Weapons As Aggression-Eliciting Stimuli Essay, Research Paper
The rest of the world has always perceived the United States as an extraordinarily violent country. Now, the homefolks are beginning to share that view. Pick up a newspaper, turn on the radio or TV, skim through a magazine and one can see the violence in America seems to pour out in a great, unending stream. The fundamental basis of violence is absolutely clear: the human capacity for aggression.
It has been long known among psychologists that aggressive-related items or cues can stimulate aggressive responses. Previous Wisconsin experiments showed that aggression is brought out upon when in the presence of those readily to provoke anger. Similarly, a study conducted by Loew (1965) also revealed that cues such as aggressive words elicited responses indicative of aggression. Although the “guinea pigs” in Loew’s study were not previously angered, strong electric shocks were still given to each other (Lepage & Berkowitz, 1967).
Likewise, Anthony Lepage’s purpose was to determine whether external objects were associated with aggression. He used weapons such as a rifle and a revolver, instead. Lepage intended to find out if weapons affect an individual’s aggressive reactions than do other neutral objects. The outcome of this study will also determine if the sales of firearms in the United States should be restricted. Moreover, the purpose of this study is to determine if situational cues govern an individual’s actions (Lepage & Berkowitz, 1967).
The subjects used for this study were male undergraduate students at the University of Wisconsin. These students volunteered to be “guinea pigs” because of class requirements. There were a total of 139 subjects, but only 100 were kept for data. The other 39 were disregarded because of complications due to misinformed figures and procedures and malfunctioning of equipment (Lepage & Berkowitz, 1967).
In order to carry out the experiment, all of the subjects were broken into groups. Thus, there were seven groups altogether. The six groups were the independent variables in which they were manipulated while the seventh group serves as a control group. Half of the males in the six manipulated groups were provoked to be angry at the experimenter’s “disguised” confederate while the others were not. In turn, they were also given the chance to shock the confederate. However, two-thirds of the subjects had weapons lying nearby the shock equipment before they administered the electric shocks. Of the two-thirds males, half were told the weapons belonged to the confederate while the others were told it belonged to a previous person in the room. The last third of the males had no weapons nearby. The seventh group (controlled group) consist of angered subjects with badminton racquets and shuttlecocks nearby the shock key. Before beginning the subjects were informed that the experiment was a study of physiological reactions to stress. Each individual’s performance was to be evaluated in the form of electric shocks with intensity ranging from 1 to 10. 1 meaning good and 10 means very bad. The task is to come up with ideas of improving sales and then exchange them with the confederate in order to be evaluated. Soon afterward, the subject was told that he would be the first to receive the shocks. After receiving the electric shocks from the confederate, where it depended on what the experimenter’s schedule of how many shocks to administer, the subject was then asked to fill out a questionnaire to rate his mood. Then, it was the subject’s turn to administer the shocks. But beforehand, one group in the angered and non-angered states had no weapons nearby the shock keys while two other groups had a shotgun and a .38 caliber. Of the two groups, one was informed that the weapons belong to the confederate and the other to some previous person. The final angered group, instead, had badminton racquets and shuttlecocks. After the subject evaluated and administered the shocks to the confederate, he was given another questionnaire regarding mood to fill out. The subject was also required to answer the oral questions about the experiment given by the experimenter. In the end, the level of aggression indicated by the number of shocks and the mood questionnaires were the dependent variables that resulted from the experiment (Lepage & Berkowitz, 1967).
The mood questionnaire filled out after the subject received shocks showed that there were significant differences in anger arousal when each received different amounts of electric shocks. The ones that received the most shocks were angrier than those that received only 1. In addition, there is also a significant difference among the subjects in the presence of weapons. Weapons mostly affected the ones that received seven shocks. In essence, the hypothesis was right: The presence of weapons increases how aggressively a person behaves towards others.
The anger-provoked subjects administered more electric shocks when a weapon is nearby than non-aggressive objects such as badminton racquets and shuttlecocks. However, they were no different than the angered subjects unexposed to weapons. Furthermore, the angered subject exposed to the neutral object and the angered subject unexposed to any objects were no different than the non-angered group unexposed to any objects. Regarding the second questionnaire filled out after the subject delivered the shocks, there was no differences between this one and the first one (Lepage & Berkowitz, 1967).
Just as predicted, any object or external characteristic that is associated with aggression can serve as an aggression-enhancing situational cue. Such cues can have very strong effects, increasing aggression among people who are in a neutral mood as well as among those who have been angered by provocation. Instead of the finger pulling the trigger on the gun, the study indicates it is the trigger on the gun that is pulling the finger. It is not instinctual factors, but rather aggressive cues that can spur aggression (Lepage & Berkowitz, 1967).
The study further indicates that one of the factors to consider in future research is the self-expectation that men were to act aggressive in the presence of guns (Lepage & Berkowitz, 1967). That is, aggression is a byproduct of a culture that idealizes a tough, “macho” image. Although this was vaguely supported by the oral reports given by the male subjects, nonetheless, it was still implied. Lastly, since the male subjects were not truly informed about the real purpose of the experiment, would the outcome turn out different if they were informed? Unlikely, because Lepage states that the research conducted by Allen & Brag indicates fewer electric shocks would be administered even if the subjects were informed of the true purpose (Lepage & Berkowitz, 1967).
In addition, the results of this study insinuate that a restriction in the availability of firearms would reduce the homicide rates. Lepage points out Texas as an example of high homicide rates because of no prohibition when compared to other cities (Lepage & Berkowitz, 1967). However, this study was conducted over thirty years ago. Times have changed since. Nowadays, even though cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City have firearm restrictions they still rank among the top in the category of high homicide rates. Lepage fails to recognize environmental factors in displaying aggression. Thus, future research should address the above conditions when considering the factors that affects aggression.
Berkowitz, L. & Lepage, A. (1967). Weapons as aggression-eliciting stimuli. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 7, 202-207.