Angry people might not be as smart as they think, study finds

Those who are quick to throw temper tantrums also overestimate their intelligence, scientists suggest.

Bonnie Burton
Journalist Bonnie Burton writes about movies, TV shows, comics, science and robots. She is the author of the books Live or Die: Survival Hacks, Wizarding World: Movie Magic Amazing Artifacts, The Star Wars Craft Book, Girls Against Girls, Draw Star Wars, Planets in Peril and more! E-mail Bonnie.
Bonnie Burton
2 min read

People who are easily enraged could be suffering from anxiety and narcissism, according to a new study. Sorry, Hulk.

Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET

The next time you blow your top during an argument trying to convince someone you're right, here's something that could make you even madder: You might not be as smart as you think.

At least that's the finding of new psychology research published in the journal Intelligence. The study determined that people who are easily angered also tend to think of themselves as more intelligent than they actually are.

"I was wondering whether people with high trait anger would manifest a bias in perception of their abilities and competence," Marcin Zajenkowski, a faculty member at the University of Warsaw and a a co-author of the study, told PsyPost. "Specifically, I tested whether high anger leads to positive intelligence illusion."

Trait anger is defined as a chronic personality characteristic that makes people prone to get mad over the slightest things. People with trait anger tend to have lots of interpersonal conflicts, problems at work and health issues, according to Anger Management for Dummies.

The study recruited 528 undergraduates, who filled out questionnaires that asked them to assess their tempers, as well as rate their own intelligence on a 25-point scale. Afterward, they took an intelligence test.

Zajenkowski and his co-author, Gilles Gignac of the University of Western Australia in Perth, were interested in looking at the relationship between narcissism, neuroticism and anger.

"Individuals with high trait anger have a tendency to overestimate their abilities, i.e. thinking that they are smarter than they actually are; this part of anger is associated with narcissistic illusions," Zajenkowski said.  

The study also suggests there might be two types of trait anger -- one connected to anxiety and another to overconfidence.

The full study (PDF) is a complex breakdown of psychological definitions that doesn't make for quick, easy reading. Still, it's interesting to consider when thinking of social media, where heated arguments among strangers about everything from Star Wars movies to online trolls seem to be the norm.

As CNET found in our special report iHate, online abuse is getting worse, and this study could provide some insight into the minds of those who react first with rage instead of reason.

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