Anger Provoking Experiences:
A Multidimensional Scaling Analysis
Williams E. Snell, Jr.
Southeast Missouri State University
Karen McDonald and William R. Koch
The University of Texas at Austin
The nature of anger provoking experiences was investigated in Chapter 4 through the use of a multidimensional scaling (MDS) procedure. Content analysis of college students' responses to the question, "What makes you feel angry?" revealed 48 categories of anger eliciting experiences. MDS analysis indicated that these categories were characterized by three dimensions involving: (1) individual disappointments, inadequacies and failures related to unattained values, aims, and goals; (2) frustrating events associated with the public, social aspects of the self; and (3) incidents associated with interpersonal exploitation. Additionally, the present investigation revealed that the relationship between a recent history of stress and angry life experiences was moderated by three types of variables: socially desirable and undesirable instrumental and expressive personality attributes; gender-role behaviors and preferences; and extraversion-introversion and neuroticism.
Acknowledgments. Portions of this research were presented at the annual meeting of the Southwestern Psychological Association, Dallas, TX. Published in xxxx. Portions of this chapter were previously published in Sex Roles, Vol. 21, Nos. 718, 1989. Gratitude is extended to the Editor of Sex Roles and two anonymous reviewers for their peer-review commentary (this chapter was previously published in Sex Roles).
Proper citation: Snell, W. E., Jr., McDonald, K., & Koch, W. R. (2002). Chapter 4: Anger provoking experiences: A multidimensional scaling analysis. In W. E. Snell, Jr. (Ed.), Progress in the Study of Physical and Psychological Health. Cape Girardeau, MO: Snell Publications. WEB: http://cstl-cla.semo.edu/snell/books/health/health.htm.
Anger is probably not a novel experience for anyone. In times of frustration, we all feel the "heat" of the moment. At one time or another in our lives we have all felt the impetus of anger. But what about this experience we call anger? Does it simply well up from within us, with no external source? Does it simply come from within ourselves? Or, are there external events that are associated with our feelings of anger? And if there are external events and experiences that provoke feelings of anger from people, how similar are these events and experiences? In what ways might they be interrelated? These are questions that the present research was designed to address.
Most theories of aggression posit that frustration elicits anger, which in turn leads to aggressive behavior (Buss, 1961). The foremost link in this theory deals with the events and experiences that produce frustration. Among the measures that have been developed to aid researchers in their quest for understanding frustration and anger are: the Buss-Durkee Hostility Inventory (BDHI; Buss & Durkee, 1957), the Reaction Inventory (RI; Evans & Stangeland, 1971), the Anger Self-Report (ASR; Zelin, Adler, & Myerson, 1972), and the Anger Inventory (AI; Novaco, 1975). Of these measures, only two (the Evans-Stangeland Reaction Inventory and the Novaco Anger Inventory) are directly concerned with specific stimulus situations which trigger anger. However, several recent reviews have questioned the validity of these two instruments (Biaggio, 1980; Biaggio & Maiuro, 1985; Spielberger, Jacobs, & Crane, 1983; Spielberger, Johnson, Russell, Crane, Jacobs, & Worden, 1985). In addition, both of these measures represent deductive approaches to the study of anger, in that the researchers themselves generated the lists of anger provoking situations. While this deductive approach to the study of anger experiences is a useful research method, it may inadvertently restrict the range of anger related events and experiences that psychologists investigate.
The purpose of the present investigation was to examine more closely the underlying nature and dimensionality of anger provoking experiences. To accomplish this goal, we asked men and women to compose an essay listing the types of phenomena that result in their feeling angry. The types of life experiences generated in these essays were then categorized and subsequently conceptualized by a group of nineteen judges through the use of multidimensional scaling (MDS; Horan, 1969). This procedure not only allowed us to identify the variety of life experiences and events which evoke feelings of anger, but also it allowed us to examine the conceptual underpinning of the resulting set of anger-related categories.
