Expression of Anger in Children

Anger is a reaction to a perceived offense or threat to a person. The perceived threat might range from genuine physical threats to harm to one's dignity. Because rage is an emotion that can generate sympathetic fight-or-flight arousal, it can be difficult for people to regulate. According to Lochman and colleagues, severe uncontrollable sensations of rage have been linked to externalizing behavior disorders, including violence and Conduct Disorder.

Socio-Cognitive Aspects of Anger in Children

The onset of anger has been recorded in infancy, and developmental differences in the facial expression and cognitive "experience" of anger are visible throughout childhood. Most research on early social-cognitive experiences has focused on furious, rage-filled violence driven by a hostile attributional bias. The hostile attributional bias is characterized as a person's tendency to misperceive an uncertain circumstance as threatening when it is not.

For example, a youngster with hostile attributional bias may experience danger when a classmate "accidentally" brushes into him. The threat may be misinterpreted since the youngster feels the classmate knowingly or purposefully bumped into him. Because furious, aggressive children have difficulty understanding or memorizing ambiguous or neutral stimuli, they develop a hostile attributional bias. As a result, their view of the uncertain situation gets skewed, and they pay greater attention to more hostile indications in others.

However, it is unclear whether the hostile attributional bias results from biological encoding processes in the brain that predispose how information is processed or whether aggressive children have learned schemas for other people's behavior that lead to the attending and recalling of hostile cues. Several conceptual models have been developed to account for the cue-encoding or schema elements that result in hostile attributional bias better to understand the underlying causes of aggressiveness in children.

Anger experienced in everyday encounters can be viewed as a mediator between hostile attributional bias and violent behavior or as a stimulus for both. Anger may occur before or during social contact, and it has the potential to hinder or overwhelm social information processing in at least two ways.

For starters, the initial sense of a threat in a scenario might cause rage and a physiological response. Increased heart rate, for example, stimulates the sympathetic nervous system and prepares for fight or flight. The enhanced physiological sensitivity thus reinforces the chance that the initial hostile attributional bias will reoccur and escalate.

Second, residual anger from disputes that occurred hours or days before might influence later cue-encoding and contribute to the aggressive child's cognitive processing of the stimuli. Another concept of anger's impacts relies on previous schemas and cognitive-emotional beliefs retained in memory. Schemas can impact sound information processing, mainly through stimulating hostile attributional biases. Schemas contain past taught expectancies regarding peer animosity and being treated (un) somewhat by peers, which can be elicited instantly by particular cues and then interfere with information processing.

These prior schemas are frequently recalled in similar contexts, produce expectancies that are generally resistant to disconfirming, and give social motives for behavior (such as a desire to be dominant and in charge). This is especially true if the paradigm is well ingrained. Anger can be induced when schemas are evoked, which can subsequently alter physiological arousal.

Physiology of Childhood Anger

Physiological reactivity to emotional arousal has been discovered and linked to rage. These physiological patterns appear to alter depending on the individual's assessments or emotional reactions to the stimuli and the stimulus's behavioral response. Raine and colleagues (997) heart rate research has traditionally provided the most strong findings, with angry, aggressive youngsters having lower resting heart rates and increased heart rate sensitivity to anger-provoking stimuli. Anger has also been linked to high blood pressure. Elevated resting blood pressure and a solid response to stress have been linked to an aggressive, hostile "Type A" temperament in adults and children.

Assessment of Childhood Anger

Behavior rating scales are one of the most often used assessment tools in any clinical examination and can be very helpful in assessing furious aggressiveness. The convenience of administration and the ability to gather information from various informants provide doctors with a comprehensive behavioral profile. The Behaviour Assessment System for Children and the Child Behaviour Checklist are two often used rating measures.

The Spielberger State Characteristic Anger Inventory and other behavior rating measures mainly target the expression of anger as a more stable personality characteristic and present state sensations of anger. Because anger can be impacted by the previously described social-cognitive misperceptions, assessing attributional style, cue encoding biases, and problem-solving ability is essential to clinical anger assessment.

Children's responses to hypothetical vignettes describing peer provocation, conflicts with authority figures, and associating positive outcomes to the use of aggression are typically used in measurements assessing cue encoding deficiencies, including hostile attributional bias and other social-cognitive processes. Structured interviews are also helpful evaluation tools since they give more specific information regarding the existence of anger than behavioral rating scales or hypothetical scenarios.

The Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children and the Child Assessment Schedule are two examples of organized interviews that are regularly utilized. Two alternative evaluation methodologies that may provide a more thorough picture of rage and aggressiveness in everyday situations such as school are direct observation and sociometric judgments of behavior through peer ratings.

Dealing with Childhood Anger

Four types of cognitive-behavioral therapies can help with uncontrollable rage and social-cognitive deficiencies. The first intervention comprises cognitive-behavioral therapy that targets children's disordered social-cognitive processes and inadequate self-regulation. Anger management training, attribution retraining, and social problem-solving training are all examples of cognitive-behavioral interventions.

Second, parent behavior modification involves altering the parent-child connection to manage or reduce hostile behavior. School-based interventions, such as behavior management, are also possible. Teachers are taught how to reduce violent child behavior through contact with the kid in this sort of intervention, comparable to parent intervention.

Finally, multicomponent cognitive-behavioral therapies that address the kid, parent, and school have been proven to create the highest positive impacts in empirical outcome studies.


Anger is an emotion that can be difficult to regulate and has been linked to externalizing behavior disorders. It can be experienced as a mediator between hostile attributional bias and violent behavior or as a stimulus for both. Anger can be induced when schemas are evoked, which can alter physiological arousal.

Behavior rating scales can be used to assess furious aggressiveness, and an assessment of attributional style, cue encoding biases, and problem-solving ability is essential. Evaluation methodologies such as structured interviews, direct observation, and sociometric judgments of behavior can help identify the presence of rage and aggressiveness in everyday situations.

Updated on: 09-May-2023


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