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.



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