Should you unleash your inner rage smashing things?
Is Rage Room the new kind of Anger Management?
If the concept of “escape rooms” (i.e. the all trendy outlet for creative problem solving and teamwork) rings a bell with you, chances are, you’ve also heard of “rage rooms”. With the growth of “anger rooms” around the world, here at home, we’ve also witnessed a number of smash houses popping up all over as an outlet of frustration.
The approach behind the rage room is very clear-cut: it offers a place to go for people who are feeling the impulse of becoming physically violent by taking out their frustrations and anger on breakable items. Yes, this includes smashing bottles, cups, keyboards, computer monitors and many other second-hand goods with baseball bats – all in the promise of releasing built-up stress and unleashing inner frustrations.
While blowing off steam does it make many people feel better at the moment, many also wonder if these rooms play a role as a healthy stress management strategy or effective for anger management in the long run?
To date, there isn’t yet much conclusive research on whether rage rooms play a beneficial role in stress and anger management, considering these places are relatively new. Nonetheless, the idea behind “unleashing your inner hulk” has been around for a long while.
Coined as the catharsis theory of aggression, it posits that if people are able to vent or act on their frustrations and anger, it will decrease anger and the impulses that come along with it. Dating back to ancient Greek (in which the term catharsis originated), it is initially regarded as a form of emotional cleansing when people experience tragic events through the characters in a play as their own negative feelings were seemingly purged in return. (1)
Sigmund Freud also echoes an equal sentiment through his theory of The Hydraulic Model. He believed that the act of expressing or venting out hostility to be a better alternative than bottling it up from within. Similar to a hydraulic pressure in a confined environment, these frustrations will lead to anger and the anger, in turn, will continue to build up within an individual until it can be released. (1)
How can they help you?
However, the theory of aggression as a “pressure cooker” model of human behavior has also long been debunked by research. One study that was conducted in 1959 offered some subjects the opportunity to hit nails with hammers for ten minutes as a way to lower their anger levels after being insulted, while other subjects were assigned to wait for ten minutes without a physical means to manage their anger. Contrary to what the catharsis theory would lead us to expect, the result revealed that subjects who hit the nails were actually angrier and now more willing to vent the anger to another person than subjects who were sitting quietly. (1)
How exactly does aggression lead to more aggression?
A study conducted by Schaefer & Mattei in 2005 shared some glimpses of the answer. Their results found that adults who enable and advocate their children’s release of aggression in play are also more likely to maintain the subsequent aggression or even increase it. (2) This is in line with Bandura’s Social Learning Theory that when aggressiveness is learned, it must be actively inhibited.
In other words, aggression when encouraged and practiced as a way to manage frustration, will most likely result in a similar behavior in the future. Since throwing up dishes against a wall is learned as a reward with instant pleasure to distressed feelings of frustration, you’re also more likely to repeat such a behavior in the future, as a result of conditioning and reinforcement.
While rage rooms can be a fun and novel activity to experience, there’s a fine line to thread between letting loose and engaging in a peculiar experience versus utilizing it as an outlet to express frustration and anger. With most experts in Psychology agreeing on the short term relief of rage room while cautioning on the possibility of reinforcing a maladaptive coping behavior, some also suggested avoiding experiences in the rage room that could be a trigger for angry outburst (e.g. personal items of ex-partner). (3)
In a nutshell, for people who struggle with mental health problems related to anger and violence, addressing the underlying root of anger or learning more adaptive ways to manage their frustrations through therapy is still the healthiest way to go.