Article Summary: Guns Automatically Prime Aggressive Thoughts, Regardless of Whether a “Good Guy” or “Bad Guy” Holds the Gun
Leonard Berkowitz and Anthony LePage carried out a study investigate whether seeing a gun could provoke aggression. The participants in the study were college students of the male gender who were paired up with a partner who happened to be an accessory. They would evaluate each other’s reaction based on electric shocks ranked from 1 to 10. As part of the experiments, items such as guns and tennis racquets would be left on the table while for the control group there were no items on the table. It was shown that the observer who saw the guns exhibited more aggressive thoughts compared to the others, demonstrating the weapons effect. This reaction is based on the cognitive neoassociation theory which explains that seeing a weapon can activate aggression because firearms are associated with aggression in our memories. Another approach to explain this phenomenon is the social priming theory that reveals that a person interprets ambiguous concepts based on available information.
The study aimed to test the effect of contextual factors on the weapons effect. Does it matter whether the guy holding a weapon is a bad guy or a good guy? (Bushman 728).Studies show that hunting rifles do not trigger hunters because they distinguish that they are used on non-human targets while nonhunters cannot make this distinction. In the first experiment, participants were exposed to pictures of either criminals wielding guns or police and military personnel armed with guns. The police were dressed in military gear as well as in their regular equipment. There were also pictures of plainclothes officers without firearms. Forty-seven men and 47 women took part in this experiment. They were given word fragments to complete as fast as possible afterward. The race and gender of the participants had no influence on the results. Participants who saw pictures with guns showed a higher level of aggressive thoughts that those who saw pictures without guns. It did not count whether the weapons were carried by criminals or police or military.
The second experiment was a replication of the first with the guns used to shoot at human targets. A different condition of Olympians shooting and nonhuman targets were included. The experiment was online with 672 adult participants of diverse backgrounds (Bushman 730). The participants had less aggressive thoughts when they saw pictures of the Olympians with guns as compared to images of criminals, soldiers, and police armed with guns. The aggressive thoughts were similar between pictures of Olympians with weapons and plainclothes officers without guns. As in experiment 1, race and gender did not affect the results. The results of the two experiments are the same, with the addition that the images of Olympians with guns did not stir up aggressive thoughts. This is because the Olympians were known to be shooting at inanimate objects.
The results of the two experiments are consistent with both social priming theory as well as the cognitive neoassociation theory. The participants had different thoughts depending on whether the weapons were used on human or nonhuman targets (Bushman 733). Guns with human targets trigger aggressive thoughts while those on inanimate objects do not. The significance of these findings is practical. The United States has a large number of guns among its citizens. Hence, the large number of weapons can trigger the weapons effect resulting in more aggressive thoughts. This is important in the debate about gun violence. Even if the good guy is the one holding the gun, the picture still triggered aggressive thoughts. The main challenge in the experiment was that it was difficult to measure the aggressive behavior of the participants because the analysis was done online. The findings of the two experiments are practical both in the real and the virtual world.
Bushman, Brad J. “Guns automatically prime aggressive thoughts, regardless of whether a “good guy” or “bad guy” holds the gun.” Social Psychological and Personality Science9.6 (2018): 727-733.