Psychology Today: Five Ways to Deal with Anger

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on RedditShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone

In a previous post, I wrote about why people get angry. There’s a fairly predictable pattern based on your mood, the provocation, and your interpretation of that provocation (which is influenced by your mood). What follows all that is the anger response which can look a lot of different ways (anything from suppression to appropriate assertion to violence).

Read at Psychology Today


Anger Management Tip: Be Aware of the Catharsis Myth

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on RedditShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone

The “Catharsis Myth” is the idea that venting anger is good for you.  The idea is that by acting aggressively, viewing aggressive content, etc. we release our anger in a way that is healthy and safe.

The problem, of course, is that catharsis doesn’t work. In fact, the research on catharsis shows that it increases anger rather than decreases it.  According to Bushman and colleagues (1999), it increases cardiovascular disease risk and increases the likelihood you will become aggressive toward those around you (including innocent bystanders).

To learn more about the “Catharsis Myth,” see Four Questions on the Catharsis Myth with Dr. Brad Bushman.


Five Questions with David Boudreaux

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on RedditShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone

APADavid Boudreaux is a doctoral student in the Counseling Psychology program at the University of Southern Mississippi, working with Dr. Eric Dahlen.  For his dissertation, he is further validating a measure he created in earlier research which is intended to assess attitudes toward anger management.  He is also developing a questionnaire designed to assess an individual’s level of intended engagement in controlling his or her anger (i.e., Reading self help books, viewing a video documentary on anger, investigating anger on the internet, seeking out professional therapy, etc.).  He is pursuing a career as a psychologist at a Veterans Affairs Hospital.

1.  What motivated you to want to study anger in the first place?

I could have easily joined our nation’s armed forces as a career path, but life took a different direction.  Being that I still maintain a deep respect for the men and women serving our country, I decided to embark on a career that would help me serve the military population.  I decided to go to work as a clinician treating our nation’s veterans.  Therefore, I would have to build a vita that would support being hired by the Veteran’s Health Administration.  With anger playing a prominent role in the presentation of many veterans suffering from PTSD, I thought becoming an expert on anger would place me in an excellent position for my career goal.

2.  How do you think that studying anger now will help you with your future career plans?

We are always looking for better objective tests to help guide our treatment with various populations of interest.  By helping to do this with the college population while obtaining my education, I’m hoping to prepare myself for such endeavors with the Veteran population.  Instrument development can be an arduous process, and the unique factors of assessing anger have implications that may make the process somewhat more complicated.  For instance, the typical individual presents to therapy for distress that he or she is experiencing.  Due to the nature of problem anger, the individual experiencing that problem may or may not experience any distress or awareness that a problem exists.  Instead, he or she may perceive others as having the problem.

3.  What would you say is the most important research you have done on anger?

I have worked to help develop and validate a measure of an individual’s attitude toward anger management.  Research supports the idea that our attitude toward a behavior helps predict our motivation to engage in said behavior.  The literature also tells us that, despite the need for anger management, very few individuals with that need present to anger management.  If we can assess an individual’s attitude towards receiving professional aid with treating their anger, we may have a better chance of understanding how to motivate that individual to engage or remove barriers to treatment.

4.  What do you think are some of the most common misconceptions about anger?
I think the largest misconception about anger that I have experienced is the thought that a well-directed cathartic release of anger is somehow therapeutic.  In other words, conventional wisdom may tell an individual that, when angry, punching a pillow is a good way to “release” that tension.  No research on anger I have seen or conducted supports this type of behavior as a way to reduce the experience of problem anger.

5.  If there was one thing you would like people to understand about anger, what would it be?

Anger is a natural emotion, and it can be a functional emotion.  Just like physical pain tells us something is wrong with our body and should be addressed, anger tells us something is wrong with our cognitive and emotional experience of the world.  To alleviate pain, we do not encourage the practice of more pain.  Instead, we look for the source of that pain and do our best to remove it.  The same could be said of anger.  Practicing anger does not address the source of that anger.  Anger is just an initial signal for a problem that should be identified and addressed, usually through relaxation techniques and proactive communication strategies.

5 Things I Learned (or was reminded of) During My Dinner with Dr. Albert Bandura

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on RedditShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone

Last week, thanks to my good friend, Regan Gurung, I was lucky enough to sit down for a two-hour dinner with Dr. Albert Bandura.  For those of you who don’t know of Dr. Bandura’s work, he’s arguably the most famous living psychologist (or, at least, amongst the top three) and certainly the most popular.  His most famous work, The Bobo Doll Study, changed the way people thought of both learning and aggression, as it flew in the face of the accepted theories of the time, conditioning and catharsis, respectively.