In addition to presenting an inductively derived conceptualization of the types of situations that elicit anger, this investigation examined whether a recent history of exposure to stressful life change was associated with people's exposure to angry life experiences (cf. Monroe, 1982). Much of the prior work in this area has found that the link between stress and distressful reactions is influenced by "moderator" variables. Among the personality and individual characteristics that have been found to moderate the stress-distress association are need for power (McClelland, Alexander, & Marks, 1982), locus of control (Johnson & Sarason, 1978; Lefcourt, Miller, Ware, & Sherk, 1981), private self-consciousness (Mullen & Suls, 1982), hardiness (Kobasa, 1979; Kobasa, Maddi, & Kahn, 1982; Kobasa, Maddi, & Courington, 1981), sensation seeking (Cooley & Keesey, 1981; Smith, Johnson, & Sarason, 1978), and extraversion-introversion (Cooley & Keesey, 1981). Also, Wilcox (1981) has found that well-developed social support networks serve to buffer the impact of stressful life change, while another study has indicated that irrational beliefs (cf. Ellis & Harper, 1978) moderate the influence of stressful life events (Snell & Hawkins, 1985).
In light of the above findings, an ancillary purpose of the present study was to examine whether the relationship between stress and anger provoking situations was influenced by the following personality and role tendencies: the Extended Personal Attributes Questionnaire (EPAQ; Spence, Helmreich, & Holahan, 1979), a measure of socially desirable and undesirable expressive and instrumental personality characteristics; the Male-Female Relations Questionnaire (MFRQ; Spence, Helmreich, & Sawin, 1980), a measure of gender-role behaviors and preferences; and the Maudsley Personality Inventory (MPI; Eysenck, 1959), a personality measure of neuroticism and extraversion. This exploratory approach allowed us to investigate whether some individuals were more vulnerable than others to experiences that provoke anger during stressful periods of their life.
One hundred and eighteen students in an introductory psychology course (87 females and 31 males) participated in an experimental survey project for course credit.
Survey booklets containing the experimental materials were distributed to the students during a regular classroom session, with the instructions to return the booklet and answer sheets at the next regular class session. Additionally, all subjects were asked to refrain from discussing the material with anyone until the following week and to complete the sections of the booklet in private and during one complete setting.
The subjects completed the Extended Personal Attributes Questionnaire (EPAQ; Spence et al., 1979), the Male-Female Relations Questionnaire (MFRQ; Spence et al., 1980), the Maudsley Personality Inventory (MPI; Eysenck, 1959), and the Holmes and Rahe (1967) Schedule of Recent Events (SRE) questionnaire.
EPAQ. The Extended Personal Attributes Questionnaire (Spence et al., 1979) includes three scales of socially desirable, abstract personality characteristics: instrumental traits (+I), communal traits (+E), and bipolar masculinity-femininity (M-F; traits related to low versus high emotional vulnerability). In addition, the EPAQ contains several scales composed of socially undesirable traits. These include the negative instrumentality scale (-I) consisting of instrumental, agentic traits that are both stereotypically and in self-report more characteristic of males (e.g., arrogant), and two negative femininity scales containing undesirable traits that are both stereotypically and in self-report more characteristic of females. One of these "expressive" scales is composed of traits reflecting verbal aggressiveness (-Eva) and the other is composed of traits reflecting selfless communalism (-Ec), traits associated with a tendency that Bakan (1966) refers to as "unmitigated communion." The subjects were asked to respond to the 40 items on the EPAQ using a 5-point Likert scale, scored from 0 to 4. Scores on the six subscales were based on the summation of the items constituting each subscale, higher scores indicating greater amounts of the respective attributes.
