Stress and Punching Objects

Perhaps you've seen this technique in a comedy movie. A person is very stressed out. They start punching a pillow - or perhaps they punch a punching bag. Whatever they punch, they keep punching it, envisioning that they are harming whoever they are upset with. When they are done, they now say they feel much better.

Is punching a punching bag or pillow really a good idea for long term stress relief?

In a study in the 1999 issue of Journal of Personality and Social Psychology a team from Case Western did research on the pillow punching issue. In the study, a group of students was caused to be angry by an off-screen person. Some of the students then were told to punch a bag. Later, all of the students were asked to noise-blast that same off-screen person during a question-and-answer session. The students who punched the bag were much more eager to noise-blast their partners. The punching bag session increased their levels of aggression.

There was another study which I can't track down the credentials for right now - it was something I read about during my sociology class. The study also involved punching, this time with punching being set against journaling as a stress-coping technique. Here's what the study did.

The group of students were each exposed to an angry situation. They were then sent off to a next task. Some students were asked to punch a pillow for a while. The other students were told to journal for a while (i.e. write down their feelings). After that, all the students were asked to do word puzzles. The word puzzles looked something like this:

R A __ E

They were given blanks to fill in to make words. So the students didn't know this was about stress. They just thought it was a series of things they were doing.

The students punched the bag tended to be very aggressive with their word choices. They would fill in the above word as RAPE.

The students who journaled were much more likely to be neutral. They would choose a word like RAKE.

So the punching of the pillow made the students more aggressive - it did not help defuse the anger levels.

In addition, if someone learns that they should punch things when they get angry, and that is their best way of coping, what does this mean if they're in a situation without a bag or a pillow? What if the nearest thing is a person to punch? That doesn't seem like a good idea to me. A coping technique should help to *release* the anger and aggression - not to build it up or to cause harm to others.

I have a ton of ideas right here on this site for non-punching alternatives!

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