By Holly Parker, published on July 1, 1999 - last reviewed on January 23, 2015
You're just trying to be a good friend when you tell an angry pal
to "let it out" by punching a pillow or slamming a door. But this advice
is more harmful than helpful.
"Expressing anger actually increases aggression," says Brad
Bushman, Ph.D. The Iowa State University psychologist and colleagues
asked subjects to pen an essay, then inspired their ire by handing it
back with a brutal critique. Next, the essay writers were asked to
deliver noise bursts to either the person who'd insulted their paper or
an innocent bystander. Subjects could decide how long and loud the
annoying sounds would be. Miffed participants who hit a punching bag
before administering the sounds were twice as cruel in their choice of
noise length and volume as those who just sat quietly before performing
the task. Furthermore, "they were aggressive toward both types of
people," said Bushman, "and that's scary."
The finding is most worrisome, he says, because the media and pop
psychologists promote the idea that "venting" is useful. We're easily
influenced by these messages: subjects who read an article on the
benefits of catharsis before punching the bag were much more likely to
want to box than others.
Instead of trying to simmer down, says Bushman, just turn off the
heat altogether. Count to 10--or 100, if need be--and the anger will
PHOTO (COLOR): Expressing anger