Don't Worry, Be Angry

Profs. Teck-Hua Ho and Eduardo Andrade show angry negotiators walk out with a better deal

Prof. Ho
Prof. Ho

Professor Teck-Hua Ho's wife loved a painting and wanted to buy it. Ho advised her not to appear excited in front of the salesperson. After an hour, Ho left the store with the $380 painting - for $120. Negotiation, Ho knows, is an art, too. In the December 2009 issue of The Journal of Consumer Research, Ho and Assistant Marketing Professor Eduardo Andrade show deflating — or inflating — one’s emotions can be a winning strategy. Their lead article, "Gaming Emotions in Social Interactions," reveals that people strategically "game emotions" to succeed in a negotiation.

Prof. Andrade
Prof. Andrade

Ho and Andrade hypothesized that people would strategically display anger when given the opportunity, and that the strategy might actually increase the angry person’s payoff in the negotiation. "We created a paradigm that allowed us to precisely measure the gap between real and expressed emotions and to test the actual financial consequences of the 'emotion gaming' strategy," says Ho, the Haas School's Marketing Group chair.

In the school's xLab social science laboratory, the researchers divided subjects into random groups: proposers and receivers. One proposer and one receiver were paired as partners, but they remained anonymous to each other.

They began with a "dictator game." Each proposer received $10 and was instructed to divide the money with his respective partner.
Both players knew the receiver had to accept any offer. All proposers chose to keep a larger share of the pie. Receivers were then asked to report their current level of anger, and on average reported a mild level.

Next, the researchers launched the "ultimatum game," with the same players paired together. Again, the proposer decided how to divide the pot. This time, the receiver could either accept or decline the offer. If he said "no deal," neither proposer nor receiver would receive any of the $10. Most importantly, just before the proposers sent their offer, researchers told the receivers to report (again) their current level of anger. Researchers told only half of the receivers that this second report would be sent to the proposers before they decided how to divide the pie.

When receivers knew that their anger level would be reported to proposers before the latter made a decision, receivers significantly inflated their current anger level — they "gamed" their emotions. And the strategy paid off. Angrier receivers extracted a larger share of the $10 from proposers. One participant said, "I did it on purpose in order to be treated more fairly."

Ho explains, "This equates to 'This is my final offer, take it or leave it.' The proposer knows he caused the receiver to be angry in the dictator game. That’s the key. That’s why the proposer is willing to make a better offer in the ultimatum game."

However, Ho notes this was a one-shot test, and faking one's emotion continuously may not produce the same results.

Another experiment showed that successful "emotion gaming" depends on the credibility of the inflated emotion. 'When proposers believed that the receivers' report of anger was credible, they offered a higher share to angrier receivers," says Andrade. "When proposers noticed that the receivers could be pretending to be angrier than they really were, proposers completely disregarded their partners' expressed feelings."

"We are not suggesting people should always appear angry to get what they want," cautions Ho. "People naturally move their emotional state in a calculated way to get what they want. Sometimes we must act happy to get something even when we're not feeling happy."

The findings have given Ho a new perspective on the art of bargaining: "Now when I go to a negotiation and people become angry, I am more able to appreciate their motive."