The Bobo Doll Study, first done in 1961, is thought of by most psychologists to be one of the three most famous psychology studies of all time (along with the Milgram Obedience Experiments and the Stanford Prison Experiment).   In fact, if you haven’t heard of it, it’s probably because you never took an intro psych class or because you took an intro psych class a very long time ago and simply forgot (i.e., it’s unlikely it wasn’t covered).  What many people don’t realize, though, is that it wasn’t just one study.  It was a series of studies that led to two books on aggression and paved the way for a massive shift in the way psychologists thought about learning.  Consequently, his work matters to me as a psychologist, an anger and aggression researcher, and a teacher.

I don’t mind sounding a little bit star-struck by saying that this dinner was one of the highlights of my relatively young career.  It wasn’t just fun, though.  It was meaningful in other ways.  Here are five things I learned (or was reminded of) from Dr. Bandura.

1. Basic research matters.  In my research methods course, I try and drive home to students the idea that basic research is important.  Even though applied research feels more exciting and more important (wouldn’t we all rather find the cure to something than do the studies that lead up to finding a cure?), the vast majority of applied research projects find their roots in basic research.  Dr. Bandura provided me with more ammo for this discussion by reminding me that his original bobo doll study was not designed with any sort of application in mind.  This was a study on learning and aggression, pure and simple.  Yes, it was putting behaviorism to the test and, yes, it had clear implications to a host of areas (e.g., media violence, advertising).  In fact, Dr. Bandura is now working on several international projects to apply this work.  But, none of that changes the fact that it was originally carried out as a test of theory with no other intentions.

2. There’s an important place for social activism in academics. Even though his work started as basic research, his current work is clearly intended to bring about social change.  He described a book he’s writing on moral disengagement where he will tackle a variety of politically controversial topics (e.g., gun violence, climate change).  Meanwhile, he’s involved in literacy projects on at least three continents.  To those who believe that professors should avoid any sort of activism, Dr. Bandura serves as a nice example of how wrong they are.  He’s doing important work that changes the lives of people across the globe.

3. The support of your institution matters. One thing I was completely unaware of was that there had been many attempts to discredit Dr. Bandura early in his career.  The Bob Doll Study, which he completed as an untenured professor at Stanford, was seen as a threat to some fairly powerful groups (television networks, advertising agencies, etc.).  At one point, he was asked to testify at a congressional hearing on television violence and, as a result of his work, advertising standards were changed to cut out acts of violence.  Not surprisingly, some groups worked to find fault with his research, and he even described turning on the news to find a special on him and the flaws in his research.   I asked him if it bothered him and, though he didn’t answer that question directly, he did tell a story about being invited to a meeting with a Stanford administrator at the height of all this.  The administrator said, “They’re saying some pretty bad things about your research [pause].  Don’t let the bastards get you down.”  I can only imagine that for an untenured professor who found himself somewhat unexpectedly in the public eye, that sort of support would go a long way toward giving him the courage to carry on.  I also found myself wondering if that sort of thing would happen again today.

4. So does passion. Before we even entered the restaurant, he started telling us about his upcoming book.  And it didn’t stop there.  He talked us through almost every chapter- not just the content, but why he was interested in it and how he arrived at his conclusions.  As he talked about his work, there was an excitement in his eyes unlike anything you would expect from someone who has been doing this for 50-plus years.  He is genuinely passionate about this book.  He is not doing it for the money (“the sales will take care of themselves,” he said.).  He’s writing it to leave at least one more mark on the world he’s already influenced so greatly.

5. Take pictures. As I said before, most psychologists will tell you that there are three studies in Psychology that stand out as the most famous:  The Milgram Obedience Experiments, The Stanford Prison Experiment, and Bandura’s initial Bobo Doll Study.  Regan asked him why he thinks these three studies became so well known.  He pointed to three things: (1) each had social implications. (2) each involved aggression and included findings that were surprising to people, and (3) each had photo and video evidence of their findings.  We spent a lot of time on this last one and how, in a visual world like the one we live in, video/photo footage goes a long way toward helping ideas stand out to people.  In fact, some of the other famous studies in psychology (Mischel’s Marshmallow Test, Asch’s Conformity Experiment, and Chabris and Simons Invisible Gorilla Study) all include video footage that helps drive the point home for students and the public at large.

