Exploring the Toolkit of Emotion: What Do Sadness and Anger Do for Us? Academic Article uri icon


  • 2016 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. What do negative emotions do for people? We present a framework that defines the function of emotions as the degree to which discrete emotions result in better outcomes in particular types of situations. Focusing on sadness and anger, we review evidence related to the situations that elicit these emotions; the cognitive, physiological, and behavioral changes associated with the emotions; and the extent to which these changes result in demonstrably better outcomes in the type of situation that elicits the emotion. Sadness is elicited by perceived goal loss without possibility of restoration given current abilities and is associated with deliberative reasoning, reduced physiological activity, and behavioral expression. There is preliminary evidence suggesting that sadness can permit coping with loss, and that expression of sadness can recruit others to assist in goal attainment. Anger is elicited by perceived goal loss that can be prevented if an obstacle is overcome and is associated with heuristic reasoning, increased physiological activity, and behavioral expression. There is evidence that expression of anger prompts others to remove themselves as obstacles, and preliminary evidence that anger can promote overcoming obstacles and goal attainment. Like precision tools, specific emotions are best utilized to resolve particular problems.

published proceedings


altmetric score

  • 3.25

author list (cited authors)

  • Lench, H. C., Tibbett, T. P., & Bench, S. W.

citation count

  • 46

complete list of authors

  • Lench, Heather C||Tibbett, Thomas P||Bench, Shane W

publication date

  • January 2016