise.”

Sleep loss is known to increase negative emotions, such as anxiety and sadness, and decreases positive emotions, such as happiness and enthusiasm. However, the team says they found that sleep loss uniquely impacted anger — it didn’t just result from feeling more negative at the moment. They also tested whether subjective sleepiness (i.e. how sleep-deprived participants felt) explained more intense feelings of anger. They report it accounted for 50% of the effect on anger, which suggests that an individual’s sense of sleepiness may indicate whether they are likely to become angered, Krizan said.

Krizan is also working on a separate study on whether these effects carry over to daily life. It involves 200 participants who were asked to keep a sleep diary for a month — each day, the students recorded their sleep and rated feelings of anger. Initial results show students consistently reported more anger than what was typical for them on days when they got less sleep than usual. Krizan and Hisler are also collecting data to test if sleep loss is a driver of aggressive behavior toward others.

The paper “Sleepy anger: Restricted sleep amplifies angry feelings” has been published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

Hangry man.

Being hungry really does sour your mood, research reveals

That coworker who’ll lay into you if they skipped breakfast? New research suggests his metabolism is partly to blame.

Hangry man.

Image credits Olichel Adamovich.

Researchers from the University of Guelph have shown that a sudden drop in glucose — such as we experience when we’re hungry — can have a dramatic impact on our mood. The findings help explain why so many people bemoan getting “hangry“.

Food fight

“We found evidence that a change in glucose level can have a lasting effect on mood,” said coauthor Francesco Leri, a professor at the university’s Department of Psychology.

“I was skeptical when people would tell me that they get grouchy if they don’t eat, but now I believe it. Hypoglycemia is a strong physiological and psychological stressor.”

For the study, the team worked with a group of lab rats, following their emotional behavior after inducing hypoglycemia (low blood-sugar levels). The group was injected with a glucose metabolism blocker — which artificially induced hypoglycemia — and was placed in a special chamber. The same rats later received an injection of water and were placed in a different chamber.

At the end of the trials, the rats were allowed to enter one of the chambers — and actively avoided the one where they experienced hypoglycemia.

“This type of avoidance behaviour is an expression of stress and anxiety,” said Leri. “The animals are avoiding that chamber because they had a stressful experience there. They don’t want to experience it again.”

The team took blood samples of the rats at various stages during the experiment and report that rats showed higher blood levels of corticosterone, an indicator of physiological stress, following the first step of the trial. In other words, they were likely experiencing acute stress while their blood-sugar levels were artificially lowered to mimic skipping a meal or two.

The rats also appeared more sluggish when given the glucose metabolism blocker. While it may be argued that this effect stems from a lack of glucose in the rats’ systems — muscles use glucose as fuel — the team reports that this doesn’t seem to be the case. When the sluggish rats were given antidepressant medication, “the sluggish behavior was not observed. The animals moved around normally,” Leri explained.

“This is interesting because their muscles still weren’t getting the glucose, yet their behaviour changed.”

“This is interesting because their muscles still weren’t getting the glucose, yet their behaviour changed.”

Overall, the findings support the idea that animals (us humans included) experience anxiety and a sour mood when going hungry for too long. The results may help flesh out our understanding of the treatment dynamic for those who experience anxiety or depression. They may also shed some light on the (still poorly-understood) link between depression and diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and eating disorders.

“When people think about negative mood states and stress, they think about the psychological factors, not necessarily the metabolic factors,” said PhD student Thomas Horman, who led the study. “But we found poor eating behaviour can have an impact.”

“The factors that lead someone to develop depression and anxiety can be different from one person to the next. Knowing that nutrition is a factor, we can include eating habits into possible treatment.”

Next, the team plans to determine whether long-term hypoglycemia may be a risk factor for developing depression-like behavior. While a single missed meal may make us grumpy, doing so constantly may have a dramatic impact on our mood and quality of life:

“Poor mood and poor eating can become a vicious cycle in that if a person isn’t eating properly, they can experience a drop in mood, and this drop in mood can make them not want to eat,” Horman explains.

“If someone is constantly missing meals and constantly experiencing this stressor, the response could affect their emotional state on a more constant level.”

The paper “An exploration of the aversive properties of 2-deoxy-D-glucose in rats” has been published in the journal Psychopharmacology.


New research shows how our brains fight the urge to get revenge

New research shows that one area of the brain is key in deciding whether to take revenge or not.


Image via Pixabay.

Anger breeds revenge — but what stops it? New research looking into how the brain reacts to perceived injustice shows that resisting the urge to take revenge requires heavy brain activation.

Don’t get mad, get even

A team of researchers from the University of Geneva (UNIGE), Switzerland, used an economic game of their own design for the study. The game, christened the Inequality Game, was specifically designed to trigger feelings of injustice and anger in the participants, before offering them a chance at ‘revenge’.

The Inequality Game pits each participant against one fair and one unfair player in an economic setting. The twenty-five participants that took part in the game had to handle fair behavior from one player, and unfair behavior (and provocation) from the other. Each player’s behavior was pre-programmed, but participants weren’t told they were playing against a computer.

