thisisablogaboutpsychology


Subconsciously pulling the trigger?

Research makes a convincing argument in favor of gun control.

In light of recent events [Actually, I have no clue when you'll be reading this, I'm just assuming something related to guns and violence recently occurred], gun control has once again grabbed headlines around the United States. Regardless of your stance, you can’t deny that the research in this arena is interesting.

Psychologists have long studied the relationship between guns and aggression. Back in the 1960’s, Leonard Berkowitz and Anthony LePage published an article claiming that simply being in the presence of a gun increases the likelihood of aggressive behavior. They argued that objects can acquire ‘aggressive cue value,’ and we become conditioned to link those objects with behaviors. In this case, Guns and Aggression go together like rama lama lama ka dinga da dinga dong.

In the Berkowits and LePage study, participants received between 1 and 7 electric shocks and were then given an opportunity to retaliate with 1 to 7 shocks back. For some participants, there was a weapon (a rifle and/or handgun) on the table next to the electric shock switch. The other participants had a random object instead (like a badminton racquet). For a third group there was no additional object.

Compared to  others, those in the presence of a gun delivered significantly more electric shocks in retaliation. They were more aggressive.

This all requires buying into the notion that delivering an electric shock in a laboratory is equivalent to the “real-world.”

The argument for stricter gun control would be research claiming that owning a gun or being in the presence of a weapon may prime one to think more aggressively. Moreover, an increase in aggression-related cognition must be positively correlated with aggressive behavior. And aggressive behavior is positively correlated with lots of bad stuff. Like blood. No one likes blood. Vampires like blood.

On the other hand, those against gun control point to very similar research showing that guns are not the only objects that acquire that thing called aggressive cue value. In sports, for example, certain uniforms (i.e., red/black color) are associated with higher levels of aggression and penalties.

Are we to ban particular uniform colors? ARE WE?! ANSWER ME!

Sorry. This topic gets me every time.

Where do we learn these associations, anyway? From a young age we are exposed to an array of perceptual information that interacts in countless ways with our inherited, pre-determined characteristics. Each of us has a brain that, although allows us to think differently and independently, works along the same principles as all brains: Networks.

The brain loves to network because it means more efficiency, faster speed, and higher accuracy for whatever life brings our way. Unfortunately, we “network” guns and aggression together all the time. From a young age we are conditioned by our favorite actors and actresses, by what we see on the news, and of course in video games.

The idea that guns are a problem is a difficult pill to swallow. We can’t solve this thing over night. But we can talk about it. And, damn it, we can blog about it. But we gotta share our thoughts with each other.

First thought: Is it possible that this article has aggressive cue value, thus making you more likely to kick your pet turtle?


About the Author

has a Ph.D. in Psychology and enjoys writing in the third person.



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