The "weapons effect" is the finding that the presence of a weapon or even a picture of a weapon can cause people to behave more aggressively. Although once a controversial finding, the weapons effect is now a well-established phenomenon.

One explanation of the weapons effect is that because guns have been associated with aggression, seeing a gun increases the accessibility of associated aggressive thoughts which in turn facilitate aggressive behavior. The idea that activation of a concept in semantic memory increases activation and therefore accessibility of related concepts is called spreading activation and has been demonstrated in numerous experimental studies.

If this spreading activation explanation of the weapons effect is correct, then the presence of a weapon word (such as "dagger" or "bullet") should increase the accessibility of an aggressive word (such as "destroy" or "wound"). The accessibility of a word can be measured by the time it takes to name a word presented on computer screen. The current study by Anderson, Benjamin, and Bartholow (in press) tested this hypothesis.

Anderson, C.A., Benjamin, A.J., & Bartholow, B.D. (1998). Does the gun pull the trigger? Automatic priming effects of weapon pictures and weapon names. Psychological Science, 9, 308-314.

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Craig Anderson