How Anger Influences Threat Detection: The Independent Contributions of Affect and Conceptual Knowledge

Abstract

In this study, we were interested in studying anger as made up of more basic components including affect (how you feel) and conceptual knowledge (what you think that feeling means). æWe wanted to explore how these individual components of anger contribute to threat detection performance. Past research has found that participants induced to feel anger demonstrated a bias on a threat detection task where they made more mistakes claiming neutral objects were guns than vice versa. Yet, it is unclear whether conceptual knowledge alone or affect alone could create the same bias. To test this in the current study, participants completed a subliminal priming task that either included neutral words or words associated with anger. Thus, some participants had conceptual knowledge about anger activated while others did not. Then, they completed an affect induction task meant to elicit either high arousal, negative affect or neutral affect. æFinally, all participants completed a threat detection task similar to the one used in previous research. We predict that, in the condition where participants have both components necessary for anger (high arousal, negative affect and anger prime) they will display the previously demonstrated bias in the threat detection task. æPerformance in the other conditions will reveal whether the bias may also result from activation of only one of these two components (i.e., affect alone or conceptual knowledge alone). This research will shed light on whether emotional states are constructed from more basic components and how those individual components may independently contribute to behavior.