Catharsis

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What is Catharsis?

Aggressive catharsis is the phenomenon by which aggressive feelings, motives, and impulses are supposedly “drained off” and “vented” through violent actions.

Does Catharsis reduce aggression?

Research in general has shown that catharsis in the context of aggression does not reduce negative affect or aggressive feelings. Although the idea of catharsis dates back to ancient Greece, was advocated by Freud and is widely accepted in the mass media and American culture, (Geen and Quanty in 1977) reviewed considerable evidence that the theory of catharsis is empirically false. In the assigned Bushman, et al article on catharsis, the author’s characterize the catharsis theory as “largely discredited” and “incorrect”. In the actual studies within said article, Bushman et al shows that catharsis does not reduce subsequent aggression even if the subject believes that it will, although it may sometimes elicit some positive feelings. Bushman also brings up one of his past studies (1999), which showed that subjects who hit a punching bag did report pleasure from the activity, but they proceeded to aggress towards the confederate even more than those who did not do the “catharsis” activity.

Does Catharsis reduce arousal?

Aggressing does appear to reduce the subject’s level of arousal, but does not lower the likelihood of future aggression and in fact raises that likelihood. Potential mediators in the aggressive catharsis phenomenon include people’s expectation of mood repair (in the Bushman article we read), priming, appraisal/attribution (when people blame their feelings on the target) and satiation (which explains why arousal is reduced after aggression).


What is the difference between Symbolic and Physical catharsis?

Catharsis can take the form of symbolic catharsis, whereby an angry subject is exposed to aggression carried out by others, or physical catharsis, whereby the angry subject is given the opportunity to attack either the provoker of some substitute. A study by (Feshbach 1961) did find that males who had been provoked and then watched a prize fight (symbolic catharsis) were less hostile than those who had not watched the fight. However, many alternative explanations for these results have been proposed, such as the possibility that the since the film lacked an introduction justifying the aggression, it may have increased the subjects restraints against aggressing. Another explanation comes from an experiment by Zillmann which showed the same fight, but it was edited to have one of two conclusions: a happy ending or a disappointing ending. In Zillmann’s study, aggression was only reduced when the subject’s saw the happy ending (the same one as used by Feshbach), which Zillmann concluded meant that Feshbach’s results were the result of the happy ending eliciting positive affect.

What Moderates catharsis effects?

Potential moderators include individual differences (including genetic heritage, past learning, and cognitive factors), subjective importance and intensity of the provocation, and the social environment within which it occurred, intensity of affect, fear of disapproval or punishment, and the salience of inhibitions against violence.



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