Four Questions on the Catharsis Myth with Dr. Brad Bushman

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on RedditShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone

Dr. Brad Bushman is a social psychologist and aggression expert at The Ohio State University. He received his Ph.D. in Social Psychology from the University of Missouri. You can learn more about Dr. Bushman at

1.  What is catharsis?

That was defined in the article [here], on page 3, but here is a lot more information.

Catharsis: The word catharsis comes from the Greek word katharsis, which means to cleanse or purge. The term dates back to Aristotle, who taught that viewing tragic plays gave people emotional release from negative emotions. In Greek drama, the heroes didn’t just grow old and retire—they often suffered a violent demise.

Sigmund Freud, who believed that repressed negative emotions could build up inside an individual and cause psychological symptoms, revived the ancient notion of catharsis. Freud’s ideas form the basis of the hydraulic model of anger, which suggests that frustrations lead to anger and that anger, in turn, builds up inside an individual like hydraulic pressure inside a closed environment until it is vented or released. If the anger is not vented, the build-up will presumably cause the individual to explode in an aggressive rage.

According to catharsis theory, acting aggressively or even viewing aggression purges angry feelings and aggressive impulses into harmless channels. Almost as soon as researchers started testing catharsis theory, it ran into trouble. In one early experiment (Hornberger, 1959), participants who had been insulted by a confederate either pounded nails with a hammer for 10 minutes or did nothing. After this, all participants had a chance to criticize the confederate who had insulted them. If catharsis theory is true, the act of pounding nails should reduce anger and subsequent aggression. Unfortunately for catharsis theory, the results showed the opposite effect. Participants who pounded nails were more hostile toward the confederate afterward than were the ones who didn’t get to hammer any nails.

In 1973, Albert Bandura issued a moratorium on catharsis theory and the use of venting in therapy, and research evidence supported Bandura’s views (e.g., Geen & Quanty, 1977). Venting doesn’t work even among people who believe in the value of venting, and even among people who report feeling better after venting (Bushman, Baumeister, & Stack, 1999). In fact, venting has the opposite effect—it increases aggression. The better people feel after venting, the more aggressive they are. Venting can even increase aggression against innocent bystanders.

One variation of venting is intense physical exercise, such as running. When angry, some people go running or try some other form of physical exercise. Although exercise is good for your heart, it is not good for reducing anger (Bushman, 2002). The reason exercise doesn’t work very well is that it increases rather than decreases arousal levels. Angry people are highly aroused, and should try to calm down. Also, if someone provokes you after exercising, excitation transfer might occur (Zillmann, 1979). That is, the arousal from the exercise might transfer to the provocation, producing an exaggerated and possibly more violent response.

2.  What are the most common misconceptions about catharsis?

That just because something feels good, it is healthy. People feel good after venting anger (see Bushman et al., 1999), but the good feeling only reinforces aggressive behavior. People also feel good after eating chocolate and taking street drugs, but that does not mean those behaviors are healthy.

3.  What are the consequences of using catharsis as your primary anger expression style?

It harms you (e.g, increases one’s risk of cardiovascular disease) and others (e.g., increases the likelihood that you will aggress against others, even innocent bystanders – see Bushman et al., 1999)

4. If there was one thing you would want people to understand about catharsis, what would it be?

That although the theory sounds elegant, there is no scientific evidence to support it. Venting anger is like using gasoline to put out a fire. It only feeds the flame by keeping aggressive thoughts active in memory and by keeping angry feelings alive.

Anger on the Internet: What’s a Rant-Site?

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on RedditShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone

You don’t have to look too hard to find anger on the internet.  Whether through weblogs, social networking websites, or online discussion forums, people use the Internet to express their anger on a variety of topics. Online news sources routinely allow for public comments, often providing a venue for reader anger. Likewise, there are entire websites, called rant-sites, dedicated to allowing people to vent online  and a series of studies I and three other authors presented at the 2011 Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association Annual Convention explored the use of these websites, including what people get out of expressing their anger in such a way.

Rant-sites are exactly what they sound like.  They are websites designed for people to rant or vent about any topic they choose.  For an example of one of the most popular rant-sites, go to  Be warned, however, that such websites are not for the faint of heart.  Much of what you read there is offensive and some of it seems to qualify as hate-speech.  Though Just Rage has a policy against racism and hate speech, that policy doesn’t appear to be well enforced.

