Many psychologists still recommend aggressive strategies for managing stressful situations. Punching away your anger has been seen as the way to purge the system of the negative impacts. But does this really work? Are there more effective ways of coping in both the short and the longer term?
Psychologist Brad Bushman published his finings in 2002 in a paper entitled “Does venting anger feed or extinguish the flame?” and it would seem from his findings and others subsequently that there’s a more effective way. So, put away the boxing gloves and read on!
In a cleverly devised test students were asked to write an essay on a particularly emotive topic and were told that their paper would be marked by their fellow students (which of course was not going to be the case). Their papers were in fact marked by Bushman and his researchers but in a way that made it look like it was one of the students. The essays were also marked particularly unfairly and emotively too.
When the essays were given back they had comments on them criticising the quality of the writing and arguments put forward. Some papers were given back with the alleged marker’s picture with it too. These things and more were deliberately done to provoke anger in the students; it succeeded.
The students were then divided into three groups and each group was taken to a different room: in one room one group was provided with punch bags to literally vent their anger; in another room another group sat quietly for a few moments and the final group sat in their room and merely described their plans for the next day.
Everyone then completed a mood questionnaire that recorded their emotional state after the previous two events: getting their essays back and their time in the room. Finally, they all came back together and played a competitive game; the winner could sound a loud horn for as long as they liked and as loudly as they liked at the loser in their game!
Perhaps not surprisingly, those who had worn the punch gloves went on to sound the horn louder and longer than those who sat quietly in the room. The anger management tool of the boxing gloves; rather than quenching the anger and stress had actually ignited it. Bushman related it like this: venting anger… is far more likely to pour petrol onto the fire.