Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Fehr, Karla


Multiple studies have supported the link between anger and aggression. It is not uncommon for anger to result in aggressive acts, especially in children still learning socially appropriate ways of coping. Furthermore, childhood aggression is typically viewed as a concerning act that should be reduced or eliminated. However, some research shows that within pretend play, aggression can be adaptive. Studies have supported the Mastery/Catharsis hypothesis, the theory that aggression in pretend play acts as a release of emotions and processing of events, by showing that children who exhibit more aggression within their pretend play exhibit less aggression outside of play. Pretend play has been proposed as an adaptive coping mechanism for children. Although the literature supports the role of pretend play in coping with anxiety, the role of play in coping with anger has not previously been evaluated. The current study used a pretest/posttest design to evaluate the relationships between anger and aggression in pretend play and the role of aggression in pretend play in regulating anger in preschool aged children. Mood was measured at three time points: baseline measure prior to play or mood induction (Time 1), measure after the mood induction (Time 2), and after the condition manipulation (Time 3). Baseline measures of pretend play were also collected prior to the mood induction for all children. After the mood induction, half the participants participated in a measure of pretend play and the other half watched an emotionally neutral 5-minute video. Measures of mood were then collected again. Given the strong relationship between anger and aggression, it was hypothesized that anger would increase aggression in pretend play. Furthermore, according to the Mastery/Catharsis hypothesis engaging in aggression in pretend play should reduce anger. Therefore, it was hypothesized that participants in the treatment condition, who engaged in pretend play, would show a greater reduction in anger than children in the control group, who watched a neutral video. Results indicated that the mood induction resulted in a worse mood than the baseline mood. Furthermore, children engaged in more aggression in pretend play after being angered than prior to being angered. Finally, there were no significant differences in mood scores at the end of the study between the treatment and control groups. The present study developed a novel, effective, and mild negative mood induction procedure for preschoolers. Additionally, it found a relationship between anger and aggression in pretend play in preschoolers. Although the present study did not find pretend play was more effective in improving mood that the control condition, future studies should evaluate this relationship further as there were several extraneous variables that were not controlled for (e.g., emotion regulation abilities).




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