Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Does bottling up your emotions make you more likely to be hostile? This article in clinically psyched proves just that. The study conducted by Todd Maddox, Kathleen Vohs and Brian Glass was collaborative research done at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Minnesota. It was done in order to find ways for people in stressful professions cope better from long hours on the job. Subjects ranged from regular college students to those in military academies. (abstract)

Two films “The Meaning of Life” and “Trainspotting” were the material. Two focus groups were observationally studied. One was asked to show no emotions during a sequence of violent scenes and another could react normally. There was an additional coefficient in the mix being a group kept up for 24 hours to see if exhaustion would amplify hostility. If you are familiar with either or both movies you know how grotesque some of the actions are and how you reacted the first time you saw them.

The study found that the subjects who were not allowed to react during the scenes were more aggressive after the test. The “ego depletion effect” was proved to be supported from this study as it was found that those “who keep their emotions bottled up” are more likely to turn around and act out of turn later on. Additionally it was found exhaustion does not increase hostility. I think it is interesting that as a society we are expected to keep aggressive feelings in and are then expected to not overreact under any circumstance.

The subjects were all place in a hypothetical computerized competition where they could blast there supposed opponent with noise. Those who could not react used this time to let loose and had higher average noise levels.


  1. I do believe that bottling up emotions does make people more hostile. According to our textbook on pg. 518, Type A personalities are people are more prone to be angrier under stress. Thus, when these people are under stress, they are like a time bomb about to explode. In this case, if these people hold in their emotions, they are probably more likely to act out later. Expressing feelings and letting them out, helps deal with stress and future outbursts. Some people may let their emotions go by confiding in church through confessionals. Other people may let their anger and frustrations out through video games. Though it is not a physical way of doing harm, they let their hostility out through virtual reality. However, the downside to this is that letting feelings out in a violent video game, may lead to more built up and violent behavior.
    Talking about feelings help sort out one’s problems, and help one reflect on themselves. To let our emotions out, we allow ourselves to let things go, and move on in our lives. If we do not talk about our feelings, the bottled up emotions can be deadly. This is now seen in Japan. After the tsunami and earthquake occurred, Japan was left in ruins with many survivors’ loved ones gone. Thus, there has been an increase in suicides (http://articles.latimes.com/2011/apr/24/world/la-fg-japan-suicides-20110424); one reason that these people do not confide in someone to talk to.

  2. How do we know if some people were born to be more aggressive or not though? There has been a long-standing debate of whether aggression is genetically inherited or from biological characteristics presented at birth. (In the textbook under the Aggression chapter, the section's called Nature Versus Nurture.)
    I think bottling up your emotions and having negative stimuli can definitely increase aggression. Leonard Berkowitz's (1989) reformulated Frustration-Aggression Theory says that negative feelings can trigger aggression. Frustrating experiences added to negative feelings and stimuli can definitely increase aggression. (Baumeister et al,. 2000; Berkowitz, 1998; etc.) So it could be possible that the subjects were already having frustrations and negative thoughts in their lives and the movie clips and the video game just acted as negative stimuli and caused a more aggressive behavior.

  3. The textbook notes that "the suppression of unwanted thoughts from awareness can also have a peculiar, paradoxical effect." (529) Daniel Wegner studied that people told not to think of a white bear in fact did. Furthermore, "those who had earlier tried to suppress the image were unusually preoccupied with it, providing evidence of a rebound effect" (529). This study seems to parallel the aggression study. Those told that they couldn't react were obsessed with trying not to react and thus possibly became more aggressive. In addition, those not reacting may have expressing emotions with body language. In studies questioning Darwin's beliefs, it has shown that angry faces arouse us and cause us to frown even when presented subliminally and without our awareness (Kassin, pg. 98).

    Those that may bottle up emotions, may be in fact bottling them up because they do not know how to express them properly. It has been said to wait a while to "cool off" after something instills anger to avoid flying off the handle. Waiting to address a situation may be perceived as bottling it up. However, thinking it through is helpful to ensure the expression of emotion is appropriate and effective. At the same time, thinking it through allows a one sided argument to be built without giving the other party a chance to explain. At that point it all becomes a question of balance.

  4. I found an interesting article (Berkowitz, 1973) that found that among boys allowed to vent their aggressions with toys in a group setting, those who had initially been less inclined toward aggressive behavior showed more hostility later as an apparent result of playing alongside the more aggressive boys. I realize that this is a study on children and not adults, which might change some things, but I think it's interesting to consider what happens outside of the controlled environment in which the study was done. This way we can look at what increases aggression immediately and what increases it longer term. Because these people were in a group, this suggests the results would have been different if they were studied separately.

  5. As I was reading a different social psychology textbook (Social Psychology and the Human Nature by Roy F. Baumeister & Brad J. Bushman, 2nd Edition), I found a few interesting points. After reading these posts about how bottling up emotions may make one more hostile and even create more long term effects such as increasing the risk of heart disease, the catharsis theory seems to be the immediate answer to such a problem. The catharsis theory is the "proposition that expressing negatives emotions produce a healthy release of those emotions and is therefore good for the psyche." (p173) However, studies done by Geen & Quanty (1977) shows that it tends to make people more aggressive and worsen interpersonal conflicts. Other studies have shown that venting anger is also linked to higher risk of heart disease (Lewis & Butcher, 1992; Rosenman & Chesney, 1982).

    If both expressing our anger and bottling up emotions can lead to unwanted end results, could the next question be "How do we properly manage our anger or even avoid the emotion as much as possible?"

  6. The one thing I find strange about this experiment is the selection in "disturbing" video clips intended to induce stress. While both the Trainspotting and Monty Python clips are vulgar and gross, they were originally intended, within the context of their respective films, to be darkly humorous. In order for this experiment to work it must be assumed that the only reaction a person would have to these movie scenes is repulsion when in fact some people might actually find these scenes humorous. Studies show that laughter has a positive effect on the cardiovascular system and over all physical health (Miller M, Fry W 2009). Perhaps the reason the group that was allowed to express themselves was less aggressive was due to the fact that they were allowed to laugh freely which could have an entirely different physiological effect than expressing disgust.