We've often wondered: does a smart slap help someone "snap out of it"— or is it just unnecessarily violent? Luckily, someone's answered just that!
Yup, says Slate's Brian Palmer — it's a bad idea. First of all, there's the whole loaded question of "hysteria" — essentially a sexist 19th Century holdover. Nic aside, it's usually not men getting slapped — indeed, "hysteria" is rooted in the Green word for "uterus." Quoth the Explainer,
Slapping was a common response to so-called hysterical episodes in the 19th century. At that time, almost all women suffering from psychological problems like hallucinations, convulsions, sleep-walking, unexplained pains, or amnesia were diagnosed with some form of "hysteria," but researchers couldn't agree on what caused it. Some blamed syphilitic parents, others pointed to imbalances in the blood, and many just thought the women were faking illness to avoid their domestic obligations. Psychologists slapped their patients in the face, doused them with water, or suffocated them to snap them out of their stupors. An American physician named Silas Weir Mitchell put his patients in isolation and stuffed them with food until they gained 50 pounds. His theory was that the women would find their home lives joyous after escaping the treatment.
And if it's not "hysteria" — if it's the manifestation of a physical or psychological condition — well, smacking someone in the face isn't going to help that. While it's true that the shock of being hit might momentarily startle someone into silence, this isn't to say it's salutary — most people in this day and age just aren't conditioned to expect violence as a reaction to the venting of emotions.
The Lethal Weapon Guide To Psychiatry [Slate]