Rage (emotion)

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Rage, tacuinum sanitatis casanatensis (XIV century)

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]

Rage, in psychiatry, is a mental state that is one extreme of the intensity spectrum of anger. The other end of the spectrum is annoyance.[1]

To psychologists, Rage is a behavior that everyone experiences in some form, some way, some how. Rage is often used to denote hostile/affective/reactive aggression (as distinct from predatory/instrumental/proactive aggression). It denotes aggression where there is anger present, that is motivated by causing harm to others, and that is characterized by impulsive thinking and a lack of planning. This is a behavioral side that many would not like others to see, but does often persist in extreme situations. Some psychologists, such as Bushman and Anderson, argue that the hostile/predatory dichotomy that is commonly employed in psychology fails to define rage fully, since it is possible for anger to motivate aggression, provoking vengeful behavior, without incorporating the impulsive thinking that is characteristic of rage. They point to people such as the perpetrators of the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold|perpetrators of the Columbine High School massacre, and suicide bombers, all of whom clearly experienced intense anger and hate, but whose planning (sometimes over periods of years), forethought, and lack of impulsive behavior is readily observable.[1][2]

Rage is a very intense anger, often distinguished by distorted facial expressions and by threat of or, possibly, an actual attack. “Rage is a physiologically based affective reaction to experiencing high levels of pain or displeasure (Parens, 1991, p. 89).” Psychologists have seen rage as caused by being more of an attack on one’s self than of others. This leads to rage being more intense, less focused and longer lasting. This same idea suggests rage is a narcissistic response to one’s past injuries (Menninger, W. 2007).

How do you tell the difference between rage and normal amounts of anger? Anger is explained by current dissatisfaction in one’s life. This amount of anger or frustration is common. Rage, however, is caused from built up anger from past traumas. These accumulated angry dispositions are locked in our mind and body’s (King, R. 2007). Once can mask rage by appearing overly dominant, or by being depressed.

Many people feel anger all the time, this anger often feels like one is about to erupt in a painful fit over the smallest things. We often attribute these harbored ill feelings to stress or lack of sleep. However, some scientists have found that these ‘naturally angry tempers’ can be caused by a person’s nutritional habits. Kathleen O’Bannon explains in The Anger Cure how to tell if one’s tip toeing around rage is caused by one’s metabolism (2007). O’Bannon has suggestions for dissolving rage outbursts. These suggestions are in the form of diet changes and simple exercises one can do.

Violent acts have recently become a trend in American society. There has recently been a correlation between rage and the Cultivation Theory by George Gerbner. Cultivation Theory places blame on outside influences, such as, violent television programs and exposure to violent video games. There are specific elements that aid with rage being expressed. “This is seen when an individual perceives a narcissistic injury that is experienced as being profoundly unfair; the individual has no hope for achieving a reasonable resolution of the injury; the individual reaches the decision that the injury cannot be tolerated further and must be responded to with action; the individual has access to weapons to enhance the capacity and potency to respond; and the individual feels a sufficient sense of potency and/or disregard of the consequences to initiate violence (Menninger, W. 2007).”

When thinking of rage, the first thing that comes to mind is road rage and the various acts that stem from road rage. Every person who has set behind a wheel has experienced some form of road rage; whether it be cursing at someone who has cut you off in traffic or giving the middle finger when someone steals your parking spot, most people have succumb to rage while in the car. Giving the finger when a driver cuts you off in traffic may be a normal reaction. However, when that normal reaction escalates, psychologists may call it intermittent explosive disorder (IED). A study has found that at least one in twenty people suffer from this disorder. IED is an aggressive overreaction to everyday stress, and may be a cause to severe road rage (Kashef, 2006). It is distinguished from normal anger by its severity, its controllability, its frequency and its triggers. These anger attacks can harm your health and social life, as well as many people around you. Recent studies done prove that there is more rage experienced than most expect. IED is more explosive than rage and even more common for people to experience than rage. There was a study done in Baltimore, MD which found that 11% of people taken for the study qualified for IED. The percentages were constant amongst men and women, and blacks and whites. Those who were younger were more susceptible to IED. People who experienced the greatest risk for IED were those who are less educated. Studies suggest that the reason people experience these behavioral tendencies are because they suffer from abnormal activity of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Although impulsive aggression in general is associated with low serotonin activity, as well as, damage to the prefrontal cortex, which is the center of judgment and self-control. There has been extensive research done in order to change the patterns of these behavioral tendencies, which goes more in depth than people actually realize (Harvard Mental Health Center, 2006).

