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New study demonstrates that angry people are easier to deceive: Three practical steps for making better decisions

Ryan Denison is the Senior Fellow for Theology at Denison Forum, where he contributes writing and research to many of the ministry’s productions.

He is in the final stages of earning his PhD in church history at BH Carroll Theological Institute after having earned his MDiv at Truett Seminary. Ryan has also taught at BH Carroll and Dallas Baptist University.

He and his wife, Candice, live in East Texas and have two children.

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A man yells at his open laptop
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Why do so many people today seem to be in the business of making people angry? 

Regardless of where a speaker or author falls on the political spectrum, fewer and fewer people seem interested in basing their appeals on facts. Rather, more often than not, speeches, articles, social media posts, etc. start with denouncing something as wrong and then doing their best to make you as angry about it as they are, if not more so. 

And there’s nothing terribly novel about that strategy. People have been using it to great effect throughout the course of history. A recent study in the journal Experimental Psychology, however, helps explain why it tends to work so well.

Researchers showed participants an eight-minute clip from the film Defending Your Life and then engaged with them in a series of cognitive tests followed by a scripted interview where they fell into one of two groups. 

As Eric W. Dolan describes, in the first group, “the experimenter behaved professionally and politely” before asking participants to write about a trip to the museum. With the second group, the person conducting the study “was disorganized, dismissive, insulting, lost documents, provided only vague instructions, created unnecessary work, and interrupted the participant” and then tasked the participants to write about a time when they felt angry. 

What they found is that people in the second group were far more susceptible to subtle lies and manipulation about what happened in the initial video clip. For example, they were likelier to believe scenes took place in the film that never actually existed and misremember details than those who were part of the neutral group. They also tended to be more confident in their false memories than the first group was in their correct understanding. 

In short, the experiment demonstrated that angry people are easier to deceive. 

Serving the God of truth instead of the father of lies

As Christians, we are charged with serving the God who is truth (John 14:6), and we are infused with the indwelling power of the “Spirit of truth” (John 16:13). Unfortunately, that does not prevent us from being vulnerable to lies and deceit. 

And, given that our Enemy is “a liar and the father of lies,” we must never take for granted that we can be misled (John 8:44). 

So how can we guard against falling prey to believing lies and being deceived? 

First, as the aforementioned study shows, we should be careful about what we believe when we’re angry and highly suspicious of those who would use that emotion as a persuasive tactic. 

Second, when you feel yourself reading something and growing increasingly anxious or irate, set it down and take a minute to regain your composure before continuing. If you’re watching a video or listening to a conversation where taking that kind of pause isn’t possible, determine that you won’t make any decisions or draw any firm conclusions until you’ve had the chance to calm down and reevaluate what you’ve learned. 

Third, make God a constant companion as you go throughout your day so that you’re never left to navigate those emotionally charged waters by yourself. 

There are countless things in this world about which we have every right to be angry. If we want to actually make things better, though, anger cannot be the prism through which we approach our decisions. 

God has called us and equipped us to be better than that. 

What’s driving your decisions today? 

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