D: So the other day I'm driving to the store and this jerk cuts me off and doesn't apologize or anything. I was so angry, Yaël, I wanted to leap out of my car and punch him in the face.
Y: Why were you so mad, Don?
D: Because...because...I guess because it was rude. But I don't know why I became SO enraged.
Y: It's because our brains evolved to be extremely aware of threats and to react when a true threat emerges. The brain circuits that scan for and evaluate threats are known as the hypothalamic attack region.
D: I guess that makes sense. Early humans living on the African savannah had to be vigilant against predators, and be ready to react to the threat of being attacked and eaten.
Y: Right. And although we're no longer in danger of being eaten by lions, our brains are still wired like they were 100,000 years ago. So we're prone to extreme reactions even when the threat doesn't actually pose much danger. For example, when you got cut off, it triggered your primitive threat detection response in all the classic ways. The other car invaded your territory, triggering you to defend it. And the offending car broke the rules of the road, triggering an angry response when organization is violated.
D: Interesting. Can I control my anger?
Y: Sometimes. If you recognize what's happening and are able to identify the triggers, you may be able to rationalize the situation and dispel your rage.