16th Annual Scholarship (April 2015)

​             made to  Dr. Marcin Zajenkowski from Poland

on the subject of Intelligence and the regulation of anger: Identifying underlying mechanisms

Report Abstract (870 words):

Previous research shows that intelligence negatively correlates with trait anger (Austin et al., 2002), and that cognitive control might be a factor underlying this relationship (Zajenkowski & Zajenkowska, 2015). The aim of the current project was to understand the processes of cognitive ability involved in the regulation of anger. Recently, several studies integrating cognitive experimental psychology, with the knowledge about trait and state anger have been conducted (e.g. Wilkowski & Robinson, 2010). Investigations integrating cognitive and emotional processes examined mainly the role of executive functions in the regulation of activated anger. Most systematic studies were conducted by Wilkowski and Robinson (2007, 2010), who have shown that low trait-anger individuals recruit limited-capacity cognitive control resources following the activation of hostile thoughts. Additionally, other studies revealed that intellectual processes may also reduce the level of the experienced affect related to anger. For instance, Tang and Schmeichel (2014) found that higher cognitive control decreases the intensity of induced anger.

Wilkowski & Robinson (2007) have shown that high trait anger individuals display more pronounced tendencies to evaluate neutral words (e.g. think) negatively following a hostile prime (e.g. hit) in comparison to low trait anger individuals. In study 1 (n=181) of the current project, the role of fluid intelligence in the inhibition of activated hostile thoughts by individuals differing in trait anger has been explored. It was expected that cognitive ability would moderate the relationship between trait anger and proneness to negative evaluation of neutral words primed by hostile stimuli. Additionally, the degree to which intelligence protects against temporary reduction in cognitive control has been explored. Research suggests that cognitive control resources can be temporally impaired by a large range of situational factors (Hofmann et al., 2012). One of the most fruitful recent paradigms showing these effects were experiments related to ego depletion.  In a number of studies, Baumeister and colleagues convincingly showed that any act of self-control may deplete resources and negatively affect subsequent acts of self-control (e.g. Baumeister, Vohs, & Tice, 2007). It has been also shown, that ego depletion effect may rely on the executive resources (Schmeichel, 2007).  Therefore, in study 1, half of the participants were first presented with a task consuming their self-control resources and subsequently they solve a word evaluation task. The results were consistent with the formulated hypothesis. Intelligence interacted with trait anger in the way that the tendency to negatively evaluate words primed by hostile stimuli by high trait anger individuals was found only at the low level of intelligence. Interestingly, this result was significant in both conditions: neutral and with ego depletion. It seems then that a high level of cognitive ability weakens the negative effects of trait anger and prevents depletion of resources necessary for self-regulation.

In study 2 (n=160), the influence of intelligence on induced angry mood was examined. As mentioned above, it has been found previously that individuals with low cognitive control are more likely to experience intense anger in a mood induction paradigm. In the current experiment, the procedure similar to the Tang and Schmeichel (2014) study was used. Specifically, participants were randomly divided into two groups and underwent an anger, or neutral emotion induction, respectively. In the angry condition, participants were asked to recall a recent situation in which they were angry at someone. Participants in the neutral condition recalled a memory with no particular emotional content. While imagining the relevant event, they listened to specific music which had been previously found to facilitate mood inductions. Additionally, all participants were administered fluid intelligence test. It was expected that intelligence would predict emotional responses such that participants with lower cognitive ability control would report larger increases in anger following the anger induction. The results did not confirm this hypothesis; in both situations (neutral and angry) intelligence was not associated with the increase of mood.

The studies described above were supported from the H. J. Eysenck Memorial Fund Award. The fund covered the costs of experimental stimuli, financial compensation for participants and research assistants.



Austin, E. J., Deary, I. J., Whiteman, M. C., Fowkes, F. G. R., Pedersen, N., Rabitt, P., …et al. (2002). Relationships between ability and personality: Does intelligence contribute positively to personal and social adjustment? Personality and Individual Differences, 32, 1391–1411.

Baumeister, R. F., Vohs, K. D., & Tice, D. M. (2007). The strength model of self-control. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16, 351–355.

Hofmann, W., Schmeichel, B. J., & Baddeley, A. D. (2012). Executive functions and self-regulation. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 16, 174-180.

Schmeichel, B. J. (2007). Attention control, memory updating, and emotion regulation temporarily reduce the capacity for executive control. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 136, 241–255.

Tang, D., & Schmeichel, B. J. (2014). Stopping anger and anxiety: Evidence that inhibitory ability predicts negative emotional responding. Cognition and Emotion, 28, 132-142.

Wilkowski, B. M., & Robinson, M. D. (2007). Keeping your cool: Trait anger, hostile thoughts, and the recruitment of limited capacity control. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 33, 1201-1213.

Wilkowski, B. M., & Robinson, M. D. (2010). The Anatomy of anger: An integrative cognitive model of trait anger and reactive aggression. Journal of Personality, 78, 9-38.

Zajenkowski, M. & Zajenkowska, A. (2015). Why does intelligence reduce aggression? Personality and Individual Differences, 81, 23-28.


Scholarship 16