“The participant has economic interactions with two players, whose behaviour is actually pre-programmed — which he doesn’t know about,” explains Olga Klimecki-Lenz, paper co-author and the game’s developer.

“One is friendly, offers the participant only mutually beneficial financial interactions and sends nice messages, while the other player makes sure to multiply only his own profits, going against the participant’s interest and sending annoying messages.”

The game had three phases, during which participants were installed in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner so the team could keep tabs on their brain activity. Afterward, the participants were shown photographs of the two players, the messages they sent, and the financial transactions each received and issued.

In the first phase, participants are in complete control and choose how to split profits among the players. On average, participants were “fair towards both other players” in this phase, said Klimecki-Lenz.

The second phase saw the first provocations. Each participant passively receives the decisions of the other players and is exposed to provocation and unfair behavior from one of the players. During this phase, participants were asked to rate their feelings of anger on a scale from 0 to 10.

“It was during this phase that we were able to identify which areas were related to feelings of anger,” Olga adds.

During the last phase, the participant is again placed in a position of power and has the chance to take revenge or not by penalizing the other players. Overall, participants remained nice to the fair player. They did, however, take revenge for the injustices committed by the unfair player.

The MRI scans taken during the second phase showed brain activation in the superior temporal lobe and the amygdala when participants were shown pictures of the other players. The amygdala is known to play a role in the feeling of fear and in processing the relevance of emotions. Furthermore, higher self-reported feelings of anger strongly correlated with more activity in these areas.

“But the Inequality game allowed us above all to identify the crucial role of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), a zone which is key for the regulation of emotions and which is located at the front of the brain,” Klimecki-Lenz explains.

On average, participants chose to take revenge on the unfair player when given the chance. However, 11 participants decided to remain fair to the unfair player — thus resisting the urge to take revenge.

The team says this comes down to activation in the DLPFC during the provocation phase; the greater the activation, the less punishment participants inflicted on the unfair player. All of the 11 participants showed greater activation in this area compared to the other participants. Low DLPFC activity was associated with harsher revenge inflicted on the player.

“We observed that DLPFC is coordinated with the motor cortex that directs the hand that makes the choice of vengeful behavior or not,” Olga concludes. “There is therefore a direct correlation between brain activity in DLPFC, known for emotional regulation, and behavioural choices.”

This is the first time that the DLPFC has been shown to play a role in revenge. The research suggests that increasing activity in the DLPFC through transmagnetic stimulation could inhibit or even suppress vengeful behavior, the team writes.

The paper “Distinct Brain Areas involved in Anger versus Punishment during Social Interactions” has been published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Angry people are more likely to overestimate their intelligence — but that’s not the whole story

People who are quick to lose their temper are also more likely to overestimate their intelligence, a new study reports.

Anger and optimism

Not all negative emotions are created equally. Feelings of anxiety and depression are typically associated with a more negative outlook on life — but anger, one of the study authors explains, is more closely linked to optimism. People who are angrier are just as optimistic as people who are generally happy.

“In a recent project, I examined the relationship between anger and various cognitive functions. I noticed from the literature review that anger differs significantly from other negative emotions, such as sadness, anxiety or depression. Anger is more approach-oriented and associated with optimistic risk perception and generally optimistic bias,” said study author Marcin Zajenkowski of the University of Warsaw.

Zajenkowski was wondering whether anger could influence other characteristics of people, namely how they perceive their own intelligence. So he carried out two studies with a sample size of 528 undergraduate students, assessing their anger, their intelligence, and their self-perceived intelligence. Participants undertook an array of 2-4 fluid intelligence tests (focusing on the ability to solve new problems, use logic in new situations, and identify patterns instead of relying on previously learned knowledge).

Researchers also evaluated the neuroticism and narcissism of the participants, looking for any associations and patterns.

The research revealed that anger was associated with an overestimation of one’s intelligence, though it was unrelated to one’s actual level of intelligence. In other words, if you lose your temper quickly, that doesn’t say anything about your intelligence — but it might say something about your self-perceived intelligence.

Interestingly, neuroticism, which was positively correlated with anger, tends to negatively correlate with self-assessed intelligence — so neuroticism acts as a suppressor for overestimating one’s intelligence.

However, this doesn’t really tell the whole story, due to a familiar problem that’s all too familiar in psychology.

The WEIRD problem

WEIRD stands for Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (as in living in a democracy).

Psychology studies overwhelmingly rely on WEIRD participants, which are typically undergrads — 67% of American psychology studies use college students, for example — and this is a problem because undergrads aren’t really representative for the whole population.

It’s easy to understand why researchers do this: gathering a large enough sample is complicated, and studies don’t typically receive that much funding. Undergrads are on campus (so they’re easily available), they often enroll for little or no money, and they can be quite homogeneous as a group — which allows scientists to detect small differences.

So while the study has been peer-reviewed and highlights an intriguing association, it also comes with the significant caveat: it addresses a very particular subset of the population, which may not be representative of the broader situation.

Journal Reference: Marcin Zajenkowski and Gilles Gignac. “Why do angry people overestimate their intelligence? Neuroticism as a suppressor of the association between Trait-Anger and subjectively assessed intelligence.” https://doi.org/10.1016/j.intell.2018.07.003