MFRQ. The Male-Female Relations Questionnaire is a self-report inventory of gender-role behaviors and preferences (Spence et al., 1980). Only two of the subscales on this questionnaire were used in the present study: the Social Interaction Scale, which is designed to assess people's tendency to modify their behavior in social situations that contain implicitly gender-role demands, and the Marital Roles Scale, which is designed to assess people's preferred decision-making relationship with their spouse (the male making the decisions versus an egalitarian decision-making process). The subjects responded to the items on the questionnaire by indicating how much they agreed or disagreed with the statements on this scale. Items were scored from 0 to 4, and then summed to derive subscale scores. For both subscales of the MFRQ, higher scores indicate a more "traditional" response pattern.
MPI. The Maudsley Personality Inventory (MPI) contains two subscales designed to measure extraversion-introversion and neuroticism (Eysenck, 1959). The subjects responded to the 24 items on each of these two subscales by indicating whether they were self-descriptive or not (i.e., true versus false). The scales were scored so that higher scores indicated greater extraversion and neuroticism, respectively.
SRI. The Schedule of Recent Events (SRI) was devised by Homes and Rahe (1967) to assess the degree of life change experienced by an individual. The scale contains a list of weighted items (e.g., change of residence) which are checked off if the subject has experienced them during the previous year. The scale is designed to represent the major disruptions or changes in a person's life resulting from the occurrence of particular events. The scale was scored so that higher scores indicated more extensive life change. A median split was used to classify the subjects into "high"" and "low" stressful life change groups (Mdn = 68).
After completing the above measures, the subjects wrote an essay in response to the following instructions: "On this page write an essay describing what makes you feel angry." These essays were then transcribed and coded, as described below.
Coding of the Essays
Two coders (W.E.S. and K.M) read all the anger essays. On the basis of collaborative effort, the two coders decided on 48 categories whose meaning they could agree upon and that represented most of the phenomena furnished in the anger essays. These categories, along with a brief description of each, are presented in Table 1.
Multidimensional Scaling Analysis
A nineteen member group of psychologists (including several faculty and graduate students) provided the data required for the multidimensional scaling analysis (Carroll & Arabie, 1980; Carroll & Chang, 1970; Horan, 1969; Kruskal, 1964a, 1964b; Kruskal & Wish, 1978; Shepard, 1962a, 1962b, 1972). Each of these "judges" was given material that described the 48 anger-related categories presented in Table 1. They were then provided with instructions describing how to perform a sorting task which generated the matrix of proximity coefficients for the MDS analysis. More specifically, these judges were instructed to sort the 48 stimuli into not more than nine (9) separate groups containing categories highly similar to each other (cf. Rosenberg & Kim, 1975). They were also told that no relationship should be necessarily implied among the various groups themselves.
Proximity coefficients (defined in terms of category similarity) were calculated on the basis of the information provided by the judges' groupings. This was accomplished by determining how frequently the sample of nineteen judges sorted the anger categories into the groups. The lower off-diagonal elements of the resulting matrix of proximity coefficients provided by the above procedure underwent a nonmetric model of multidimensional scaling (MDS). The program used for this analysis was ALSCAL (Takane, Young, & DeLeeuw, 1977).
The results are divided into two major sections, the first section presenting the results of the multidimensional scaling analysis and the second section presenting the results of the stress-distress analyses.
Anger Experiences and the MDS Results
Proximity information derived from the judges' sorting task was analyzed by Multidimensional Scaling (MDS) analysis procedures. Separate MDS solutions in two through four dimensions were obtained. The selection of the optimum configuration was based on both statistical criteria (i.e., goodness of fit) and the interpretability of the dimensions (Shepard, 1972). The stress values, which correspond to the error sum of squares expressed as a percentage, for the two through four dimensional solutions were .391, .297, and .265, respectively. The three-dimensional configuration was retained for use since it appeared readily interpretable and provided a good fit to the original similarity data. The MDS weights are shown in Table 1.
