Do stress balls (those things you squeeze that claim to reduce stress) show any efficacy?

For example: HealthGuidance

The simple act of squeezing something in your hand can help you ease a few of your concerns, release some built-up tension, and make you feel like you are at least doing something rather than brooding upon everything that has you down. [...] Used properly, stress balls can have a very beneficial effect on your mind and body.

I've tried a stress ball before and have personally not found it to work very well, yet there is a widely held belief that these products reduce stress by letting you squeeze something.

EDIT: I am interested in the kind of stress that does not relate to anger,even though this is also interesting.

  • Some notability references: healthguidance.org/entry/4756/1/… byestress.com/byestress-articles/stress-relief-balls.htm
    – Jamiec
    Commented Jul 26, 2012 at 10:12
  • 8
    I submit you are using them wrong... have you tried throwing them at the source of your stress? :)
    – Chad
    Commented Jul 26, 2012 at 13:28
  • Aren't you referring to stress grenades @Chad? :)
    – Tjaart
    Commented Jul 26, 2012 at 13:47
  • Physical or mental stress? If my hands are stressed to the point my muscles cramp up (arthritic complaints) squeezing a stressball (or something similar) can give relief. When I'm angry at something, throwing one can be substitute for causing physical harm to that person or item (throwing one at your computer screen doesn't hurt the screen, throwing a brick does...).
    – jwenting
    Commented Feb 14, 2014 at 14:30
  • Mental stress. Sorry. I thought it was obvious from the quote in the question.
    – Tjaart
    Commented Feb 17, 2014 at 11:03

1 Answer 1


“Venting” frustration in cathartic gestures like abusing stress balls only makes it worse. From Bushman, Baumeister, and Stack (1999):

Contrary to the catharsis hypothesis... people who read the procatharsis message and then hit the punching bag were subsequently more aggressive than were people who read the anticatharsis message.

Our findings suggest that media messages advocating catharsis may be worse than useless. They encourage people to vent their anger through aggressive action, and perhaps even foster the displacement of aggression toward new, innocent third parties.

More on Bushman's experiments:

The people in both groups were told they were going to have to compete against the person who [angered them]. One group first had to punch a bag, and the other group had to sit and wait for two minutes.

After the punching and waiting, the competition began.

The game was simple, press a button as fast as you can. If you lose, you get blasted with a horrible noise. When you win, blast your opponent. They could set the volume the other person had to endure, a setting between zero and 10 with 10 being 105 decibels.

Can you predict what they discovered?

On average, the punching bag group set the volume as high as 8.5. The timeout group set it to 2.47.

The people who got angry didn't release their anger on the punching bag, it was sustained by it. The group which cooled off lost their desire for vengeance.

In subsequent studies where the subjects chose how much hot sauce the other person had to eat, the punching bag group piled it on. The cooled off group did not.

When the punching bag group later did word puzzles where they had to fill in the blanks to words like ch_ _e, they were more likely to pick choke instead of chase.

Bushman has been doing this research for a while, and it keeps turning up the same results.

  • 3
    +1 Nice post, I just have a minor criticism. It seems like stress balls are more like having "to sit and wait for two minutes" than punching a bag. One involves a forceful violent activity and the other is more a gesture. But the hot sauce test you mention in passing sounds a little closer. I get the point that the researcher has studied this in a variety of formats. I just think a comparison of different pro-catharsis vs anti-catharsis methods would be more convincing. Commented Jul 28, 2012 at 15:07
  • 1
    Stress balls can probably be used to vent anger, but my question relates to reducing stress, kinda like the stress when you realise you cant pay your bills or your boss has given you an unrealistic deadline.
    – Tjaart
    Commented Jul 30, 2012 at 7:39
  • 1
    -1 The answer is good, but not for this question. Had the question been: "is venting your anger on an inanimate object a good way to reduce your anger levels" then i'd upvote it (might be worth asking that question!). Stress balls are more usually about a distracting activity, not a venting activity.
    – matt_black
    Commented Jul 30, 2012 at 8:08
  • @Tjaart - That is not the question you asked originally asked though. You asked if they work in all conditions, so finding a condition where it fails is a way to show failure. Also if it does not help you then it does not matter if it helps 8.4 billion other people.
    – Chad
    Commented Jul 30, 2012 at 15:13
  • @Chad. Point taken. However I fixed the question and am interested in whether it works for stresses unrelated to anger. I don't understand your last sentence either.
    – Tjaart
    Commented Aug 7, 2012 at 14:17

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