Menus Subscribe Search

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

July 31 • 11:17 AM

How California Could Power Itself Using Nothing but Renewables

We don’t need fossil fuels.


July 31 • 8:00 AM

Should Athletes Train Their Memories?

Sure, but it probably won’t help.


July 31 • 6:00 AM

Universal Basic Income: Something We Can All Agree on?

According to Almaz Zelleke, it’s not a crazy thought.


July 31 • 4:00 AM

Medical Dramas Produce Misinformed, Fatalistic Viewers

New research suggests TV doctor dramas leave viewers with skewed impressions of important health-related topics.


July 30 • 4:00 PM

Still the World’s Top Military Spender

Although declining in real terms, the United States’ military budget remains substantial and a huge drain on our public resources.



July 30 • 2:04 PM

The Rise of the Nuisance Flood

Minor floods are afflicting parts of Maryland nearly 10 times more often than was the case in the 1960s.


July 30 • 2:00 PM

The (Mostly Awful) Things You Learn After Investigating Unpaid Internships for a Year

Though the intern economy remains opaque, dialogue about the role of interns in the labor force—and protections they deserve—is beginning to take shape.


July 30 • 12:00 PM

Why Coffee Shortages Won’t Change the Price of Your Frappuccino

You’re so loyal to Starbucks—and the company knows it—that your daily serving of caffeine is already marked up beyond the reach of any fluctuations in supply.



July 30 • 10:00 AM

Having Difficult Conversations With Your Children

Why it’s necessary, and how to do it.


July 30 • 8:00 AM

How to Make a Convincing Sci-Fi Movie on a Tight Budget

Coherence is a good movie, and its initial shoot cost about the same amount of money as a used Prius.


July 30 • 6:00 AM

Are You Really as Happy as You Say You Are?

Researchers find a universal positivity bias in the way we talk, tweet, and write.


July 30 • 4:00 AM

The Declining Wage Gap for Gay Men

New research finds gay men in America are rapidly catching up with straight married men in terms of wages.


July 30 • 2:00 AM

LeBron James Migration: Big Chef Seeking Small Pond

The King’s return to Cleveland is a symbol for the dramatic shift in domestic as well as international migration.


July 29 • 4:00 PM

Are Children Seeking Refuge Turning More Americans Against Undocumented Immigrants?

A look at Pew Research Center survey data collected in February and July of this year.


July 29 • 2:00 PM

Under Water: The EPA’s Ongoing Struggle to Combat Pollution

Frustration and inaction color efforts to enforce the Clean Water Act.


July 29 • 12:40 PM

America’s Streams Are Awash With Pesticides Banned in Europe

You may have never heard of clothianidin, but it’s probably in your local river.


July 29 • 12:00 PM

Mining Your Genetic Data for Profit: The Dark Side of Biobanking

One woman’s personal story raises deep questions about the stark limits of current controls in a nascent industry at the very edge of the frontier of humans and technology.


July 29 • 11:23 AM

Where Should You Go to College?


July 29 • 10:29 AM

How Textbooks Have Changed the Face of War

War is more personal, less glorious, and more hellish in modern textbooks than in the past. But there’s still room for improvement.


July 29 • 10:00 AM

The Monolingual American: Why Are Those Outside of the U.S. Encouraging It?

If you are an American trying to learn German in a large German town or city, you will mostly hear English in return, even when you give sprechen your best shot.


July 29 • 8:00 AM

The Elusive Link Between Casinos and Crime

With a study of the impact of Philadelphia’s SugarHouse Casino, a heated debate gets fresh ammunition.


July 29 • 6:00 AM

What Are the Benefits of Locking Yourself in a Tank and Floating in Room-Temperature Saltwater?

After three sessions in an isolation tank, the answer’s still not quite clear.


July 29 • 4:00 AM

Harry Potter and the Battle Against Bigotry

Kids who identify with the hero of J.K. Rowling’s popular fantasy novels hold more open-minded attitudes toward immigrants and gays.


Follow us


Subscribe Now

The Rise of the Nuisance Flood

Minor floods are afflicting parts of Maryland nearly 10 times more often than was the case in the 1960s.

America’s Streams Are Awash With Pesticides Banned in Europe

You may have never heard of clothianidin, but it's probably in your local river.

How Textbooks Have Changed the Face of War

War is more personal, less glorious, and more hellish in modern textbooks than in the past. But there’s still room for improvement.

NASA Could Build Entire Spacecrafts in Space Using 3-D Printers

This year NASA will experiment with 3-D printing small objects in space. That could mark the beginning of a gravity-free manufacturing revolution.

The Big One

One in two full-time American fast-food workers' families are enrolled in public assistance programs, at a cost of $7 billion per year. July/August 2014

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