Hedonic and instrumental motives in anger regulation

Psychol Sci. 2008 Apr;19(4):324-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02088.x.


What motivates individuals to regulate their emotions? One answer, which has been highlighted in emotion-regulation research, is that individuals are motivated by short-term hedonic goals (e.g., the motivation to feel pleasure). Another answer, however, is that individuals are motivated by instrumental goals (e.g., the motivation to perform certain behaviors). We suggest that both answers have merit. To demonstrate the role instrumental goals may play in emotion regulation, we pitted short-term hedonic motives and instrumental motives against each other, by testing whether individuals were motivated to experience a potentially useful, albeit unpleasant, emotion. We found that (a) individuals preferred activities that would increase their level of anger (but not their level of excitement) when they were anticipating confrontational, but not nonconfrontational, tasks and that (b) anger improved performance in a confrontational, but not a nonconfrontational, task. These findings support a functional view of emotion regulation, and demonstrate that in certain contexts, individuals may choose to experience emotions that are instrumental, despite short-term hedonic costs.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect
  • Anger*
  • Humans
  • Leisure Activities*
  • Male
  • Motivation*
  • Music*
  • Social Control, Informal*