Socialocial Psychologysychology


Guns and Aggression

Aggressive cues are external stimuli that are associated with aggression and increase the probability of its occurrence. Much of the research on aggressive cues have involved guns.

a. A number of investigators (e.g., Berkowitz & LePage, 1967; Leyens & Parke, 1975; Turner et al., 1977) have found evidence of "the weapons effect." That is, just the sight of a gun augmented aggression. In one study, Doob and Gross (1968) used horn honking at a stalled motorist as a measure of aggression. They found that the presence of weapons in the rear window of the car blocking traffic augmented aggression. Not all studies (e.g., Buss, Booker, & Buss, 1972; Page & Scheidt, 1971) have found that the sight of a weapon increases aggression. If the sight of the weapon makes the individual apprehensive or anxious, then elevations in aggressive behavior are often not found.

b. If guns are aggressive cues, then their removal should result in a decreased level of aggression. Some evidence supporting this proposition comes from Jamaica. In 1974, Jamaicans passed laws banning civilian-owned firearms. In the one-year period after the laws went into effect, there was a 14% reduction in homicides, a 32% decrease in rapes, a 25% decline in robberies, and a 37% reduction in non-fatal shootings (Diener & Crandall, 1979).

c. It is conservatively estimated that each year 250,000 people are injured or threatened with firearms in the U.S. Statistics like these have led some people to advocate increased gun control.

d. Would more strict gun control lead to a decrease in violence in the U.S? Of course, the best way to answer this question would be a national restriction on the sale and use of firearms. Since such laws have not been passed, psychologists have based their conclusions on the results of well-controlled experimental investigations and the experiences of other countries with various forms of gun control. The American Psychological Association in 1982 passed a resolution regarding the use of handguns. It reads:

Whereas, The American Psychological Association deplores the increase in violence in the United States;

Whereas, The ready availability of handguns contributes to this problem;

Whereas, The psychological research on factors which contribute to human aggression indicates that exposure to handguns can result in an increased likelihood of aggression,

Resolved, That the American Psychological Association affirms the need for legislation at every social level (local, state, and federal) controlling the availability of handguns.

e. People as well as weapons can serve as aggressive cues. In one study, subjects were to shock another person in either the presence of a member of a karate club or a pacifistic organization. Much more intense shocks were administered if the subjects were observed by the member of a karate club.

Alcohol, THC and Aggression

1. Most people recognize that there is a relationship between certain drugs and aggressive behavior. For instance, the justification for banning certain drugs has been that they stimulate violent behavior (e.g., Temperance movement). Taylor and his associates (e.g., Schmutte & Taylor, 1980; Taylor, 1976) conducted a series of studies which permit a comparison of the effects of alcohol and marijuana on aggression. Subjects were given the opportunity to set the shock level for their "opponent" in a reaction-time test. Persons given low levels of either alcohol or THC administered about the same intensity of shocks as a control group which received no drug. However, persons who drank either large amounts of alcohol or consumed large amounts of THC were affected by the drugs. High levels of alcohol produced a pronounced increase in aggression and high levels of marijuana resulted in slightly less aggression than controls. Until more studies are conducted, we should not conclude that THC is an effective aggression reducing drug.
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