The recalibrational theory of anger explains how natural selection designed anger to negotiate better deals. This theory explains its defining characteristics.
Anger is responsible for many aggressive acts. Researchers at the Center for Evolutionary Psychology in Santa Barbara, California have been investigating the evolved function of anger. They consider anger a behavior-regulating program. In fact, they claim that anger has been incorporated into the neural architecture of the human species over time. The question is why.
The recalibrational model of anger is a computational evolutionary model. It claims that the function of anger is to recalibrate individuals who don’t consider, at least sufficiently, the well-being of the angry person.
The theory stems away from the idea that frustration is necessary for anger to occur. In fact, it suggests that anger arises from the need for power.
Anger is a part of the basic biology of being human:
- It appears spontaneously in childhood.
- It’s universal across individuals and cultures.
- It has a neuronal base, typical of the species.
However, to understand the biology of anger, we first need to understand its evolution. The recalibrational theory of anger hypothesizes that the regulatory program that governs anger evolved as a process of negotiation. In other words, to resolve conflicts of interest in the angry individual.
The recalibrational theory of anger
The recalibrational theory of anger claims that this emotion consists of a computationally cognitive system that evolved for the purpose of better negotiation. In fact, anger coordinates facial expressions, vocal changes, verbal arguments, retention of benefits, or the deployment of aggression. It comprises a set of cognitive and physiological variables. Their goal is to take advantage of a bargaining position in order to get better results.
Anger is ultimately produced by a neurocognitive program designed by natural selection. This program uses negotiation tactics to resolve conflicts of interest in favor of the angry individual. The program is designed to orchestrate two interpersonal negotiation tactics:
- Inflict costs or withhold benefits. This gives greater weight to the well-being of the angry person. Individuals with enhanced abilities to inflict costs are stronger.
- Grant benefits to attractive individuals who have a better negotiating position in conflicts. For this reason, these people will be more prone to anger, are more dominant in conflicts of interest, and are considered to be entitled to better treatment. As a matter of fact, various studies confirm this fact.
Welfare tradeoff ratios and negotiation
In social species, actions taken by individuals have an impact on the well-being of others. However, given a choice that concerns the self and the other, the question arises as to how much weight should be placed on the other’s well-being compared to one’s own. This is known as the welfare tradeoff ratio.
According to this theory, when the anger program detects that the other party isn’t putting enough emphasis on the actor’s well-being, it triggers anger. Indeed, experimental evidence supports this view.
Predictions of anger
The recalibration model of anger predicts that individuals with improved abilities to inflict costs or confer benefits get angry more easily. This is for two related reasons:
- Firstly, their greater ability to withdraw profits or inflict costs translates into greater influence in negotiating conflicts of interest. This means that being angry is more likely to be successful for them than for others with less influence.
- Secondly, their greater influence leads them to expect others to put more weight on their well-being. Therefore, the higher the welfare tradeoff ratio they expect from others, the greater the set of welfare compensations that the anger system processes as unacceptable will be.
Many factors contribute to the ability to inflict costs or confer benefits. Theoretically, they should generate principled individual differences in anger. In order to empirically test the model, we selected two. We chose strength and attractiveness.
According to evolutionary analysis, the effect of strength on anger is greater for men. However, the effect of attractiveness on anger is greater for women. Furthermore, as predicted, stronger men had a longer history of struggle than weaker men. In addition, the analysis supported the effectiveness of force in resolving conflicts. This concerned both interpersonal and international conflicts.
The fact that stronger men favored the greater use of force reflects the ancestral rewards system that’s characteristic of a small-scale social world. This is in direct opposition to the rational assessments of modern rewards in large populations.
The Transformative Potential of Anger