Moderate arousal levels help the brain to learn and enhance memory, concentration, and performance. There is an optimum level of arousal that benefits memory however, and when arousal exceeds that optimum level, it makes it more difficult for new memories to be formed. Anger is an emotion that provokes an immediate and often impulsive reaction to a triggering event or situation. People who are angry commonly experience high levels of arousal. This combined, explains why some struggle to remember the details of incidents where they have been extremely angry.

High levels of arousal (such as are present when we are angry) can also significantly decrease one’s capacity for logical reasoning and a person’s ability to concentrate. This means that where a person’s anger takes over, they can they can find it difficult to make sense of what is being said to them. At times some people focus so intensely on the target of their anger that they are unaware of other people and what is going on around them.

The experience of being angry can be so overwhelming that some people can ‘freeze’ or seem paralyzed and unable to act. Others find that their anger feelings drive actions that become out of control. 

The part of the brain that can be engaged to exert control over angry feelings is the prefrontal cortex, which is located just behind a person’s forehead. It serves keep emotions in proportion and is associated with exercising judgment. Many anger management techniques are designed to support the effective functioning of the prefrontal cortex so that people have control over how they react to anger feelings.

Note: Neurological impairment or acquired brain injury, particularly where there is frontal lobe (including the prefrontal cortex) damage, can provide an additional challenge for young people in developing anger management strategies.

Whether consciously or unconsciously, anger has psychological dimensions. Anger can:

  • Provide a temporary distraction from pain and painful feelings
  • Cover up feelings of vulnerability or hide the reality that a person finds a situation frightening
  • Convert feelings of vulnerability and helplessness into feelings of control and power, creating a temporary boost to one’s self-esteem
  • Create a feeling of righteousness, power and moral superiority.  For example, many young people who feel hurt by another, believes that person is wrong and should be punished

It is important to note that:

  • Anger cannot make pain disappear and generally does not resolve or address problems. Rather, inappropriate expression of anger can create new problems for young people.
  • People generally believe that their anger is justified but this is not always a view shared by others. This can have serious social consequences for the angry person.