The Not-So-Cathartic Effects of Roller Derby

If people have known me from a young age, they are not surprised to find out I play roller derby. Growing up, I was always into sports and trying out new and crazy things. However, when people I don’t know very well find out I play roller derby, they sometimes react with surprise. I’ve been told several times that I seem too nice to play derby. As I hypothetically roll my eyes, I usually respond with something like, “well, roller derby helps me get out all of my pent up anger.” Or sometimes the person I’m talking to will come to that same conclusion – “you’re so calm, I suppose you must release all of your anger on the track.”

This idea of “getting out” your anger/frustration is called the “catharsis hypothesis” and has been around for a long time (the word “catharsis” was created by Aristotle, and then later applied to psychology by Freud and colleagues). One common definition of catharsis is, “The process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions.” (Oxford Dictionaries  Online).

While I occasionally use this as a reason why I just seem so nice even though I play derby (ugh), I know some people feel as though hitting hard in roller derby does actually help them release frustration and anger.  However, I have some bad news…

Research has not only failed to show that catharsis is real, it has actually shown that using aggressive behavior to release frustrations and anger can actually lead to MORE aggressive behavior – not less (Gentile 2013; Bennett 1991; Bushman 1999; Bushman 2002).

So every time you think that roller derby is helping you release all of your pent-up aggression or frustration, it might actually be doing the opposite. It not only increases your stress level, it forms a habit of aggressive behavior that can lead to even more aggressive tendencies in other areas of your life. It is true that you may feel better or more relaxed after “releasing some anger” at roller derby practice, but this is more likely due to your body being tired from fighting the increased heart rate and stress levels that anger causes (Gentile 2013).  Your feelings of relief and relaxation could also be due to general engagement in physical activity which helps alleviate depression, anxiety, and physiological reactions to stress (no matter how hard you hit someone).

So if you feel like you have anger and frustration that you are trying to overcome with roller derby, it might be wise to start adding other non-aggressive relaxation tools such as mediation or therapy. In addition, playing angry might actually increase the stress on your body, limit your ability to focus, and decrease your performance. So take a deep breath, center your mind, and THEN hit hard!

Bennett, J.C. (1991). The Irrationality of the Catharsis Theory of Aggression as Justification for Educators’ Support of Interscholastic Football. Perceptual and Motor Skills. 72(2):415-8.
Bushman, B.J., Baumeister, R.F., and Stack, A.D. (1999). Catharsis, Aggression, and Persuasive Influence:  Self-Fulfilling or Self-Defeating Prophecies? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 76(3):367-376.
Bushman, B.J. (2002). Does Venting Anger Feed or Extinguish the Flame?  Catharsis, Rumination, Distraction, Anger, and Aggressive Responding. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 28(6):724-731.
‘Catharsis’ Oxford Dictionaries Online. Oxford University Press.
Gentile, D.A. (2013). Catharsis and Media Violence: A Conceptual Analysis. Societies. 3(4): 491-510.

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One Response to The Not-So-Cathartic Effects of Roller Derby

  1. Pingback: Best Articles for/about Roller Derby {June 19th, 2016} - Iron Octopus Fitness

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