“I just needed to blow-off some steam” or “I just had to get that out of my system” are a few of the excuses that a person may give right after yelling at someone, punching the wall, or shooting down a platoon of enemy soldiers in a video game. Some go further to claim that they feel much better as a result. The notion that a person can rid himself or herself of negative emotions by acting aggressively, or witnessing violent acts in film or video games, has been a focus of popular psychologists for several decades. The relief that could come from “blowing off steam” is often called cathartic relief, and it is said to be good for you.

There has been little direct scientific ...

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