A new study suggests that having an angry expression when threatening someone boosts the effectiveness of the threat without any actual aggression.
The research findings show that angry expressions lend additional weight to a negotiator's threat to walk away from the table if his or her demands aren't met, leading the other party in the negotiation to offer more money than they otherwise would have.
Psychological scientist Lawrence Ian Reed, first author on the research and colleagues Peter DeScioli of Stony Brook University and Steven Pinker of Harvard University hypothesized that angry expressions may lend this credibility, helping to back up negotiators' threats to walk away from the table if they don't receive what they want.
In a study conducted online, 870 participants were told that they would be playing a negotiation game in which some participants, acting as the "proposer," would decide how to split a sum of 1.00 dollar with another participant, the "responder." Each person would receive the specified sum if the responder accepted the split that was offered, but neither person would receive any money if the responder rejected the split.
Before making their offers, each proposer was shown a threat that supposedly came from the responder. In reality, the responder was played by the same female actor, who was instructed to create specific facial expressions in the video clips. One clip showed her making a neutral expression, while another showed her making an angry expression.
The clips were accompanied by a written demand for either an equal cut of 50 per cent or a larger cut of 70 per cent, (which would leave only 30 per cent for the proposer).
After they saw the threat, the proposers were asked to state their offer.
The data revealed that the responder's facial expression did have an impact on the amount offered by the proposer, but only when the responder demanded the larger share.
That is, proposers offered more money if the responder showed an angry expression compared to when they showed a neutral expression, but only when the responder demanded 70 per cent of the take.
The research has been published in the journal Psychological Science.