Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Anger is a Valuable Negotiation Tool—If It’s Real

• January 14, 2013 • 6:00 AM

New research suggests fake displays of pique are a very bad negotiating strategy.

Negotiators from the Congress and White House will soon be back at the bargaining table, again attempting to hash out a budget-balancing deal. Given the high stakes, and the parties involved, it’s quite possible that as the hours drag on, someone’s temper will erupt.

Will that help his or her cause? Newly published research suggests it very well might—but only if that anger is authentic. Any hint that it’s phony will create even more distrust, leading the other side less willing to compromise.

“The effects of faking anger are different than the effects of showing genuine anger, or showing no emotions (during negotiations),” writes a research team led by Stephane Cote of the University of Toronto. “Genuine anger elicits concessions, but fake anger elicits demands.”

In the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, the researchers describe two experiments that back up their thesis. In one, 140 undergraduates each watched a 90-second video of a “student” who was responding to an ad offering a used car for sale. After enumerating his concerns about the automobile, he said he would not pay the asked-for $3,500, and made a counteroffer of $2,400.

One-third of the participants saw a version of the video in which the actor playing the student showed no emotion. Another third saw him obviously pretend to be angry, with eyes glaring and jaw clenched.

The final third saw yet another version in which the actor was feeling genuine anger. (In a Method-like touch, he was asked to recall an event that made him feel angry, and then channel those intense emotions into the scene.)

After viewing the video, participants assessed the potential buyer’s toughness and authenticity, and made him a counteroffer on the car.

Not surprisingly, those who viewed the video featuring fake acting were less likely to describe the actor as authentic. More importantly, they responded to this apparent attempt to deceive by demanding a higher price than those who saw the emotionally neutral video.

Those who saw the video where the potential buyer was feeling real anger rated him as a tougher negotiator—and responded by offering the car at the lowest price of the three groups. Anger that seemed real was at least somewhat intimidating; anger that felt fake was off-putting and counterproductive.

“The findings show that individuals place particularly high demands, are relatively dissatisfied, and have relatively little interest in negotiating again with opponents who surface-act anger, because they have little trust in them,” the researchers conclude. “The same emotion—anger—has opposite consequences on negotiation processes and outcomes depending on … how authentic the display is perceived to be.”

So if White House or congressional negotiators are planning to intimidate the other side with some faux anger, they’d better make sure their team includes some very polished actors. Clint, here’s a chance to make up for your convention flub: That slow burn of yours can seem frighteningly real.

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

November 25 • 4:00 PM

Is the Federal Reserve Bank of New York Doing Enough to Monitor Wall Street?

Bank President William Dudley says supervision is stronger than ever, but Democratic senators are unconvinced: “You need to fix it, Mr. Dudley, or we need to get someone who will.”


November 25 • 3:30 PM

Cultural Activities Help Seniors Retain Health Literacy

New research finds a link between the ability to process health-related information and regular attendance at movies, plays, and concerts.


November 25 • 12:00 PM

Why Did Doctors Stop Giving Women Orgasms?

You can thank the rise of the vibrator for that, according to technology historian Rachel Maines.


November 25 • 10:08 AM

Geography, Race, and LOLs

The online lexicon spreads through racial and ethnic groups as much as it does through geography and other traditional linguistic measures.


November 25 • 10:00 AM

If It’s Yellow, Seriously, Let It Mellow

If you actually care about water and the future of the species, you’ll think twice about flushing.


November 25 • 8:00 AM

Sometimes You Should Just Say No to Surgery

The introduction of national thyroid cancer screening in South Korea led to a 15-fold increase in diagnoses and a corresponding explosion of operations—but no difference in mortality rates. This is a prime example of over-diagnosis that’s contributing to bloated health care costs.



November 25 • 6:00 AM

The Long War Between Highbrow and Lowbrow

Despise The Avengers? Loathe the snobs who despise The Avengers? You’re not the first.


November 25 • 4:00 AM

Are Women More Open to Sex Than They Admit?

New research questions the conventional wisdom that men overestimate women’s level of sexual interest in them.


November 25 • 2:00 AM

The Geography of Innovation, or, Why Almost All Japanese People Hate Root Beer

Innovation is not a product of population density, but of something else entirely.


November 24 • 4:00 PM

Federal Reserve Announces Sweeping Review of Its Big Bank Oversight

The Federal Reserve Board wants to look at whether the views of examiners are being heard by higher-ups.



November 24 • 2:00 PM

That Catcalling Video Is a Reminder of Why Research Methods Are So Important

If your methods aren’t sound then neither are your findings.


November 24 • 12:00 PM

Yes, Republicans Can Still Win the White House

If the economy in 2016 is where it was in 2012 or better, Democrats will likely retain the White House. If not, well….


November 24 • 11:36 AM

Feeling—Not Being—Wealthy Cuts Support for Economic Redistribution

A new study suggests it’s relative wealth that leads people to oppose taxing the rich and giving to the poor.


November 24 • 10:00 AM

Why Are Patients Drawn to Certain Doctors?

We look for an emotional fit between our physicians and ourselves—and right now, that’s the best we can do.


November 24 • 8:00 AM

Why Do We Elect Corrupt Politicians?

Voters, it seems, are willing to forgive—over and over again—dishonest yet beloved politicians if they think the job is still getting done.



November 24 • 6:00 AM

They Steal Babies, Don’t They?

Ethiopia, the Hague, and the rise and fall of international adoption. An exclusive investigation of internal U.S. State Department documents describing how humanitarian adoptions metastasized into a mini-industry shot through with fraud, becoming a source of income for unscrupulous orphanages, government officials, and shady operators—and was then reined back in through diplomacy, regulation, and a brand-new federal law.


November 24 • 4:00 AM

Nudging Drivers, and Pedestrians, Into Better Behavior

Daniel Pink’s new series, Crowd Control, premieres tonight on the National Geographic Channel.


November 21 • 4:00 PM

Why Are America’s Poorest Toddlers Being Over-Prescribed ADHD Drugs?

Against all medical guidelines, children who are two and three years old are getting diagnosed with ADHD and treated with Adderall and other stimulants. It may be shocking, but it’s perfectly legal.



November 21 • 2:00 PM

The Best Moms Let Mess Happen

That’s the message of a Bounty commercial that reminds this sociologist of Sharon Hays’ work on “the ideology of intensive motherhood.”


November 21 • 12:00 PM

Eating Disorders Are Not Just for Women

Men, like women, are affected by our cultural preoccupation with thinness. And refusing to recognize that only makes things worse.


November 21 • 10:00 AM

Queens of the South

Inside Asheville, North Carolina’s 7th annual Miss Gay Latina pageant.


Follow us


Geography, Race, and LOLs

The online lexicon spreads through racial and ethnic groups as much as it does through geography and other traditional linguistic measures.

Feeling—Not Being—Wealthy Cuts Support for Economic Redistribution

A new study suggests it's relative wealth that leads people to oppose taxing the rich and giving to the poor.

Sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorder, Your Friends Like You

The first study of friends' perceptions suggest they know something's off with their pals but like them just the same.

Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.

How Old Brains Learn New Tricks

A new study shows that the neural plasticity needed for learning doesn't vanish as we age—it just moves.

The Big One

One in two United States senators and two in five House members who left office between 1998 and 2004 became lobbyists. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.