Should You Book an Appointment in a Rage Room to Cool Your Anger?

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Should You Book an Appointment in a Rage Room to Cool Your Anger?

Jim Windell

          The ad for the rage room was intriguing:

               YOU SMASH IT, WE'LL TRASH IT – because we don't just cater to your destructive desires; we fuel them, turning anger management into a wild, heart-pounding experience that will leave you breathless.

               Your mission: annihilate without inhibition, and we'll ensure your safety with a level of protection that matches the intensity of your rage.

            Wow! Instead of breaking plates at home, punching pillows or kicking the dog, you can go to a specially designed room and vent your anger by smashing bottles, plates and God only knows what else. You can release your anger and be a mild-mannered psychologist again. Sounds ideal for getting rid of your pent-up anger, right?

             There’s only one slight problem. It may make things worse – not better.

           Researchers at The Ohio State University analyzed over 150 studies involving more than 10,000 participants and found that what really works to reduce anger is lowering physiological arousal – in other words, turning down the heat. Activities that increased arousal overall had no effect on anger, and some activities made it worse – particularly jogging. 

           “I think it’s really important to bust the myth that if you’re angry you should blow off steam – get it off your chest,” says senior author Brad Bushman, professor of communication at OSU. “Venting anger might sound like a good idea, but there’s not a shred of scientific evidence to support catharsis theory.

           The study, recently published in the journal Clinical Psychology Review, was led by first author Sophie Kjaervik, who completed the review for her Ohio State dissertation. Now a postdoctoral fellow at Virginia Commonwealth University, Kjaervik said the work was inspired in part by the rising popularity of rage rooms that promote smashing things to work through angry feelings. 

           “I wanted to debunk the whole theory of expressing anger as a way of coping with it,” Kjaervik says. “We wanted to show that reducing arousal, and actually the physiological aspect of it, is really important.” 

           The meta-analytic review was based on 154 studies involving 10,189 participants of different genders, races, ages and cultures. The study selection and analysis were guided by the Schachter-Singer two-factor theory, which assumes that all emotions, including anger, consist of physiological arousal and mental meanings. To get rid of anger, you can work on either of those. Several previous meta-analytic reviews have focused on changing mental meanings using cognitive behavioral therapy, which works. However, Kjaervik and Bushman said a meta-analytic review on the role of arousal would fill an important gap in understanding how to resolve anger. Their analysis focused on examining both arousal-increasing activities (e.g., hitting a bag, jogging, cycling, swimming) and arousal-decreasing activities (e.g., deep breathing, mindfulness, meditation, yoga). 

           Results showed that arousal-decreasing activities were effective at fending off the fury in labs and field settings, using digital platforms or in-person instruction, and in group and individual sessions across multiple populations: college students and non-students, people with and without a criminal history, and individuals with and without intellectual disabilities. Arousal-decreasing activities that were effective at lowering anger across the board included deep breathing, relaxation, mindfulness, meditation, slow flow yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, diaphragmic breathing and taking a timeout. 

           “It was really interesting to see that progressive muscle relaxation and just relaxation in general might be as effective as approaches such as mindfulness and meditation,” Kjaervik said. “And yoga, which can be more arousing than meditation and mindfulness, is still a way of calming and focusing on your breath that has a similar effect in reducing anger. Obviously in today’s society, we’re all dealing with a lot of stress, and we need ways of coping with that, too. Showing that the same strategies that work for stress actually also work for anger is beneficial.” 

           The researchers also found that activities that increased arousal were generally ineffective, but also produced a complex range of outcomes. Jogging was the most likely to increase anger, while physical education classes and playing ball sports had an arousal-decreasing effect – suggesting to the researchers that introducing an element of play into physical activity may at least increase positive emotions or counteract negative feelings. 

           To read the original article, find it with this reference:

Kjærvik, S. L., & Bushman, B. J. (2024). A meta-analytic review of anger management activities that increase or decrease arousal: What fuels or douses rage? Clinical Psychology Review, 102414.







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