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Using psychological inventories to assess anger

This is an excerpt from Anger Management in Sport by Mitch Abrams.

Using Psychological Inventories

The hallmark of psychology research is the self-report inventory. Many inventories were developed with the hope of capturing an emotion in a questionnaire. These too present problems.

The first problem with anger inventories is that they tend to be high in what researchers call face validity. The validity of a test is the extent to which it measures what it is supposed to measure. Face validity is the extent to which a test, on the face of it, measures what it is supposed to. Subjects who take tests that are high in face validity can easily tell what the researcher is measuring. For an emotional state like anger, which many people recognize has a negative connotation; subjects can provide answers that depict themselves in a favorable light. The test is easily faked. For that matter, if a subject wants the researcher to draw a particular conclusion, he or she can make the test show those results. Subjects respond in the ways that they do on such tests for many reasons. Those with an acquiescence bias will give the answer that they believe the researcher wants. Some want to paint themselves in a positive light. Some really do not pay attention to how they feel, and their self-report may not be based on reality. Some people lie. This may surprise you, but some people who lie do not have a specific reason to do so. A common false assumption is that people lie only if they have a good reason to do so, if they have something to gain. But, people lie for the fun of it, for the excitement of it, because they enjoy deceiving people, or for no reason at all. And the problem is that on these tests, it is hard to tell when someone is lying if the person lies consistently throughout the answers.

The second problem with anger scales is that a one-to-one correlation does not exist between measures on self-report inventories and behavior. Does every person who scores high on anger scales get in fights? No. One might even hypothesize that athletes who scores high on a self-report measure are less likely to act out because they have some awareness of their anger. Moreover, many of these scales were originally developed to measure pathology. Suppose that a student scored higher than everyone else in the class but her or his score did not reach the threshold of where anger is considered a problem. Can we say that this student is angrier than the other students? Maybe, but what does it mean? Not much.

The last problem with self-report measures is that even the ones that measure anger in state (being in an angry state right now) and trait (pervasive pattern of anger) dimensions, if not given when respondents are angry, may not reflect the true intensity of their emotions.

Nonetheless, self-report questionnaires are probably the best standardized tools that we have. Although several are available, I am going to focus on two that seem to be the most commonly used in the sport and clinical psychology literatures.

Profile of Moods States (POMS)

Originally developed in 1971 by McNair, Lorr, and Droppleman, the Profile of Mood States (POMS) has been cited in approximately 300 articles in the sport and exercise psychology literature. The test is a self-report measure in which subjects report on a Likert scale to what degree they experience the word describing an emotional state. The 65 words or phrases load into six mood states: tension, depression, anger, vigor, fatigue, and confusion. These six states can then be charted and their relative elevations noted.

Early research by William Morgan in the 1970s yielded the “iceberg profile” of elite athletes. While consulting with the United States Olympic Committee, Morgan found that successful elite athletes could be differentiated from unsuccessful candidates by this profile. Successful athletes had an elevation in vigor but much lower values for all the other mood states. This model has come under greater scrutiny over time, most notably in a meta-analysis of the articles that studied the iceberg profile (Rowley et al., 1995). Although that study found the iceberg profile to be a weak predictor of athletic success, the Profile of Mood States is still widely used and is currently found in approximately 1,500 published articles when you include studies outside of sport psychology as well.

The ease of administration paired with its established place in the sport psychology world makes the POMS one of the two instruments of choice in measuring anger in sport.

State-Trait Anger Expression Inventory-2 (STAXI-2)

The State-Trait Anger Expression Inventory-2 (STAXI-2), developed by psychologist Charles Spielberger, is the gold standard for anger assessment. STAXI-2 is a self-report inventory that measures anger in multiple dimensions. By responding to 57 items on a four-point scale (with 1 equating to “not at all” or “almost never” and 4 equating to “very much so” or “almost always”) assessment of the subjects' anger includes “either the intensity of their angry feelings at a particular time or how frequently anger is experienced, expressed, suppressed or controlled.” (Spielberger, STAXI-2 Manual, p. 4) The inventory is simple to administer, requiring only about 15 minutes, is normed for adolescents and adults, and is written at a sixth-grade reading level. Although it has not been normed specifically on athletes, its utility makes it ripe for such an extension. Finally, the inventory can be administered individually or in group settings.

The STAXI-2 measures anger along seven major scales and five subscales:

1. State Anger (S-Ang)—the intensity of and extent to which a person feels like expressing anger at a particular time.

a. Feeling Angry (S-Ang/F)—the intensity of the anger that the person is currently experiencing.

b. Feel Like Expressing Anger Verbally (S-Ang/V)—the intensity of the current feelings to express the anger verbally.

c. Feel Like Expressing Physically (S-Ang/P)—the intensity of the current feelings to express the anger physically.

2. Trait Anger (T-Ang)—how often angry feelings are experienced over time.

a. Angry Temperament (T-Ang/T)—measures the disposition to experience anger without specific provocation.

b. Angry Reaction (T-Ang/R)—the frequency that angry feelings are experienced in situations that involved frustration or negative evaluations.

3. Anger Expression-Out (AX-O)—how often anger is expressed in verbally or physically aggressive behavior.

4. Anger Expression-In (AX-I)—how often anger is experienced but not expressed.

5. Anger Control-Out (AC-O)—how often the person controls the outward expression of anger.

6. Anger Control-In (AC-I)—how often a person attempts to calm down to control angry feelings.

7. Anger Expression Index (AX Index)—a general index of anger expression.

As can be seen, the STAXI-2 does not just measure anger along different dimensions; it also taps the different methods that subjects report using to manage their anger. In my opinion, it is the most useful anger assessment tool available because it not only describes the person's anger but also gives the sport psychologist the starting point of knowing how the person assesses his or her own anger management tendencies.

Considering the lack of study that anger, aggression, and violence have received in sport psychology as a whole, it is not surprising that few sport-specific anger measures are available. The Bredemeier Athletic Aggression Inventory (BAAGI) (Bredemeier, 1975) deserves some attention because it measures instrumental aggression as well as reactive aggression. Following the theme that instrumental aggression is what we want to reinforce and reactive aggression is related to anger and needs to be curbed, this instrument may prove to have significant utility in future anger management studies of athletes.

One of the newer instruments to be introduced is the Competitive Aggressiveness and Anger Scale (CAAS; Maxwell & Moores, 2007) developed by Jon Maxwell and his colleagues in Hong Kong. Initial findings suggest that the CAAS is a valid scale for the measurement of aggressive tendencies (aggressiveness) and anger in sport. Because it attempts to overcome the shortcomings of other instruments, it has promise.

More Excerpts From Anger Management in Sport