Anger and food critique don’t mix

A scientific look at why we shouldn't be writing reviews when we're mad

Yelp screenshot.

Nowadays, everyone is a food critic. With online review sites like Urbanspoon and Yelp, and the ever-increasing popularity of social media, people can share their opinions with virtually anyone, anytime. But should they? We’ve all seen, or even fallen victim to scathing reviews from customers who have had less than stellar restaurant experiences (ICYMI: there’s the take-out incident in Kansas City). Heck, maybe you’ve even written such a comment yourself (in which case, shame on you). Not only is it distasteful, but psychology also says that we are more susceptible to lapses in judgment when we are angry. Did you really wait that long to get a table and was the food really so bad you wouldn’t even feed it to your dog? Without completing deferring responsibility away from the individual, let’s explore how anger can make you do, and say, things you probably shouldn’t.

What you have to understand is this; anger reduces inhibitory control. Inhibitory control is just as is sounds -- your ability to inhibit or prevent certain behaviours from occurring. You’ve got the front of your brain to thank for this. An area called the prefrontal cortex is responsible for all areas of executive control: reasoning, decision making and, as mentioned, inhibitory control. Essentially, the prefrontal cortex is critical for thinking things through and making judgment calls, both of which are impaired when angry. Instead, emotional centres such as the amygdala take over and trump logic. You’re mad, you don’t care about being reasonable.

There are differences between individual here, so responses aren’t the same for everyone, not to mention injuries to the prefrontal cortex can damage inhibitory control (just Google “Phineas Gage” and you will see what I mean). Research has found that those with decreased inhibitory control are more susceptible to anger in response to negative emotions (Tang & Schmeichel, 2013).  In other words, an awful experience at a restaurant may provoke some people to go home and rant all over the internet, whereas someone else will forget about it and move on.

So what actually causes people to lose it? It’s just unremarkable food, after all, which is not exactly the end of the world, but that doesn’t stop people from acting like the apocalypse has arrived. Some would argue that innate personality traits affect anger regulation. Jensen-Campbell, Knack, Waldrip and Campbell (2007) found that people scoring lower on measures of conscientiousness were more likely to report higher levels of anger in response to negative feedback than those high in conscientiousness. This suggests that conscientious individuals may also have higher self control and self regulation.

You can also look at brain activation to see exactly what neural changes anger can cause. When people get angry, it tends to activate the left side of the frontal cortex, rather than the right side. Considering that the left is responsible for behaviour activation and the right controls behaviour inhibition, you can see how anger essentially encourages you to do something, without evaluating the negative consequences that would typically make you reconsider.

It has also been found that anger causes people to perceive a situation differently from other emotions. Whereas fear evokes greater estimations of risk, anger does the opposite and lowers risk appraisal (Lerner & Keltner, 2000). Let’s say you are angry because you wait an hour to get your food, and when it finally arrives, it is ice cold. The fact that your brain perceives the situation as being relatively low risk (although at times hunger can seem like a desperate emergency) means that when it comes time to share your brash review, the pros will probably outweigh the cons. You are not going to be scared of any negative repercussions that may come along with trashing the place. Anger puts you in the here-and-now, making immediate cues most salient and largely ignoring rationality and logic. Down a couple of glasses of wine first and now we are really talking.

It’s not rocket science, yet we have all done things when we’re angry that we later regret. It’s a lot easier to think things through when you are calm and collected, than when you are in the middle of full-blown rage. Even the best restaurants have a bad night every now and then. If you have a sub-par experience, try using it as a vehicle to provide constructive criticism, rather than insults and accusations. After all, telling someone to eff off, in person or on the internet, isn’t going to get you anywhere.


Jensen-Campbell, L. A., Knack, J. M., Waldrip A. M., & Campbell, S. D. (2007). Do Big Five personality traits associated with self-control influence the regulation of anger and aggression? Journal of Research in Personality, 41, 403-424.

Lerner, J. S., & Keltner, D. (2000). Beyond valence: toward a model of emotion-specific influences on judgment and choice. Cognition & Emotion, 14, 563-574.

Tang, D., & Schmeichel, B. J. (2013). Stopping anger and anxiety: Evidence that inhibitory ability predicts negative emotional responding. Cognition and Emotion, 28(1), 132-142.