A passenger of an SUV was hospitalized after she was shot by another driver on a busy Toronto street. The driver of the SUV, and another car had cut each other off, and when they reached a stop light the driver of the car opened fire on the lady in an SUV. In another incident of road rage, a Texas man was beaten on the side of a highway after the Texas driver clubbed a man with a baseball bat. Another example of rage and violence, while not road rage, but still a violent action is from a white collar worker in Japan. In his attempts to brown-nose to his boss, he sent him a box of jelly desserts. Upon discovering the box was left unopened in the boss’s office, the man let his anger turn to rage and smashed twenty-two of the company’s computers (Maclean. 2007). A major goal for many researches is to identify with individual differences in displaced aggression, where the anger comes from, and why it is transferred onto other individuals (Denison, Miller, and Pederson, 2006). Direct aggression is the retaliation towards the provoking agent, whereas, displaced aggression is anger not provoked by an individual, but transferred to an innocent bystander.

A major goal for many researches is to identify with individual differences in displaced aggression, where the anger comes from, and why it is transferred onto other individual. Direct aggression is the retaliation towards the provoking agent, whereas, displaced aggression is anger not provoked by an individual, but transferred to an innocent bystander.

When dealing with rage, we have to ask ourselves, what emotional forces cause individuals to express aggression, hostility, anger,hate or rage evolving into violence. Aggression stems from rage in which aggression focuses on action or behavior as opposed to emotion or effect (Menninger, 2007).


  1. 1.0 1.1 Raymond DiGiuseppe and Raymond Chip Tafrate (2006). Understanding Anger Disorders. Oxford University Press. pp. 54, 72. ISBN 0195170792.
  2. B.J. Bushman and C.A. Rage stems from anger, in that, in certain cases where there is anger present, the ultimate push will create an outrageous occurrence. Many of the effects that stem from anger and how a person reaches the point of expressing rage, is a fine line associated with these behavioral tendencies. Much of the behavior experienced from anger has been studied extensively, but most do not know what causes the next step, rage, or why some people go the extra emotional mile. Rage is considered to be an emergency reaction, in which we as humans, are pre-wired to possess. Rage tends to be expressed when a person faces a treat to their pride, position, status or dignity. Anderson (2001). "Is it time to pull the plug on hostile versus instrumental aggression dichotomy?". Psychological Review. 108 (1): 273&ndash, 279.

Further reading

  • Thomas H. Ollendick and Carolyn S. Schroeder (2003). "Rage". Encyclopedia of Clinical Child and Pediatric Psychology. Springer. pp. 534&ndash, 537. ISBN 0306474905.

Kashef, Z. (2006). Mental Health. Vol. 20, Iss. 8. King, R. (2007) Healing rage: Women making inner peace. Publishers Weekly. Vol. 254, Iss. 25. Reed Elseviser, Inc. Maclean. (2007). Ignored present sparks office rage. Maclean's Vol. 120, Iss. 41. Roger's Publishing Limited. Menninger, W. (2007). Uncontained rage: A psychoanalytic perspective on violence. Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic Vol. 71. iss. 2. Parens, H. (1991). A view of he development of hostility in early life. Journal of the Amerian Psychoanalytic Assoaciations Vol. 39, Iss. 75, p. 108. O'Bannon, K. (2007). The anger cure: A step-by-step program to reduce anger, rage, negativity, violence & depression. Total Health. Vol. 29, Iss. 3. Basic Health Publishing.

See also

Look up rage in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.