How does one earn status and (hopefully) its perks; namely social influence, power and better access to resources? In existing studies, an assertion has been made that those who express anger receive a status boost. Much of this research stems from the idea that anger is associated with dominance and competence, and therefore must correlate positively with status. However, Stern Professor Alixandra Barasch, along with Celia Gaertig and Emma Levin of the University of Chicago and Maurice Schweitzer of the University of Pennsylvania, challenge this conclusion in their new research. 

In “When Does Anger Boost Status,” the co-authors conducted seven studies to determine if expressing anger boosts status as well as any moderating factors, as much existing research fails to take into consideration the magnitude of expressed anger. The new research contends that contrary to prior findings, high levels of anger expression actually diminish status rather than boost it. The co-authors also identified moderating factors when it comes to analyzing the effects of expressing anger.

Key findings from the study include:

  • When it comes to expressing emotion -- anger, sadness, fear, joy -- intensity matters.  
  • Although expressing low levels of anger can boost status, expressing high levels of anger is likely harmful to status
  • In situations where anger expressions are more appropriate, high-magnitude expressions are less harmful to a person’s status
Alixandra Barasch

Stern Professor Alixandra Barasch. Image courtesy of NYU Photo Bureau.

Professor Barasch and co-authors also acknowledge the implications of their research in various settings: business, political and personal. “For instance, when a colleague expresses an extreme emotion, whether it’s sadness or anger, people infer that the colleague can’t regulate their emotions appropriately, and their status in the workplace declines,” explains Professor Barasch.  “Our findings underscore the importance of moderating any public displays of emotion.”

This paper was recently published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.