Anger is one of the six universal emotions experienced by humans – the others being happiness, fear sadness, disgust and surprise. Our emotions are the largely unconscious physical responses we have to stimuli.
While we use the cerebral cortex in the brain to think logically and make judgements, anger is controlled by the limbic system, a group of structures buried lower down in the primitive regions of the brain. A sophisticated network of nerve pathways controls instinct and governs such emotions as fear and rage. We get angry to protect ourselves from danger if something threatens us, our belongings or anyone that we care about.
Within the limbic system is the amygdala, a structure in which we store our emotional memories. Anger is a primitive form of self-preservation and it’s the limbic system that invokes our natural instincts such as the fight-or-flight response to fear. When a stimulus triggers the amygdala, a flood of hormones – such as adrenaline – is produced automatically to warn the body to prepare for action. Because anger is controlled by the emotional centre of the brain – rather than the ‘thinking’ part – an angry person can temporarily lose control of their actions as well as the things they say. This is why we often refer to someone as ‘losing it’ when they get really mad.
We exhibit anger in a variety of ways, including facial expressions, raising of the voice and more aggressive behaviour. We communicate this emotion for others to read and respond to.