Tag Archives: law

Guns and aggression

By, Adam K. Fetterman
A Supreme Court decision once again sparks debate of gun control. The Court decided that citizens have the right to keep guns in all states and cities in the United States challenging some strict gun bans, like those in the Chicago area, according to the Associated Press. Guns are one of the hot-button issues that always seem to lead to great division. Some proponents argue that it is their right to own and carry guns and therefore, want to exercise that right, while others proclaim they want guns for fear of victimization. Opponents of guns argue that guns cause more harm than good and sometimes fear the people that want guns for protection.

While there are some anecdotal instances when citizens carrying guns have resulted in positive outcomes, these are quite rare. However, there has been research on the negative effects of guns. For example, Klinesmith, Kasser, and McAndrew (2006) found that interacting with guns led to increases in testosterone and aggressive behavior in males. While the aggressive behavior in the experiment, adding hot-sauce to a cup of water, is not all that reflective of real-world aggression, the effects show some increase in the willingness to harm others. There are probably not many people that would promote getting rid of guns altogether, however, some questions need to be further researched. For instance, should states and cities be able to ban guns if the area is deemed particularly aggressive? What type of people cause a threat to safety if they have access to guns? And on the other side, what are the benefits to the presence of guns?

Justices extend gun owner rights nationwide, by Mark Sherman – Associated Press

Klinesmith et al. (2006). Guns, Testosterone, and Aggression: An Experimental Test of a Mediational Hypothesis. Psychological Science, 17, 568-571.

Internet Avengers

By Erica Zaiser

In China, the Internet has provided a new kind of medium for vigilantes to work together to dole out punishments to perceived offenders. This “human-flesh search engine”, as an article in the New York Times calls it, doesn’t work like a conventional Internet search. Instead, it is a vast network of online users who work together to reveal the location and personal details of people who the users feel have violated a norm. In one example, Internet users from all over China worked together to collect the personal data of a woman who posted a video on the internet of her stomping a kitten to death under her spiked heels.  After discovering her location, the vast network of users encouraged everyone who came in contact to her to assist in driving her out-of-town, ruining her business, and destroying her life. The article describes a number of examples of offenders (accused of committing a wide variety of perceived “crimes”) all being punished severely through this network and often being unable to return to work, their homes, or normal life after the “search engine” finds “justice”.

Although this type of mass justice seeking behaviour is relatively unstudied, it has interesting implications for a number of research areas like social identity, bullying behavior, collective action, social rejection, and anger and aggression. When people witness behavior that violates norms and invokes moral outrage, they often desire justice. According to social psychologists, there are different types of justice people can seek when they witness a crime, they include retributive justice (punishment for the offender) and compensatory justice (compensation – money and apology etc. for the victim). Interestingly, in this Chinese human network, the justice form doled out by online avengers is always a harsh punishment for the offender. Nobody in the network is encouraging others to seek compensation for the victims.

In line with this, one set of studies found that when people “observe” a crime, but are not close to the victim, they prefer a retributive type of justice to a compensatory type. The less close the bystander is to the victim, the more they prefer punishment to compensation. When you are dealing with an online network of avengers who likely don’t even know each other, much less the victim, its easy to see how this punishment response could escalate as the networks extends to more distant users. Furthermore, given that it’s all online, there is an added sense of anonymity for the justice seekers. All of these aspects make the “human search engine” an interesting phenomenon for social psychologists to unravel.

Read More: Retributive versus compensatory justice: Observers’ preference for punishing in response to criminal offenses