One of the most researched topics by social psychologists is human
aggression. Literally hundreds of studies have demonstrated that the more
aroused we are by an antagonist, in other words the more angry we are, the
more likely we are to act aggressively toward that person. Furthermore, the
level of violence we use when we act aggressively is also related to our
arousal level. So far this seems like common sense.
The situation becomes more interesting when we add in another research
area, misattribution of arousal. As we have already seen, it is possible
for people to be aroused by one source but mistakenly attribute that
arousal to a different source. Thus arousal due to cognitive dissonance was
misattributed to a placebo and arousal due to an amphetamine was
misattributed to cognitive dissonance in Zanna's research. Many studies
have demonstrated that arousal from many different sources can easily be
misattributed to anger resulting in increased probability and intensity of
Ss aroused prior to being angered by a confederate were significantly more
aggressive (administered more severe electric shocks or blasts of loud
noise, made negative reports to employers, etc) compared to Ss who had not
been aroused. Arousal in these studies included being angered by someone
else first but also much less obvious sources such as exercise, pills, loud
noises, white noise, and sexual stimulation.
Among the most controversial and important lines of research are studies
that examine the effect of media presentations on arousal and aggression.
Does pornography increase the likelihood of aggression toward women? Is it
true that movies depicting rape increase the likelihood of rapes? Research
on these topics has spanned at least 50 years and many issues remain
unresolved. Beginning in the 1950s, researchers conducted studies in which
Ss watched violent or nonviolent film clips as part of aggression studies.
The results were very consistent; watching violence increased the
aggressive responses of typical undergraduates. Two interpretations of
these studies are popular. Viewing violence releases our control over our
violent tendencies and/or provides models indicating that violence is an
acceptable behaviour. Alternatively, viewing violence is arousing and the
arousal so created can be misattributed leading to increased aggression.
Either way, this research has made an important contribution to the ongoing
public debate about violence (and sexually explicit material) in the media.
click HERE to return to homepage