MDS Anger Dimension I. The first dimension appears to concern anger provoking experiences that are personal in nature, i.e., those which thwart and constrain the actualization of an individual's personal ambitions, aims, goals, and values. The anger-eliciting stimuli at one end of this continuum are associated with the frustration of personal pursuits (e.g., academic problems, personal failure, foiled goals, inadequate planning). At the opposite end of this continuum are events and incidents that are less related to the frustration of personal pursuits and thus less likely to evoke intense feelings of personal anger (e.g., political events and processes, crowds, lying).
MDS Anger Dimension II. In contrast to Dimension I which was concerned with the private and personal aspects of the self, Dimension II seems to deal with anger provoking experiences that are associated with the public, social aspects of the self. The nature of this continuum varies from one pole, which describes highly frustrating, presumptuous and perhaps even malicious types of social effrontery (e.g., rudeness, arrogance, hypocrisy), to the opposite pole which depicts less spiteful, more unassuming and benign types of social disruption (e.g., false accusations, inconsiderateness, irresponsible roommates and/or partners).
MDS Anger Dimension III. Interpersonal exploitation appears to be the primary concern underlying the ordering of the angry triggering experiences on MDS Dimension III. Events and experiences that are obviously lacking in interpersonal sensitivity and concern characterize one end of this dimension (e.g., exploitation, criticism, jealousy) , while the other end of this continuum is represented by anger-eliciting stimuli which are more subtle and insidious in their lack of interpersonal concern (e.g., sexism, selfishness, obnoxious people, sexual discrimination).
Intercorrelations. To determine whether the three MDS dimensions were interrelated, individual scores on each of the three anger dimensions were computed for each subject by multiplying each of the categories listed in each subject's essay (scored 1 if present, 0 if not mentioned) by its respective MDS weight. Then, these values were summed across the 48 anger provoking categories to derive a separate score for MDS Dimensions I, II, and III. A series of Pearson product-moment correlational analyses was then conducted among the three resulting measures. No significant relationships were found (for Dimension I and II, r = -.10, n. s.; for Dimension II and III, r = -.01, n. s.; for dimension II and III, r = .08, n. s.], verifying them as independent anger provoking dimensions (unless otherwise indicated, all tests of significant are two-tailed).
Summary. Overall, the results for the multidimensional (MDS) analysis of the anger essays were highly informative, suggesting that three types of phenomena are implicated in the instigation of anger states. One cluster of anger-provoking life experiences was concerned with negative personal events. In contrast, the dimension associated with the second cluster of anger eliciting events represented incidents that frustrate an individual's interpersonal-social needs, desires, and preferences. Finally, the third set of anger experiences was concerned with interpersonal insensitivity, expressed in either active, direct types of ways (e.g., exploitation) or else in passive, indirect sorts of ways (e.g., obnoxious people).
Mediators between Stress and the MDS Anger Dimensions
A series of exploratory analyses was conducted to examine whether the relationships between stress and angry life experiences were moderated by the following personality and role tendencies: (1) socially desirable and undesirable expressive and instrumental personality attributes (EPAQ; Spence et al., 1979); (2) gender-role behaviors and preferences (MFRQ; Spence et al., 1980); and (3) extraversion and neuroticism (MPI; Eysenck, 1959). This was accomplished by dividing the subjects into two subgroups, based on the amount of stressful life change they had experienced in the past year of their life (i.e., high versus low stress groups). Then the correlation coefficients between (a) the personality and role scales and (b) the anger scales for the two subgroups were examined.
EPAQ. Table 2 presents the correlations between the anger scales and the subscales on the Extended Personal Attributes Questionnaire (EPAQ; Spence et al., 1979). An inspection of this table reveals several significant findings.
Among those subjects with a recent history of extensive stress, highly expressive individuals reported more anger-provoking experiences dealing with interpersonal exploitation; whereas, among those subjects who were not recently exposed to stress, highly expressive individuals reported less anger-eliciting circumstances associated with personal frustrations. Other results indicated that during less stressful times, individuals who are predisposed to emotional vulnerability (i.e., low on the M-F subscale) reported higher levels of anger stemming from interpersonal exploitation.
