A 2010 study published in The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology finds that, for some people, another person’s anger can enhance their creativity. In other words, if you are working on a task and someone becomes angry with you, it might motivate you to work harder and in more creative and original ways.
The key is what the study’s primary author, Dr. Gerben Van Kleef from the University of Amsterdam, calls epistemic motivation, the “individuals’ motivation to think deeply about the world around them and to process new information in a thorough way.” He says that people tend to respond to another person’s anger in two ways: “they become angry themselves, and/or they use the anger as information.” Those who process information deeply, as Dr. Van Kleef described, tended to use the anger in a way that helped them improve their performance.
Ultimately, what’s happening, according to Dr. Van Kleef, is that, “in a performance context, individuals high on epistemic motivation are more likely to use anger as a sign of poor performance. As a result, they become motivated and perform better when confronted with another’s anger, compared to neutral emotions. Individuals low on epistemic motivation don’t use others’ emotions as information, and therefore they don’t see anger as a useful signal.”
Dr. Van Kleef said he was motivated to the do the study because “we know a lot about the intrapersonal effects of emotions on cognition and behavior (i.e., how do my emotions influence my thinking and behavior), but we know very little about the interpersonal effects of emotions (i.e., how do my emotions influence others?)…. Although many believe anger to be mostly negative, I believe that it can also have positive interpersonal consequences.”