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Catharsis Theory

Sonja Glaab

Subject Communication Reception and Effects » Media and Violence, Media Effects Theories

People Freud, Sigmund

Key-Topics violence

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405131995.2008.x


Catharsis theory has played an important role in the discussion about the effects of violence in the mass media for many years (→  Violence as Media Content, Effects of ). The term “catharsis” is derived from the Greek katharsis which means cleansing, purging, or purification. In the form the theory is used in communication research, it implies that the execution of an aggressive action under certain conditions diminishes the aggressive drive and therefore reduces the likelihood of further aggressive actions. The crucial point in catharsis theory is that the observed aggressive action does not necessarily need to be executed in reality – it can instead take place in the actor's fantasy or in the media (symbolic catharsis). Seymour Feshbach, key proponent of the catharsis theory in communication research, distinguishes between three conceptions of catharsis: the Dramatic, the Clinical, and the Experimental models. The Dramatic model goes back to Aristotle who used the term “catharsis” in his Poetics to describe an effect of the Greek tragedy on its spectator: by viewing tragic plays the spectator's own anxieties are put outward and purged in a socially harmless way. The spectator is released from negative feelings such as fear or anger. Aristotle's definition of catharsis is not precise and therefore was interpreted in various ways. The Clinical model is based on the work of ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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