“For reducing anger and aggression, the worst possible advice to give people is to tell them to imagine their provocateur’s face on a pillow or punching bag as they wallop it...”
— Brad J. Bushman (2002)
According to Bushman’s study, where he had three research groups to observe regarding anger responses, catharsis theory—thinking about the person who has angered us and venting anger using a punching bag or punching a pillow—is nonsense. Such a response only angers us more.
He found that of the groups that 1) did nothing regarding someone else hurting them, or 2) simply became distracted instead of responding, that the group that thought about the person who had angered them, and acted out their rage, actually increased their residual anger and aggression rather than decreasing it.
Punching a bag or screaming into a pillow doesn’t actually alleviate anger.
Furthermore, the group that was distracted (not venting their anger on a punching bag) were less angry than the punching bag group but were no less aggressive. It was only the (control) group that did nothing as a result of their anger, but were required to sit quietly for 2 minutes who had an effective response through the reduction of anger.
Venting anger seems to be like pouring fuel on an already raging fire.
Distracting people in their anger merely delays their angry response.
Doing nothing but sitting quietly for 2 minutes reduced anger.
This teaches us a lot about anger—our mounting anger in response to another’s offence. We are better off becoming distracted than we are thinking on and acting out our anger. But even better is doing nothing in the moment.
So how are we to respond by ‘doing nothing’ in situations that provoke our anger in ways that are effective?
Better Ways for Anger Management
What we learn from this study is that simply sitting quietly, managing our mood as best we can, is as effective as any of us can manage.
Of course, Christians have another technique: prayer. Rather than venting in prayer, which may help at times in the process of grieving, it might be better to sit quietly in our minds and hearts in facilitating the reception of God’s peace.
What delaying our responses in the quietness of our minds and hearts achieves is the facilitation of the higher mind. This frontal lobe part of our brains—the Neocortex—is developed through delaying instinctive responses like anger.
We are better off not acting on our angry feelings, but praying to God for quietness within our hearts and minds, such that our higher minds might advise the right response at the right time and in the right way. Yes, with God’s help, we can train our minds to cope better with angry feelings.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.
 Brad J. Bushman. (2002) “The Venting Anger Feed or Extinguish the Flame? Catharsis, Rumination, Distraction, Anger, and Aggressive Responding” in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (28:724).