Guns Have the Power to Trigger Aggressive Thoughts, Says New Study

The study also examined how gun context can impact aggressiveness.
Donovan Alexander

Since the early 60s researchers have been eager to understand whether the actual presence of a gun increases aggression in participants. In a recent study published in the Social Psychological and Personality Science journal, researchers found out that not only the presence of a gun can increase aggressive thoughts but photos of individuals holding a gun can trigger aggressive thoughts in participants regardless of the subjects' intentions or role in society. This issue can all be thanks to the weapons effect. 

The Weapons Effect

How much do you know about the weapon's effect? After a study conducted by Leonard Berkowitz and Anthony LePage in 1967, Berkowitz stated, "Guns not only permit violence, they can stimulate it as well. The finger pulls the trigger, but the trigger may also be pulling the finger."

As you probably guessed, the study was about the weapons effect. During the study, participants were angered by a person pretending to be another participant, dubbed confederates. For the next part of the experiment, participants were seated at a table that had a shotgun and a revolver on it, or in the control condition, the table had badminton racquets and shuttlecocks.


Unaware of the role of the items on the table, participants were then asked to decide the level of electric shock to deliver to the confederate who had angered them, and the electric shocks were used to measure aggression. Participants who were exposed to guns were far more aggressive to the confederates than the other participants who saw the sports items. This is the weapons effect. 

The New Study

Previous studies focusing on the effects of weapons widely accepted that weapons automatically prime aggressive thoughts without acknowledging the role of contextual factors on the weapons effect. This new Ohio State University research conducted by Brad J. Bushman of Ohio State University focused on just that, the influence of contextual factors on the phenomenon.

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The study centered around whether or not different types of people holding a gun would still prime aggressive thoughts regardless of the perceived role of the subject. The study included two separate experiments. The first experiment had 470 participants with ages ranging from 18-82 years old. The subjects included eight photos with guns held against human targets that fell into five categories, which included: criminals carrying guns, soldiers in military gear with guns, police officers in military gear with guns, police officers in plain clothes and no guns, and lastly police officers in regular gear carrying guns.   

After the subjects were done looking at the photos, subjects were asked to complete 22-word fragments as fast as possible to measure negative thoughts. 

For the second experiment, researchers did the same thing but had subjects look at Olympians holding guns intended for non-human targets.  The study discovered that when participants saw someone with a gun, they spelled out more aggressive words compared to seeing those photos without guns and the Olympians  

The overall point of the study was to shed more light on the weapons effect and to showcase that intended use of a gun can trigger aggressiveness.   

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