• Robb G. Best

Bad News for Bad Tempers

Does someone in your life havean unusually short fuse? Maybe you’ve witnessed a co-worker repeatedly go ballistic on the printer whenever it runs out of ink, or maybe you’ve been unfortunate enough to have a boss who is a yeller, trapping you in meeting after meeting full of angry rants. Well, according to a new scientific paper from the University of Western Australia, this person most likely has another, connected trait: they’re not as smart as they think they are.

Yes, in contrary to the age-old legend of the temperamental genius with a stormy, high-trigger attitude, the study found that “trait-anger” (that is, people who experience anger as a part of their everyday disposition) is linked with narcissism, and thus an inflated sense of one’s abilities.

Undergraduates from Warsaw, Poland answered questions designed to assess their trait-anger, emotional stability, and narcissism. They were asked to rate their intelligence on a 25-point scale—and then they took an actual intelligence test. As you could probably expect, the students who scored high on the narcissism index were also likely to overestimate their intellectual capabilities. To some extent, this overestimation is common; we’ve talked in the past about the Dunning-Kruger effect.

However, both conditions—testing positive for narcissism and rating one’s smarts as higher than they appear to be when judged by a test—also seemed tied to trait-anger. Why? We’re not sure yet.

Senior Lecturer Gilles Gignac, a co-author of the paper, notes that trait-anger can also be fueled by anxiety. This makes sense—constantly fretting about big and small details can wear away at one’s patience and exaggerate the import of minor setbacks, causing self-control to fray. “However,” he adds, “for others, there is no anxiety fueling the frustration, nastiness, and angry outbursts. Instead, for them, it looks like it may be narcissism.”

Perhaps walking through one’s day with an overblown sense of one’s own importance and capabilities is just as corrosive to patience. After all, if you believe yourself to be a genius, any difference of opinion with another person becomes an outrage—why can’t they see that you’re obviously right? The Mayo Clinic also notes that narcissists tend to go through life expecting “constant, excessive admiration.” If someone feels perpetually cheated out of the praise they feel they deserve, maybe it follows they’d walk around with a chip on their shoulder, looking for someone or something to blow up at.

Do chronically angry, narcissistic people tend to overestimate other skills or areas of knowledge as well, a la Dunning-Kruger? Only time—and more tests—will tell.

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