Monday, March 01, 2010 3/1/10 - anger and aggression

In today's excerpt - expressing anger
amplifies aggression:

"People often opine that releasing anger is
healthier than bottling it up. In one survey,
66 percent of university undergraduates
agreed that expressing pent up anger is a
good way of tamping down aggression. This
belief dates back at least to Aristotle, who
observed that viewing tragic plays affords
the opportunity for catharsis, a cleansing of
anger and other negative emotions.

"Popular media also assure us that anger is a
monster we must tame by 'letting off steam,'
'blowing our top' and 'getting things off our
chest.' [That] advice echoes the counsel of
many self-help authors. One suggested that
rather than 'holding in poisonous anger,' it
is better to 'punch a pillow or a punching
bag. And while you do it, yell and curse and
moan and holler.' Some popular therapies
encourage clients to scream, hit pillows or
throw balls against walls when they get
angry. Practitioners of Arthur Janov s
'primal therapy,' popularly called primal
scream therapy, believe that psychologically
disturbed adults must bellow at the top of
their lungs or somehow otherwise release the
emotional pain stemming either from the
trauma of birth or from childhood neglect or

"Yet more than 40 years of research reveals
that expressing anger actually amplifies
aggression. In one study, people who pounded
nails after someone insulted them became more
critical of that person than did their
counterparts who did not pound nails. Other
research shows that playing aggressive
sports, such as football, actually boosts
self-reported hostility. And a review of 35
studies by psychologist Craig Anderson of
Iowa State University and psychologist Brad
Bushman of the University of Michigan at Ann
Arbor suggests that playing violent video
games such as Manhunt, in which participants
rate assassinations on a five-point scale,
heightens aggression in the laboratory and in
everyday social situations.

"Psychologist Jill Littrell of Georgia State
University concludes from a published review
of the literature that expressing anger is
helpful only when accompanied by constructive
problem solving or communication designed to
reduce frustration or address the immediate
source of the anger. So if we are upset with
our partner for repeatedly ignoring our
feelings, shouting at him or her is unlikely
to make us feel better, let alone improve the
situation. But calmly and assertively
expressing our resentment ('I realize you
probably aren't being insensitive on purpose,
but when you act that way, I don t feel close
to you') can often take the sting out of

"Why is this myth so popular? People probably
attribute the fact that they feel better
after expressing anger to catharsis, rather
than to the anger subsiding on its own, which
it almost always does. Odds are, they would
have felt better if they had merely waited
out their anger."

Scott O. Lilienfeld, Steven Jay Lynn, John
Ruscio and Barry L. Beyerstein, "Busting Big
Myths in Popular Psychology", Scientific
American - Mind, March/April 2010, pp. 44-45.


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