A Comparison of Older Adolescent and Adult Females' Responses to Anger-Provoking Situations

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

There has been an increase in research on anger in girls and women. However, few researchers have examined anger across different groups of females. The goal of this study was to examine the experience and expression of anger in individuals who differ by age and employee/student status. Two female populations, university students and employees, described their reactions to a hypothetical work/school-related situation. Similar factors elicited an angry emotion, but there were group differences in the responses to the anger experience. The results are interpreted from a gender schema perspective, taking the contextual influence of developmental period and employee/student role into account.

In recent years, researchers (Bjorkqvist, Lagerspetz, & Kaukiainen, 1992; Crick & Grotepeter, 1995; Lightdale & Prentice, 1994) have disputed the long-standing conclusion that boys are more aggressive than girls (Maccoby & Jacklin, 1974, 1980). The result has been an increase in gender comparison research on anger provocation stimuli (Harris, 1993), the meaning and use of anger (Campbell & Muncer, 1994), the sequelae of aggression (Campbell & Muncer, 1994), and anger expression style (Bjorkqvist, 1994; Crick & Grotepeter, 1995). In addition, some anger/aggression researchers have focused on specific populations of women, such as those who share a health condition or a psychiatric disorder (Denham & Bultmeier, 1993; Bromberger & Matthews, 1996; Thomas, 1991). Yet, even with this exponential increase in research, very few studies have focused on anger and aggression among different groups of females. Such comparative within-gender information could be useful for professionals who work to enhance the mental and physical health of girls and women (Bromberger & Matthews, 1996). In the present study, we examine how females who differ by developmental stage and by work/school environment respond to a frustrating situation.

Although boys and girls experience anger with equal frequency (Buntaine & Costenbader, 1997), there remain significant social constraints against female anger expression (Eagly & Steffen, 1986). Beginning in early childhood, girls are socialized to maintain harmonious relationships by negotiating conflict. The feminine gender script underscores the importance of preserving harmony through reliance on social rules and fair play (Lever, 1976; Miller, 1991; Surrey, 1991). Parents further emphasize this gender script by differentiating acceptable from unacceptable emotion displays, depending on the gender of the child. In Fivush and colleagues' work on emotion labeling (Fivush, 1989; Kuebli & Fivush, 1992), it was found that mothers identify young children's "upset" as sad if the child is a girl, and mad if the child is a boy.

These gender-specific messages appear to be effective, because girls as young as 5 years old understand the sanctions against overt anger expression. For example, in a study by Perry, Perry, and Weiss (1989), both girls and boys indicated that a girl's aggressive behavior is less acceptable and more likely to be punished than is the same behavior in boys. Mills and Rubin (1992) noted that mothers become more negative about aggression in their daughters and more tolerant of aggression in their sons as children move from preschool into

elementary school. Throughout their development, girls internalize the negative social response to their anger. By adulthood, women equate anger expression with failure to negotiate conflict and loss of control, and associated feelings of guilt (Campbell & Muncer, 1994). Thus, anger presents girls and women with a dilemma. While they do experience anger, they are aware that anger expression is likely to result in social rejection and emotional distress. Due to these anticipated n egative consequences, girls and women are also less practiced in the instrumental use of anger to achieve their goals. …