The Anger Recalibration Theory: What It Is and How It Explains Anger

If we asked someone why anger arose, they would most likely tell us that it was frustration. When something doesn’t go as planned or we’re told something ugly, it’s normal to react with emotional tension, one of many responses being the emotion of anger.

However, there are those who believe that, from an evolutionary perspective, anger would be an emotion whose function is to motivate us in a negotiation or a conflict, mobilizing us to avoid any loss or promote gains in a social context.

The Anger Recalibration Theory is a model that attempted to explain the functionality of this emotion. Let’s see what it is.

    What is the Anger Recalibration Theory?

    The anger recalibration theory is a proposition that explains how natural selection has shaped this emotion in such a way that it helps us receive better treatment from others.

    Although this is a relatively new theory, and it still needs to be addressed more thoroughly with scientific research, this conceptualization of the purpose of anger would make sense because this emotion is responsible for a large part of aggressive human acts aggressively if not to prevent our rights from being violated?

    Based on this idea, it has been suggested that anger acts as a behavioral regulator. Anger recalibration theory is a computational evolutionary model, a proposal developed by Sell that argues that the function of this emotion is precisely to socially recalibrate individuals who are not considered or not enough.

    So that we understand: anger would serve so that these individuals who are excluded from their group and whose rights are despised, are imposed, they are mobilized by avoiding continuing to be trampled on. Anger pushes them to act.

      What is anger according to this scheme?

      In the recalibrating theory of anger, we start from the idea that this emotion is as universal as the others. Anger appears spontaneously during childhood and manifests itself in a more or less similar way from one culture to another.. It is a product of our biology, with a neurobiological substrate behind it that has been shaped by years and years of evolution.

      Based on this conceptualization, the hypothesis is raised that this emotion evolved in our focused species, primarily, to function in contexts of negotiation and conflict. Its appearance would mobilize the angry person, in such a way that he manages to tip the balance of interests and advantages in a situation of conflict. The angrier you are, the more your rights prevail over others and the more you benefit from it.

        anger tactics

        The recalibration theory of anger holds that an entire computationally complex cognitive system has organized itself around this human emotion which, as we mentioned, advanced focused on conflict and negotiation situations.

        When we feel angry, we display specific facial expressions, an altered tone of voice, use defensive and offensive verbal arguments (eg, insults), and of course we may engage in physical aggression. All these cognitive and physiological actions they are intended to facilitate our negotiation during a conflict.

        The two tactics that anger makes us try to implement in conflict situations are:

        1. Inflict costs and withhold benefits

        One of the tactics we apply when we feel angry is to inflict costs and withhold benefits. In other words, when we feel angry, we are more likely to hurt others. in order to intimidate them or respond aggressively to the offenses they first gave us.

        This emotion also makes us defend ourselves, protect what we want to preserve, whether psychologically, socially or physically. Individuals with a better ability to inflict costs, i.e. to do harm, are socially perceived as stronger.

          2. Grant Benefits

          The other tactic related to anger does not manifest when we are immersed in this emotion, but when another individual is angry.

          Humans tend to give more advantages to aggressive people, because it is interpreted that they are better able to defend their interests. The most angry people are also seen as people who better not be angry, which is why one is more likely to give the benefits they seek.

            Anger, well-being and negotiation

            In any gregarious species, the actions taken by one of its individuals end up affecting the well-being of others, for better or for worse. According to the recalibration theory, when the anger program detects that others in the reference group do not place enough importance on one’s well-being, anger is triggered..

            According to the assumptions of anger recalibration theory, individuals with better abilities to inflict costs (damages) and retain benefits and who, therefore, are also more likely to gain benefits compared to others, are the ones who tend to get angry more easily. Whether it’s because it’s in their genetic code or because they’ve learned that getting angry gives them certain benefits, their temper tends to be short-tempered, since it works for them.

            In turn, from an evolutionary perspective, this would have two reasons. The first is that their greater ability to derive benefits or impose costs translates into greater influence in the negotiation of conflicts of interest. It means that they are more likely to manage their anger better than those with less influence.

            The second reason is that their greater influence makes them expect others to care more about their well-being. The higher the ratio of social compensation that a subject expects from others, the larger the set of social compensations that the anger system will treat as unacceptable. In other words, the more attentive others are expected to be, the shorter his fuse will be in dealing with social situations that he perceives as an attack on his individual desires.

            Bibliographic references

            • Averill, J. (1982). Anger and aggression: an essay on emotion. New York: Springer Verlag.
            • Averill, J. (1983). Studies on anger and aggression: implications for theories of emotion. American Psychologist, 38, 1145-1160.
            • Buss, A.H. (1961). The psychology of aggression. New York: Willey.
            • Lench, HC (2004). Anger management: diagnostic differences and therapeutic implications.
            • Roda-Rivera, C. (2021). The recalibration theory to explain anger. The spirit is wonderful. Retrieved from:
            • Sell, AN (2011). The Recalibration Theory and Violent Anger. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 16(5), 381–389.
            • Sell, A. (2017). Anger Recalibration Theory. 10.1007/978-3-319-16999-6_1687-1.

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