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1 COMPARATIVE ? ama Volume 25Fall 1991Number 3 Psychological Aspects of the Expression of Anger and Violence on the Stage Vladimir J. Konecni Since the publication of Charles Darwin's The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals in 1872 and William James' Psychology in 1890,1 there has been a steady accumulation of experimental evidence regarding the perception and expression of emotion. It can safely be said that "emotion," along with "mind" and "behavior," stands as one of the three central concepts of psychology. It is also a concept that may be located at the intersect of a large number of psychological subdisciplines, including: social psychology (in terms of the communication of emotions and their origin in social situations); psychophysiology (in terms, for example, of electromyographic recording of facial muscle movements and the measurement of autonomic arousal—heart rate, blood pressure, galvanic skin response, etc.); ethology and the psychology of learning (in terms of the biologically important behaviors mediated by acute, pronounced emotional states); cognitive psychology (in terms of the importance of interpretation and other cognitive operations in the appraisal of the meaning of emotion-relevant situations as well VLADIMIR J. KONECNI is Professor of Psychology at the University of California , San Diego (La Jolla). His research specialties include psycho-aesthetics (music, visual arts, theater), human emotional and aggressive behavior, and the psychology of legal decision-making. 215 216Comparative Drama as of the evaluation of internal cues one carries out when deciding which emotion, if any, one is experiencing) ; developmental psychology (in terms of parent-infant bonding and teaching of prosocial emotions as one of the key goals of socialization); and clinical psychology (in terms of maladaptive emotional states such as irrational fears, manic-depressive states, and so on). Where there is powerful emotion in real life and in the theater, there is often anger; where there is anger, there is often violence. There is no doubt that of all the basic emotions, anger has been studied the most extensively. According to modern researchers,^ anger has many functions, not all of which are anti-social or undesirable (Seneca notwithstanding3 ) , but the fascination it holds lies in its being a universally acknowledged precursor of aggressive, destructive, and violent actions. The experimental literature on human aggressive and violent behavior (much of it with some connection to anger) is even larger than that on anger alone. By a conservative estimate there were within the field of social psychology alone more than eight hundred published experimental studies in the last fifty years (since the publication in 1939 of the seminal book Frustration and Aggression by Dollard, Doob, Miller, Mowrer, and Sears4). This is not surprising when one considers the tremendous socio-political, psychological, and biological importance of aggression and violence in individual and family relations, crime, and war. For the same reasons, the theater has been preoccupied with every conceivable form of anger and violence, both thematically and theoretically. Indeed, the issue of emotion has been variously implicated in the tenets of some of the most influential twentieth-century theories of the theater and acting technique, specifically Stanislavski's "system" and Brecht's "epic theater." Finally, just as the principal goal of psychological theorizing (based on laboratory results obtained from human research participants) is to understand the social behavior of ordinary people in everyday life, so discussions of playwriting, directorial, design, and acting techniques ultimately will only acquire a concrete meaning in relation to audience reactions. Psychological studies of anger and aggression may help to understand and predict audience behavior in response to stage portrayals of such events. Vladimir J. Konecni217 In this paper, I will first outline a theoretical model of emotional (especially anger) "episodes" in everyday life—a model based on the current psychological thinking and research. The contrasting treatments in Stanislavski's system and Brecht's epic theater of the relations between the actors' experience and portrayal of emotions and the processes of audience empathy and identification will then be described. In the following section, the classical as well as the modern psychological views of die concept of catharsis and its relationship to die expression of violence will be explored. Finally, the implications of the current psychological evidence for an understanding...


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