Myth: “Vent your anger, and it’ll go away”
The catharsis hypothesis about anger states that venting anger physically and verbally, by punching a pillow or a bag, yelling and cursing, while imagining the face of the person or the thing we are angry at, would wipe out the anger.
Fact: “Venting anger just keeps it alive”
Numerous academic research studies examined the catharsis hypothesis. Results revealed that outward expression of anger can be counterproductive; people can become angrier, more frustrated, more prone for future aggressive behaviors and even be at risk of elevated cardiovascular activity, which may predispose people to develop cardiovascular disease (Bushman, 2002; Bushman & Whitaker, 2010; Lohr, Olatunji, Baumeister, & Bushman, 2007).
For example, Bushman (2002) examined whether distraction or rumination is better to diffuse anger. He conducted an experiment, in which participants were assigned to one of the two conditions: rumination group in which angry participants were allowed to punch a bag while thinking about the person who angered them, and distraction group in which the participants thought about becoming physically fit. The rumination group felt angrier than the distraction group. Moreover, when given the chance to administer loud blasts of noise to the person who angered them, this group was the most aggressive. The results of the present study confirmed that “doing nothing is more effective than venting anger”. In another study, the researchers examined if venting anger would reduce the anger feelings, thus anger behavior, towards the target of aggression. Results showed that participants who had the chance to vent their anger, behaved more aggressively than participants in the control group.
Furthermore, Wolf and Tomothy (1994) research concluded that the expression of anger can clearly and consistently be related to CHD (coronary and heart disease), its risk factors and its pathogenesis.
The association between venting anger and keeping it alive can be explained through the cognitive neoassociation theory (Berkowitz, 1993). The theory predicts that venting anger would increase anger feelings and behaviors. Venting would prime aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors by keeping angry feelings alive in memory which in their turn would activate further memories and feelings associated with anger. This activation process is due to the associative network in memory, where previous angry thoughts, feelings and behaviors are related to each other, and the activation of one node would spread out along the network links and activate the remaining of the network. Hence, the activation of aggressive thoughts can provoke a multifaceted of associations composed of aggressive ideas and feelings related to violence, and the motion for aggressive actions. Moreover, venting can be considered as a practice of how to behave aggressively and as a negative reinforcement to behave aggressively in the future.
As an alternative for venting anger, it is recommended that people understand the source of the anger, the problem, and to analyse the more genuine feelings underneath their anger, rather than just dwell at the anger-expression level (Frazier, 1995). Anger should be considered just a signal for an existing problem, and venting would not automatically solve the problem.
Moreover, people can use the deep breathing techniques, writing journals about their feelings, imagining aggressive phenomena which do not include aggressiveness towards people and animals (i.e. tornado), to control their aggressive feelings and behaviors.
Brad J. Bushman (2002). Does Venting Anger Feed or Extinguish the Flame? Catharsis, Rumination, Distraction, Anger, and Aggressive Responding. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28 (6), 724-731.
Bushman, B., Baumeister, R., & Stack, A. (1999). Catharsis, Aggression, and Persuasive Influence: Self-fulfilling or Self-defeating Prophecies? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76(3), 367-376.
Bushman, B., & Whitaker, J. (2010). Like a magnet: Catharsis beliefs attract angry people to violent video games. Psychological Science, Vol 21(6), Jun 2010, 790-792.
DeFoore. W. (2007). Anger Management Techniques. Dowloaded on March 9, from defoore.com/angercontroltechniques.htm.
Edelyn Verona, & Elizabeth A. Sullivan (2008). Emotional Catharsis and Aggression Revisited: Heart Rate Reduction Following Aggressive Responding. Emotion ,8 (3), 331–340
Frazier, T. (1995). Anger: Don’t express it and don’t repress it. Transactional Analysis Journal, Vol 25(2), Apr 1995, 123-128.
Lohr, Jeffrey M.; Olatunji, Bunmi O.; Baumeister, Roy F.; Bushman, Brad J. (2007). The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice: Objective Investigations of Controversial and Unorthodox Claims in Clinical Psychology, Psychiatry, and Social Work, Vol 5(1), 2007, 53-64.
Siegman, Aron Wolfe (Ed); Smith, Timothy W. (Ed), (1994). Anger, hostility, and the heart, (pp. 173-197). Hillsdale, NJ, England: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc, xv, 288 pp.