An inspection of Table 2 also indicates, that given a history of stressful life events, individuals with socially undesirable instrumental attributes (e.g., boastful) listed interpersonal frustrations as one of the main sources of their anger; whereas, given a recent past that was less stressful, individuals who lacked these negative instrumental attributes tended to report interpersonal exploitation as a source of their angry experiences. Finally, it was found that among individuals who had recently experienced stress in their lives, those who were characterized by less negative expressive characteristics (i.e., those who were not very verbally aggressive) reported an increased incidence of anger life experiences associated with interpersonal exploitation.
MFRQ. Table 3 presents the correlations between the three anger measures and the gender-role scales on the Male-Female Relations Questionnaire (MFRQ; Spence et al., 1980). As this table indicates, gender-role preferences dealing with marital decision-making were associated with anger provoking experiences, the strength of the relationship varying with the amount of stress experienced by individuals. If they had suffered quite a bit of stress in their recent past, individuals whose gender-role preferences were more traditional (i.e., they preferred that the husband always make the decisions in their relationships) reported more anger stemming from the occurrence of highly personal types of frustrating events (e.g., foiled goals). A second finding indicated that, in times relatively devoid of stress, more "traditional" subjects were also inclined to become angry about interpersonal exploitation than were more "non-traditional" subjects.
MPI. The neuroticism and extraversion-introversion scales on the Maudsley Personality Inventory (Eysenck, 1959) were also found to influence the relationship between stressful life change and distressful angry states. An inspection of Table 4 reveals that in times of less intense stress, extraversion was positively associated with interpersonal/social types of frustrations, while being negatively associated with anger triggered by more personal types of frustrations.
Only one significant correlation was associated with the neuroticism scale. Those neurotics who had recently experienced an extensive history of stressful life change reported more anger due to interpersonal/social sorts of frustrations.
Previous research associated with anger, hostility, and aggression has concentrated on the consequences of expressing anger (e.g., Mace, 1976; L'Abate, 1977), or else on the variety of personality and situational phenomena that influence the expression of aggressive behavior (e.g., Scheier, 1976; Donnerstein & Berkowitz, 1981). In contrast, the present investigation was concerned with the antecedents of angry affect (Feshbach, 1986). Anger essays written by undergraduate students provided a 48-category scheme of the types of events and life experiences which provoke feelings of anger. The application of a multidimensional scaling (MDS) procedure to this 48-category scheme revealed three dimensions which represent the types of phenomena eliciting anger. The first "anger" dimension was concerned with frustrating events and experiences which interfere with the attainment of personal pursuits and goals. In comparison, the second dimension seemed to be related to interpersonal-social types of frustrating events, those that impede smooth social functioning. The third and final MDS dimension was associated with interpersonal exploitation as a source of angry feelings.
A secondary goal of the present investigation was concerned with the identification of individual tendencies that might moderate the relationship between life stress and anger provoking experiences. The results of these exploratory analyses suggested that the impact of stressful events on anger is moderated by several personality and role tendencies associated with the Extended Personal Attributes Questionnaire (EPAQ; Spence et al., 1979), a measure of the socially desirable and undesirable instrumental and expressive attributes; the Male-Female Relations Questionnaire (MFRQ; Spence et al., 1980), a measure of gender-role behaviors and preferences; and the Maudsley Personality Inventory (MPI; Eysenck, 1959), a measure of neuroticism and extraversion/introversion.
Overall, these results are congruent with those of other investigators who have found that personality tendencies can serve to moderate the impact of life's stressors (cf. Lefcourt, Miller, Ware, & Sherk, 1981; Kobasa, 1979). In other research currently underway we have begun to further investigate the personal and interpersonal effects of angry life experiences (Snell & Belk, 1987). In future work, we intend to use the Angry Life Experiences Survey (ALES) to investigate the impact of angry life experiences on violence against women and men (Donnerstein & Berkowitz, 1981) and relationship stress (L'Abate, 1977; Mace, 1976).
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