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Anger signs in children and adults

New research uses longitudinal evidence to help understand anger and distinguish between people for whom anger is an occasional experience – and therefore quite normal – and those for whom it is more persistent.

In ESRC’s new report Seven Deadly Sins, published to launch Social Science Week 2005, Dr Eirini Flouri and Professor Heather Joshi analyse data from the British birth cohort studies, which have recorded anger in both childhood and adulthood for people born in a week in 1958 (the National Child Development Study) and 1970 (the British Cohort Study). They find that:

  • Children from lower social classes are more likely to be reported as frequently irritable or having tantrums.
  • Women are more likely than men to report being persistently angry in adulthood. But boys are more likely than girls to be reported as frequently angry.
  • Thirty-somethings with no partner are more likely to report angry feelings than people with partners.
  • Anger seems to wane with age in both childhood and adulthood.
  • The older cohort, people now in their 40s, were less angry as young men and women than the younger cohort, people now in their 30s. It is not clear if this is because anger was measured at slightly different ages or because the 1970 cohort were more stressed and depressed as well as more likely to ‘act out’.
  • Angry children do not necessarily become angry or unhappy adults. But there does appear to be a raised chance that people who were persistently angry as children turn out to be frequently and persistently angry as young adults.
  • Similarly, anger in adulthood is not always associated with adverse health outcomes. But anger in adulthood is positively associated with poor self-reported health after controlling for gender, parents’ social class and ethnicity.
  • People who were not frequently angry in the adult surveys had better self-reported psychological health than those who reported anger. This mildly supports the idea of anger having negative (though perhaps not deadly) associations.

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