Why Getting Angry Isn’t Cathartic

We’re pretty into the idea that ‘letting our anger out’ will somehow get ride of it. We vent with our friends, visit the gym for a session with the ‘ol punching bag, and sometimes yell at people we shouldn’t yell at. There’s even a form of therapy (I use the term loosely) that involves paying money to break a bunch of furniture. Buddy, you can do that for free down at the junkyard.

All that said, it seems like ‘letting your anger out’ (or catharsis theory, as psychologists call it), doesn’t work. Research published in the Personality and Social Science Bulletin (pdf alert) has found that people who ‘let their anger out’ just get angrier, and people who sit there and do nothing end up less angry.

Researchers began their experiment by insulting their 600 participants—all participants were college students, and they had to read remarks criticising an essay they’d written. Ostensibly, the remarks were written by another college student. The participants were then broken into three groups. The first group was allowed to go a few rounds with a punching bag, so long as they thought about the student who’d criticised them while throwing punches. The second group also hit punching bags, but they were told to focus on exercise, presumably in an old-timey way. The final group had to sit in a room and do nothing. That’s it.

Afterwards, all participants took a simple mood evaluation test. Turns out, the first group was still pretty angry, the second group was kinda angry, and the last group was the least angry. That’s right—if you want to get rid of anger, you need to let it go, not let it out.




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