The human face is incredibly versatile in projecting thought and emotions, including one in particular, the angry face. As a behavior that's remarkably similar despite language barriers or even entire species, the question isn't who displays anger, but why? “The expression is cross-culturally universal, and even congenitally blind children make this same face without ever having seen one,” said lead author Aaron Sell, a lecturer at the School of Criminology at Griffith University in Australia.
We know the furrowed brow, full display of molars and the flaring of nostrils are hallmark signs of someone who is upset, but could there be different motives behind this mask? According to researchers at UC Santa Barbara and Griffith University in Australia, they have identified the evolutionary reasons for the angry face and their findings appear in their online journal Evolution and Human Behavior. “Our earlier research showed that anger evolved to motivate effective bargaining behavior during conflicts of interest,” said Sell. By utilizing an angry face, a clearer point can be made during conflicts, which in turn leads to quicker resolutions. Ultimately, acting intimidating to our enemies to makes ourselves look stronger, and as a more serious threat, we can sometimes win battles before they are even fought.
We know that displaying anger can help in reaching goals faster, but if this behavior continually becomes rewarding, is this why some humans tend to exhibit aggressive behavior more often than others? For the overly-focused, getting everything they want out of life can become an obsession, and when obstacles prevent them from reaching these "resolutions," it's understandable how aggressiveness can instinctively take hold.
"Anger is triggered by the refusal to accept the situation, and the face immediately organizes itself to advertise to the other party the costs of not making the situation more acceptable," says John Tooby, co-director of the University of California, Santa Barbara Center for Evolutionary Psychology. As humans, we've utilized anger in a myriad of ways, some more sinister and manipulative than others, to cope with seemingly intolerable situations. Sympathy is often gained for those who are angry, since we often see these expressions as passionate when its pertaining to a matter or conflict that is shared among the viewer.
Way of the Warrior
From politics to news reports, humans have essentially mastered the art of "acting" angry to assist with obtaining their goals. The face of aggression has even been used behind speeches to embroil entire nations to war and convince them to perform some of the most horrific acts ever known. The expressions behind anger can resonate quite effortlessly in the mind as long as belief takes hold, and whether or not the viewer is a enemy or ally, the goal for the "actor" is still the same...but the reasons could be more genuine than a performance piece.
Similar to a warrior before battle, the taunts and grunts not only stir fear in their opponents, the emotion behind it also assists with helping them to perform savage duties they would normally avoid in a calmer state of mind. For a normal civilian drafted into war, difficult tasks are required all the time, and if that mission involves the harming of other human beings, sometimes putting on the mask of a warrior is the only way. No different than acting out a scene in a movie, for some people, we essentially have to fake our anger in order to complete our missions as well, although sometimes these goals may sometimes coincide with the existence of another human being.