Writing and shredding notes can help relieve anger, Japanese study finds

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    12th April 2024 – (Tokyo) In the quest for effective anger management techniques, researchers in Japan have discovered that writing down negative feelings on paper and then shredding or discarding it can significantly reduce anger levels. The study, led by Nobuyuki Kawai from Nagoya University, found that this simple act of disposing of the written notes eliminated anger almost entirely.

    The research, published in Scientific Reports on Nature, builds upon previous studies linking the written word to anger reduction and the influence of physical objects on mood control. Burning letters or destroying gifts associated with negative emotions, such as revenge on an ex-partner, have shown similar effects.

    The phenomenon behind the success of shredding notes is believed to be “backward magical contagion,” where the removal of a negative physical entity, in this case, the piece of paper, causes the associated emotion to dissipate. This concept contrasts with “magical contagion” or “celebrity contagion,” where the essence of an individual is thought to transfer through their possessions.

    In the study, fifty participants were asked to write brief opinions on social problems, which were deliberately scored low and accompanied by insulting comments. The individuals then expressed their angry thoughts about the negative feedback on paper. One group was instructed to discard the paper by throwing it in a bin or shredding it, while the other group kept the notes. The anger levels of those who disposed of the paper quickly returned to their initial state, while those who retained the physical copy experienced only a slight decrease in anger.

    The researchers concluded that the act of disposal plays a crucial role in reducing anger, highlighting the significance of interpreting the meaning behind the action. Kawai suggested that this technique could be applied in real-time situations by writing down the source of anger as if taking a memo and then discarding it.

    Beyond its practical applications, this discovery may shed light on the Japanese cultural tradition of hakidashisara, where people smash small discs symbolising sources of anger. The study’s findings help explain the reported feelings of relief among participants after participating in the hakidashisara festival held at the Hiyoshi shrine in Kiyosu, near Nagoya.