In 1986, as “anger management” gained traction as a psychological issue, a researcher published a test that tried to incorporate more of the multifaceted manifestations of anger.
Thirty-five years later, that clinical tool has begat #angertest, a new TikTok trend, in which users boast their scores of an online questionnaire version of the assessment, with the backing of a droning electric bass line.
Videos marked #angertest have accumulated 17.1 million views. As with most TikTok trends, the seconds-long clips follow a format. There is a picture of the user, followed by a screengrab of their results on IDRlabs’ online Multidimensional Anger Test, adapted from an inventory created by public health researcher Judith M. Siegel. It has five measurements: anger arousal, anger spectrum, hostile outlook, and internal and external anger.
TikTok users are overwhelmingly young; 60 percent are 16 to 24. The scores posted, with the red “you” columns looming over the yellow “population average,” and the blithe attitudes about them show that some Gen Z-ers are pissed off and not shy about it.
The angriest generation?
Is the test accurate? Are Gen Z-ers really more angry than others?
Many new generations have seemed more angsty to the ones that preceded it. Baby boomers burning draft cards and carrying protest signs were seen as maladjusted to many of their parents, and discontent was Generation X’s brand, with their immersion into grunge, sarcasm, and moping.
However, there is evidence that millennials and Generation Z care less for others and are more vocal with their demands for themselves when compared to past cohorts.
Mark Lumley, a Wayne University psychology professor who specializes in stress management tells Inverse that there is academic research “showing how young people, especially teenagers-to-college-age have changed over the past four decades or so. Certain measures of empathy and entitlement have been given repeatedly over the years, and they're watching those scores in empathy going down and entitlement going up.”
In 2010, University of Michigan researchers published a study that showed empathic traits had reduced by 40 percent in college students when compared to answers to the same survey from college students from the 1980s and ’90s. Some of the researchers blamed the onslaught of emotion on social media, saying it has a numbing effect.
Some studies have shown that young people of the 2000s are more likely to feel entitled, an attitude of being owed something, that has been linked to chronic disappointment and issues with hostility and conflict.
It’s easy to rattle off potential culprits — self-esteem as an education curriculum, higher parental expectations for academic accomplishments, skewed expectations provided by the social media “influencer” sect — many of which might be simplistic.
Reasons to be mad
There is also evidence that millennials and Generation Z are socially aware. They get a flood of information from social media, and much of it is framed in contexts like social justice, environmental sustainability, and systematic racism. In a Pew Research poll, people born in 1980 and after were more likely to value racial diversity and think the government should do more to solve social problems.
“We have the capacity and experience of anger to protect and defend and push back. That should be there.”
A stream of news about climate change, police killings of Black people, and incendiary comments from a former president of the United States are certainly enough to instill a deep deposit of anger.
“Sometimes they become angry at situations of injustice or incompetence or waste or other sorts of things,” says Lumley, “and sometimes it is just self-advocacy, speaking up.”
This kind of anger fulfills the emotion’s evolutionary role, he adds. “We have the capacity and experience of anger to protect and defend and push back. That should be there.”
“Most of the research shows that people's scores on measures like this will be associated with unhealthy things,” says Lumley. These can include “worse blood pressure, coronary disease, psychological problems, like depression and substance abuse. It's all associated with bad relationships, more likely to divorce.”
And about IDRlabs
Is the anger test itself actually accurate?
Lumley says anger inventory tests are time-tested and valued tools for researchers and clinical psychologists, even if some people over- or under-report negative aspects about themselves. Also, there is an extra reason to be skeptical about results posted on a public platform like TikTok, where users might be motivated to show a lower or higher score.
For this specific one, the source providing the “population average” for these anger traits, IDR (Individual Differences Research) lab, is a Swiss company, founded in 2017. It has some private investor funding and claims to provide psychology tests “based on peer-reviewed scientific research.”
Their inspirations range from classic psychology (tests use Carl Jung’s personality types and Alfred Kinsey’s sexual orientation scale) to classic BuzzFeed (other tests tell you which Avenger or Harry Potter character are you).
They have a page of supposed “testimonials” from a varied and unlikely list of institutions and people, including the American Psychological Association, the Washington Post, Steven Pinker, Salman Rushdie, and Milo Yiannopoulos. However, its hard to find
The kind words for IDRlabs stacked up on that page don’t show up anywhere else when googled or are misappropriations of unrelated quotes; the one from Rushdie seems to be from a tweet by the famed author that predates the founding of IDRlabs by four years.
(IDRlabs did not respond to messages from Inverse seeking clarification.)
Keep all that in mind when looking at the scores on #angertest videos.