Life Experience as a Moderator of the Weapons Priming Effect

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A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Psychology.
The weapons priming effect proposes that guns act as priming agents that lead to increased aggression. However, recent literature demonstrated that the gun user’s life experience (e.g., knowledge or years of gun use) moderates the weapons effect (Bartholow, Anderson, Carnagey, & Benjamin, 2005; Nagtegaal, Rassin, & Muris, 2009); thus, gun owners with increased gun experience do not demonstrate the gun-aggression link previously thought to be universal. This study explored the gun-aggression link with handgun life experience. Participants were primed with pictures of handguns or tennis rackets and subsequent aggressive cognitions were measured through a word completion task. Participants were also surveyed on gun use and gun life experience. Results showed no significant difference in aggression between individuals with low, average, or high handgun life experience, regardless of priming condition. In addition, when comparing individuals with low, average, and high levels of total handgun and long gun life experience, there were no significant differences in aggression, and this was true for both priming conditions; although these results did not support the directional hypotheses of previous research, these findings still suggest that despite the handgun prime, those with increased gun life experience do not exhibit an increase in aggression, which contradicts the weapons effect theory and ultimately supports the recent research on gun life experience and aggression. Finally, neither gun purpose nor target shapes have been studied in relation to the weapons effect; relationships between guns, target shapes, gun purpose and aggression were explored. The results of this study can better inform gun owners, the general public, gun-affiliated organizations, and government officials about the benefits of increasing gun knowledge and experience on decreasing aggressive acts.
Psychology & Sociology
College of Liberal Arts

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