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Photo of Detroit manager Billy Martin in a disagreement with an umpire.

Detroit Tigers manager Billy Martin disagrees with an umpire in 1973.

Photograph by Bettmann, Corbis

Christine Dell'Amore

National Geographic

Published January 13, 2014

From a wheedling teenager to a road-rager on your tail, most people have been pushed into bad decisions by another's emotions.

Confirming some long-held suspicions, scientists now report a new twist on emotional manipulation: Experiments suggest that men do indeed deliberately anger each other to get what they want.

For instance, Man A in competition with Man B will make his opponent mad if he thinks it will help him win, according to Uri Gneezy, a behavioral economist at the University of California, San Diego, whose study appeared January 13 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Why study anger?

Gneezy and colleagues are interested in what motivates people to make decisions. Strategic interactions with each other appear to be the main factor, he said.

Within those interactions, affecting other people's emotions seems to be a crucial driver in how they act, which is the crux of the psychology experiments in the new study. (Also see "Men Like to See Cheaters Suffer, Brain Study Shows.")

Traditionally, some psychologists and negotiation experts have suggested avoiding emotions in decision-making discussions, even going as far as to say rational people don't use emotions, according to Gneezy, who worked with colleague Alex Imas.

But Gneezy's research has shown just the opposite: "Emotions are what we are," he said.

In other words, it's perfectly natural to be influenced by your emotions, and we shouldn't feel that doing so is a weakness, said Gneezy, also the author of the book The Why Axis: Hidden Motives and the Undiscovered Economics of Everyday Life.

What experiments were done?

For the first experiment, the scientists randomly paired participants—140 undergraduate men—and tested the force of their handgrips.

By giving one of the pair the opportunity to anger his opponent by making him do administrative tasks after a first round of tests, the team discovered that the decision-maker strategically angered his opponent when the decision-maker thought it would impair the other's performance—but not when he thought it would benefit his rival.

For instance, the decision-maker knew that angering an opponent when he didn't have a chance to cool off was not wise, because the opponent would perform better on the handgrip test and beat him. (Also see "Bullies' Brains Light Up With Pleasure as People Squirm.")

In the second experiment, which involved 120 undergraduate men, the researchers pitted two random people against each other in a mentally challenging computer game in which participants realized that angering their opponents would help them win.

That's because making the opponents mad would make them perform less well on their task of shooting a digital target.

Why study only men?

Gneezy said that women are harder to study because their emotions are more variable than men's.

He claimed that women's hormones cause a range of emotions over the course of a month that men may not experience. (Also see "Who Multitasks Best? Women, Of Course.")

Not every expert agrees. Those who assume men are somehow easier to study are "undercomplicating" their hormones, says Kathryn Clancy, an anthropologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who has studied women's hormones for 12 years.

"Men's hormones vary in response to behavioral context and lifestyle perhaps even more than women's," Clancy said by email.

For instance, the male hormone, testosterone, varies with exercise (as progesterone does in women), dominance rank, partnership and marriage, fatherhood, whether men win or lose at games, and even with whether men are cheering for a winning or a losing team.

Taking all those variables into account "makes working on men at least as complicated as working on women. If not more so!" she said.

Why is this study important?

Every decision we make has an emotion wrapped up in it, study leader Gneezy argued.

"Emotions are not something you should ignore," he said.

"It's not a mistake, it's not irrational—instead, we need to learn how to use them."

Follow Christine Dell'Amore on Twitter and Google+.

Anna Iwaniuk
Anna Iwaniuk

well, finally it's been said :-) . however, studying women's behaviours would probably reveal some interesting data, too !

Carlo Fortunato
Carlo Fortunato

[In competitions, men make opponents mad in order to win, study shows.]


They needed a study for that?

Johanna-Nicollette Kidd
Johanna-Nicollette Kidd

Its a shame we all dont come with a 'how to use' manual, isnt it? Make life a lot easier...right? But why do we have to do research on this...why not use common sense? 

Walter Adams
Walter Adams

Whatever it cost to conduct this study and arrive at these conclusions, I'd have done for Half that.
If you need another "Mystery" plumbed, like; Does alcohol make you drunk?; or - Why do men like to look at pretty women?; or - Why do the smartest people do the dumbest things?;  I'm avaiable.
And I work cheap.

john werneken
john werneken


Another "DUH" moment, more research I sure hope was done gratis.

Lives there a man who did not always know this?

Gwendolyn Mugliston
Gwendolyn Mugliston

So, let's do another study where people who truly know the value of cooperation  and have thrived from being "cooperators".  I think that is either a new word or a very little used word, sort of like "truther" v liar. 

    Let's examine things like "joy of being alive and having enough food to eat", "love of reading and playing puzzles", "serenity and heart health following helping others", "peace following meditation", and any other positive life affirming benefits of cooperation and promoting a strong internal life..

     One of the main reasons I walked out of a "fine" job in academia is because of the liars, cheaters, fraud involved in publish or perish, backstabbers and jealousy.  My god, it was like a free-for-all of hellish behaviors and, just think, I didn't even say a word about the sexual aggression of some faculty.  

     I want to work where cooperation and joy and sharing are rewarded and valued. I and others are seem  happier in such environments and am healthier.  What do you think?

Maybe my view point is skewed because I am such an introvert. What do you think?

Or maybe it is because I am a Buddhist?

Maggie P.
Maggie P.

This study, and many similar, seem to ignore 'culturalization' effects. Each and every child, of necessity, is born with some hardwiring to cooperate in a social environment. We're each also born with vulnerabilities (fears) that our survival depends on successful (often aggressive) response to threats. 

Much has been made, perhaps for as many as 10K years, of need and value for aggressive approach. Understandably, we've "taught" ourselves and one another of the advantages of aggression.

Much has been ignored, perhaps for as many as 10K years, of need and value of cooperation, (paramount and essential in earliest hunter/gatherer groups.) Contemporary research suggests better health, better creativity, when cooperation is dominant over 'need to best'. There needs to be serious and scrupulous research into how much aggression, (often characterized as necessary and inevitably hard-wired dominant), is "what it is" because of *very* many generations, (eons), of unexamined assumption.

Ari Marrero
Ari Marrero

I've noticed that in the streets....

Mr Ayetch
Mr Ayetch

Guessing this ground-breaking study was Federally funded. It may have only been as recently as humans evolved that those in competition with others (in other words every living being) realized that one tool in the success toolkit was to get the other guy flustered by getting him/her/other riled. geez..these guys probably published, too. 

Stuart M.
Stuart M.

This certainly explains the argumentative culture here on the Internet.   

Doug Conlin
Doug Conlin

@Gwendolyn MuglistonWhat a nice comment! I think you did the right thing by leaving that situation and enjoying your peace and the wisdom you've developed. Its like you were born in a war zone and decided that there must be a place where people cooperate and live and let live. So you went looking for it. And low and behold, you found it. Smart lady.


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