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

September 19 • 4:00 PM

In Your Own Words: What It’s Like to Get Sued Over Past Debts

Some describe their surprise when they were sued after falling behind on medical and credit card bills.



September 19 • 1:26 PM

For Charitable Products, Sex Doesn’t Sell

Sexy women may turn heads, but for pro-social and charitable products, they won’t change minds.


September 19 • 12:00 PM

Carbon Taxes Really Do Work

A new study shows that taxing carbon dioxide emissions could actually work to reduce greenhouse gases without any negative effects on employment and revenues.


September 19 • 10:00 AM

Why the Poor Remain Poor

A follow-up to “How Being Poor Makes You Poor.”


September 19 • 9:03 AM

Why Science Won’t Defeat Ebola

While science will certainly help, winning the battle against Ebola is a social challenge.


September 19 • 8:00 AM

Burrito Treason in the Lone Star State

Did Meatless Mondays bring down Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples?


September 19 • 7:31 AM

Savor Good Times, Get Through the Bad Ones—With Categories

Ticking off a category of things to do can feel like progress or a fun time coming to an end.


September 19 • 6:00 AM

The Most Untouchable Man in Sports

How the head of the governing body for the world’s most popular sport freely wields his wildly incompetent power.


September 19 • 4:00 AM

The Danger of Dining With an Overweight Companion

There’s a good chance you’ll eat more unhealthy food.



September 18 • 4:00 PM

Racial Disparity in Imprisonment Inspires White People to Be Even More Tough on Crime

White Americans are more comfortable with punitive and harsh policing and sentencing when they imagine that the people being policed and put in prison are black.



September 18 • 2:00 PM

The Wages of Millions Are Being Seized to Pay Past Debts

A new study provides the first-ever tally of how many employees lose up to a quarter of their paychecks over debts like unpaid credit card or medical bills and student loans.


September 18 • 12:00 PM

When Counterfeit and Contaminated Drugs Are Deadly

The cost and the crackdown, worldwide.


September 18 • 10:00 AM

How Do You Make a Living, Molly Crabapple?

Noah Davis talks to Molly Crapabble about Michelangelo, the Medicis, and the tension between making art and making money.


September 18 • 9:00 AM

Um, Why Are These Professors Creeping on My Facebook Page?

The ethics of student-teacher “intimacy”—on campus and on social media.


September 18 • 8:00 AM

Welcome to the Economy Economy

With the recent introduction of Apple Pay, the Silicon Valley giant is promising to remake how we interact with money. Could iCoin be next?



September 18 • 6:09 AM

How to Build a Better Election

Elimination-style voting is harder to fiddle with than majority rule.


September 18 • 6:00 AM

Homeless on Purpose

The latest entry in a series of interviews about subculture in America.


September 18 • 4:00 AM

Why Original Artworks Move Us More Than Reproductions

Researchers present evidence that hand-created artworks convey an almost magical sense of the artist’s essence.


September 17 • 4:00 PM

Why Gun Control Groups Have Moved Away From an Assault Weapons Ban

A decade after the ban expired, gun control groups say that focusing on other policies will save more American lives.


September 17 • 2:00 PM

Can You Make Two People Like Each Other Just By Telling Them That They Should?

OKCupid manipulates user data in an attempt to find out.


September 17 • 12:00 PM

Understanding ISIL Messaging Through Behavioral Science

By generating propaganda that taps into individuals’ emotional and cognitive states, ISIL is better able motivate people to join their jihad.


Follow us


For Charitable Products, Sex Doesn’t Sell

Sexy women may turn heads, but for pro-social and charitable products, they won't change minds.

Carbon Taxes Really Do Work

A new study shows that taxing carbon dioxide emissions could actually work to reduce greenhouse gases without any negative effects on employment and revenues.

Savor Good Times, Get Through the Bad Ones—With Categories

Ticking off a category of things to do can feel like progress or a fun time coming to an end.

How to Build a Better Election

Elimination-style voting is harder to fiddle with than majority rule.

Do Conspiracy Theorists Feed on Unsuspecting Internet Trolls?

Not literally, but debunkers and satirists do fuel conspiracy theorists' appetites.

The Big One

One in three drivers in Brooklyn's Park Slope—at certain times of day—is just looking for parking. The same goes for drivers in Manhattan's SoHo. September/October 2014 new-big-one-3

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