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Japanese Scientists Discover an Ingeniously Simple Method to Eliminate Anger

The technique helps to explain the cathartic nature of hakidashisara—a Japanese festival where one writes frustrations on plates and smashes them.

What if there was a surefire way to keep yourself from flying off the handle the next time something (or someone) made you mad—a secret weapon for crushing anger before it consumed you?

According to Japanese scientists, that secret weapon might be as simple as a pen and paper.

The researchers discovered that writing down our feelings and discarding the paper afterward can effectively neutralize anger. This simple technique could give us the power to manage our emotions.

The Study Findings

The findings, published in Scientific Reports, culminated from extensive previous research investigating the association between the written word and reducing anger. They built on work demonstrating how interactions with physical objects can affect a person’s mood.

“We expected that our method would suppress anger to some extent,” Nobuyuki Kawai, the study’s lead researcher, said in a press release. “However, we were amazed that anger was eliminated almost entirely.”

The researchers began by infuriating their subjects—intentionally.

Mr. Kawai and his graduate student, Yuta Kanaya, at the Graduate School of Informatics, Nagoya University, asked participants to write down their opinions about social issues, like whether smoking should be permitted in public schools. Then, they were told a doctoral student from Nagoya University would evaluate their answers.

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However, the research team instructed the doctoral students doing the evaluations to score the responses low on intelligence, interest, friendliness, and logic—regardless of what the students wrote. To add insult to injury, the doctoral students also wrote the same disparaging comment on each—“I cannot believe an educated person would think like this. I hope this person learns something while at the university.” Ouch.

Sufficiently irritated, the insulted students were asked to write down their thoughts about the feedback they received, focusing on what triggered their feelings. They were then instructed to do one of four things with their papers:

  • Put it on their desk.
  • Put it in a plastic box.
  • Throw it away.
  • Put it through a shredder.

After the exercise, students rated their level of anger after being insulted and then either keeping or discarding the paper.

All the students were understandably annoyed after receiving the negative feedback; however, those who discarded their papers, either by throwing them away or shredding them, returned to baseline—or how they felt before the exercise. The students who held on to their papers didn’t fare as well, experiencing only a mild reduction in their overall anger.

Study Insights

The findings have far-reaching implications, as uncontrolled anger can have destructive consequences in all aspects of our lives.

A good example is in the workplace.

Think of a time at work when you had a frustrating interaction with a colleague or manager. Instead of trying to contain your anger to stop yourself from launching a stapler across the room, you could calmly excuse yourself, return to your desk, and detail your feelings on the nearest post-it note. Then, tear it up into one billion pieces to help yourself restabilize.

The applications are practically limitless.

The study findings also help to explain the Japanese cultural tradition of hakidashisara (hakidashi means to purge or spit out, and sara means dish or plate)—an annual festival held at the Hiyoshi shrine in Kiyosu—just outside of Nagoya. During the festival, people write down their frustrations on small plates and smash them, which reportedly gives them a feeling of relief.

Final Thoughts

While meditation, breathing techniques, and talk therapy can help us process emotions in the long term, the study findings provide a simple, effective, science-based strategy for quelling anger in the moment—before it can take over and potentially lead to problems.

So, the next time you find yourself frustrated at work, reading through comments on social media, or even just watching the news, ensure you have a pen and paper handy—you never know when you might need them.

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