The project we presented included two studies exploring different facets of rant-site use.  We decided to start this line of research because so little is known about how anger is expressed online and what writers seem to get out of it.  We choose rant-sites because we thought that what happens on these websites is part of a bigger problem that is happening on social networking websites, discussion forums, etc. Our hope was to better understand why people express their anger online the way they do and what they perceive as the value of such expressions.

The first thing we did was to look simply at the content of the rants on several of these websites.  We found that, more often than not, rants are directed at a specific person, usually a spouse or romantic partner.  When not a particular person, rants were almost always directed at a large subgroup like a religious group or a political party.  By far, the most common reason for the rant was some sort of pet peeve or daily irritation (e.g., people who complain, spouse being late all the time, having to install toolbars on their web browser when they download computer software).

The second study surveyed users of such websites to learn more about how/why they use the website along with how they experience and express anger in general.  What we found was that every participant responded by indicating that they usually feel calm, relieved, or relaxed after writing their rants.   This finding alone is a bit surprising as catharsis, the act of venting or “letting it out”, is well known to have unhealthy long-term consequences.  The reports of decreased anger, then, could likely indicate that they are feeling angrier as they write the rant and that anger decreases when they are done.  They interpret that decrease as feeling relaxed and don’t recognize the increase in anger they experienced while writing.

Another interesting finding here is the sense of community that seems to develop on some of these websites.   Most participants were hoping for some sort of interaction through comments on their rants.  They reported wanting people to validate their feelings, make them laugh, or even to disagree with them.  In some ways, you could think of these websites as anonymous social networking sites where people know each other by their usernames (though, they don’t all have user names).

One of the more striking findings is that visitors of rant-sites are a fairly angry bunch in general with approximately 60% of them scoring above the 75 percentile on a measure of anger.  Likewise, approximately 10% of them reported having had a physical fight in the last month and almost all of them reporting a having a verbal fight in the last month.

Unfortunately, there is still a lot that we don’t know about online anger.  Frankly, the big problem with this line of research is that it’s very hard to find participants.  We tried to attract them with the possibility of winning a drawing for a gift card.  Though we had enough participants to do some basic analyses, it was very hard to attract people who were interested in participating.  They are posting anonymously for a reason and are not interested in providing too much information.  We had a similar problem when conducting another study on news discussion forums.  Participants just don’t want to provide much information about themselves and, until we solve that problem, we aren’t going to know much about this type of anger expression.

By Ryan C. Martin
Special thanks to my three co-authors for this presentation: Kelsey Ryan Coyier, Leah M. Van Sistine, and Kelly L. Schroeder

Five Questions with Dr. Ryan Martin

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on RedditShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone

Dr. Ryan Martin is an associated professor in the Departments of Human Development and Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.  He has a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Southern Mississippi and has been studying anger for about 11 years.  You can learn more about Dr. Martin by visiting his website at:

1. What motivated you to start studying anger in the first place?

When I was an undergraduate student at the University of St. Thomas, I worked at an adolescent shelter, run by the Salvation Army, called Booth Brown House.  The shelter was a place for kids who didn’t have anywhere else they could stay and were awaiting placement in a group home, a foster home, or even back with their parents.  Most of them were considered “at-risk” for one reason or another and I noticed during my work there that difficulty controlling their anger was a fairly salient problem for the vast majority of them.  For that reason, along with my own experiences with anger when I was growing up, I decided I wanted to study anger in graduate school.  I was fortunate that the same year I started at the University of Southern Mississippi, Dr. Eric Dahlen was starting as a new faculty member with a research program in anger.  He and I started working together on various projects during that first year and have continued to collaborate.   

2.  What would you say is the most important research you have done on anger?

My doctoral dissertation was the creation of an assessment tool, the Angry Cognitions Scale, that was designed to measure the types of angry thoughts that are associated with anger.  Since then, I have done several follow-up studies to validate the scale’s usefulness as a predictor of angry responses and anger consequences.  However, my new line of research looks at how anger is expressed online.  I am currently working on studies designed to explore how people express their anger in anonymous venues, such as online discussion forums, as compared to non-anonymous venues like Facebook or email.  Similarly, I recently collected data on how people use rant-sites, websites where people can rant about any topic they choose (see for an example).  This is an exciting area because we know so little about it.

