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Purifying of the emotions; Release of emotional tension


A catharsis is an emotional release which is linked to a need to release unconscious conflicts. For example, rather than vent feelings inappropriately the individual may release these feelings through physical activity or another relieving activity.

Theoretical Background

Bergson (1911), among others, noted what might be an important aspect of pleasurable laughter, the need for detachment: “we do not laugh unless we are a bit detached.” This notion can be viewed as part of a larger one, the possibility of a combination of involvement and detachment. In turn, this idea can be part of an elaborated theory of catharsis that has never been tested.

Aristotle originated a theory of catharsis in the theater.

The function of tragedy is to accomplish a clarification (or illumination) through catharsis of pity and fear. (Nussbaum’s translation 1986, p. 391)

The idea of catharsis is currently in disrepute because Freud...

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Correspondence to Thomas J. Scheff .

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© 2012 Springer Science+Business Media, LLC

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Scheff, T.J. (2012). Catharsis Theory. In: Seel, N.M. (eds) Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning. Springer, Boston, MA.

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