Situational Cues for Anger, Fear, Anxiety & Curiosity

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  • 0:01 What Is a Situational Cue?
  • 0:40 Anger
  • 2:08 Fear and Anxiety
  • 3:33 Curiosity
  • 4:51 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine has an M.A. in American Studies. She is an instructional designer, educator, and writer with a particular interest in the social sciences and American studies.

In this lesson, you'll think about what might happen in your environment to trigger anger, fear, anxiety and curiosity. Find out how this can differ from person to person, and explore the ways in which these emotions are related.

What Is a Situational Cue?

Abby has been on the phone for several hours with her internet provider's customer service department to address an outage in her home. She has spoken with seven different people during this time. She was accidentally disconnected twice while being transferred to another representative, requiring her to call back in and start all over again.

In this lesson, we'll consider how Abby might react to these situational cues with particular emotions. A situational cue is something happening in our environment that we interpret as needing a response. We'll explore four types of emotional responses to situational cues: anger, fear, anxiety and curiosity.


Think of situational cues as the context that tends to produce certain emotional responses. Perhaps you know what it's like to be a customer like Abby who is frustrated by what feels like an endless series of transfers when she's in need of assistance, leaving her feeling helpless to resolve her problem. Or, maybe you also know what it's like to work in customer service, dealing with those who are angry at you through no personal fault of your own.

Many situational cues can make it likely that we will experience the emotion of anger. Imagine for a moment any recent memory you have of feeling like someone took you for granted, or that someone hurt your feelings. You may also have had times when some injustice was done to you or when you were discriminated against unfairly. Anger often arises when there is a gap between what your expectations were before the situation occurred and what has actually happened, causing disappointment and a sense of less control.

Being inconvenienced, like Abby has been in her call to her internet company, can also be a trigger for anger. Even losing someone we love, like when a person in our life dies, can illicit anger as part of the grieving process. Anger is sometimes a very appropriate response to situational cues, helping us to advocate for ourselves. How we interpret and respond to the emotion of anger can impact whether or not we experience a more positive outcome, or if the situation escalates and gets worse.

Fear and Anxiety

Sometimes, the same situational cues for anger can produce other emotions. The threat of danger, for instance, may cause a person to feel angry, or it could produce fear and anxiety instead. Fear and anxiety are thought by some researchers to be the same type of emotional response, while others distinguish between the two. Those who distinguish between fear and anxiety might give an example like the following.

Let's say that Abby tells Joe, the representative on the phone at her internet company, that she wants to talk with Joe's supervisor because she is upset. Joe might experience a sudden sense of fear, knowing that his supervisor won't be happy with his handling of the situation. He even fears that he might lose his job because he has made a serious mistake with Abby's account. This belief that there is an imminent threat is a cue for his sense of fear.

Now let's say, instead, that Joe didn't make a big mistake on the account, and there is no situational cue for outright fear that he will lose his job. Instead, let's say he routinely feels anxious when he goes to work. His anxiety could have a lot of different reasons. He feels threatened, but cannot pinpoint exactly why. He doesn't know if, at any moment, he will get an angry or impolite caller so there's no immediate threat, just the potential for a threat. This uncertainty about the nature of the threat facing him makes it less clear what specific actions he should take to respond.

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