3.  What do you think are the most important questions that anger researchers have yet to answer?

Anger is an understudied emotion compared to others and most of the research that’s been done seems to focus on the negative side of anger (e.g., the consequences of maladaptive anger).  Little research has been done on the positive value of anger when it’s being expressed in a healthy way.  There are many people who make their anger work for them and don’t see the sorts of consequences that others experience. I think it would be helpful to learn more about such individuals.

4.  What do you think are some of the most common misconceptions about anger?

To me, there are two primary misconceptions.  First, that anger is always harmful or problematic.  People fail to recognize that anger is normal and healthy but that, like any emotion, it can become problematic if experienced too often or in extremes.  Second, many people still believe that venting their anger through catharsis is the best way to get rid of it.  The catharsis myth has been debunked many times but still seems to hang on.  It’s too bad because one of the things we know about catharsis is that, not only does it not help people get rid of their anger, it usually makes the problem worse. 

5.  If there was one thing you would like people to understand about anger, what would it be?

I would like to help people understand the upside of their anger and to learn to use it as a tool.  I think if people can recognize the feeling states associated with anger and learn to express it in a healthy way, through appropriate assertiveness, problems solving, etc, they’ll be better off. 

Five Questions with Dr. Eric Dahlen

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on TumblrPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on RedditShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someone

Dr. Eric Dahlen is an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Southern Mississippi. He also directs their in-house training clinic, where he has set up an anger management program to serve community adults and college students, staff, and faculty.  He has a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from Colorado Sstate University and has been studying anger for about 13 years.  You can learn more about Dr. Dahlen at his website: 

1.  What motivated you to start studying anger in the first place?

When I started graduate school, I thought I wanted to study suicide. After completing my master’s thesis on the role of gender and context on attitudes toward suicidal behavior, I was ready for a change. I heard wonderful things about Dr. Jerry Deffenbacher from my peers, and so I approached him about working with him on anger. It turned out to be a great fit, both in terms of the subject and with him as a major professor. I credit him with sparking my interest in anger and cannot imagine a better mentor

2.  What would you say is the most important research you have done on anger?

I have certainly enjoyed my work on mapping the correlates of general anger and driving anger. However, when I think about importance in terms of overall impact, I have a feeling that some of my most recent work on enhancing treatment motivation among anger management clients may prove to be among the most important. This is still in the early phases. We have developed and tested one brief motivational enhancement intervention aimed at college students. Initial results were promising, but more extensive tests are needed. We have also been working on a similar approach for community adults. My hope is that we will eventually be able to provide clinicians with a 1-2 session approach, suitable for individual or group delivery, that will help engage clients and reduce attrition.

3.  What do you think are the most important questions that anger researchers have yet to answer?

There are many important ones that remain unanswered, and I suppose that it part of the appeal in working on anger. One that I have been thinking about lately concerns prevention. We have learned a great deal about the treatment of clinically dysfunctional anger over the past 20 years, but information about prevention and early intervention strategies is scarce. So many of the clients we see in anger management do not enter treatment until they have experienced many negative consequences of their anger, some of which are irreversible. I am intrigued by the possibility of helping people enter treatment earlier, as well as trying to prevent problem anger from developing in the first place.

4.  What do you think are some of the most common misconceptions about anger?

There are many misconceptions about anger, not only among the general public but also among those in the helping professions who really should know better. The two I encounter most often concern gender differences and the catharsis myth.

Many people seem to be convinced that anger is primarily a male problem and that women do not experience dysfunctional anger. In part, this misconception is likely based on a failure to clearly distinguish between anger and aggression, but I see it result in anger problems being minimized in women. Research shows that women and men do not differ in the propensity to experience angry feelings and that any differences in how they express anger tend to be quite small. I think it is important to recognize that problem anger can lead to the same problems for women as it does for men and that women are every bit as deserving of effective treatments.

The catharsis myth refers to the belief, unfortunately popular among some in the helping professions, that anger must be vented. Poorly informed therapists ask their clients to punch pillows, hit objects with foam-covered bats, and the like. Not only is this approach based on outdated theories of the human mind, but there is considerable evidence that such methods may make the anger worse and increase the likelihood of aggressive behavior. Based on the potential for harm here, I think this is a particularly important misconception about which we should work to educate the public.

5.  If there was one thing you would like people to understand about anger, what would it be?

I think it is important for people to understand that anger is a normal emotion that is not something we should seek to abolish. At mild to moderate levels, anger can be quite advantageous. It alerts us to problems in our environment and facilitates important forms of social communication. It is important to think about anger management as a process of empowering people to gain greater control over their anger and not as a way to eliminate angry feelings.