Inducing Sadness Reduces Anger-Driven Aggressive Behavior: A Situational Approach to Aggression Control

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Objective: The incompatible response hypothesis states that inducing incompatible emotional states mitigates the effect of situational risk factors on aggressive behavior. The current study extended this approach to situated aggression control to withdrawal-related negative emotions. We proposed that even a negative affective state can be incompatible with aggression if its basic motivational orientation counteracts the approach orientation underlying anger and aggression. Specifically, we predicted that although it is inherently negative, sadness may reduce anger-driven aggressive behavior. Method: An experiment was conducted (N = 149) in which half the participants were angered by means of a frustrating number-sequences task, whereas the other half were asked to engage in a similar but nonfrustrating task. To counteract anger-driven aggressive behavior, sadness was induced in half the participants by asking them to recall a sad personal episode. Participants in the no-sadness group recalled an affectively neutral episode. Finally, participants were asked to choose the difficulty level of the number sequences that would ostensibly be assigned to future participants, with the number of difficult sequences chosen indicating the strength of the aggressive response. Results: As predicted, the induction of sadness buffered anger-related aggressive behavior. Anger translated into aggression in the control condition but not in the sadness condition. The aggression-inhibiting effect of the experience of sadness was found to be driven by the compensating coactivation of anger and sadness. Conclusions: The results support the extension of the incompatible response hypothesis to withdrawal-related negative emotions and shed further light on the underlying processes.

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