Essay: The Candy

by flaunt


Corner of Santa Monica Blvd. and Highland, Hollywood, California 2016


Essay: The Candy

Part two of our three-part exploration of violence in cinema.

The US is the most heavily armed society in the world, with about 90 guns for every 100 citizens.


Although the US is only about 5% of the world’s population, US citizens possess over 30% of the world’s guns. But you don’t need to live in the US to be exposed to guns and gun violence. There are images of guns everywhere, especially in the mass media. Given the ubiquity of guns in Hollywood, it is important to consider the impact of guns and other weapons on viewers—whether the guns are physically present (the “weapons effect”) or are shown (“violent media effects”).

Most researchers define aggression as any behavior intended to harm another person who does not want to be harmed.2 In laboratory experiments involving adults, aggression is usually measured using punishments delivered to an accomplice who pretends to be another participant (e.g., electric shocks, blasts of loud noise delivered though headphones, eating very spicy hot sauce, submersing an arm in ice water). In field experiments involving children, more natural measures of aggression are used (e.g., when kids push, hit, and kick other children).

Most researchers define violence as any behavior intended to cause extreme physical harm to another person who does not want to be harmed, such as injury or death.2 Thus, violence is an extreme form of aggression. This definition of violence can also be applied to media violence, which is any behavior intended to cause extreme physical harm to another character who does not want to be harmed.

“Guns not only permit violence, they can stimulate it as well. The finger pulls the trigger, but the trigger may also be pulling the finger,” concluded the eminent social psychologist Leonard Berkowitz. Obviously, using a gun can increase aggression and violence, but can just seeing a gun increase aggression? In 1967, Leonard Berkowitz and Anthony LePage conducted a fascinating study to find out.3 Male college students were tested in pairs, but one of them was actually an accomplice of the experimenter that was pretending to be another participant. The two men evaluated each other’s performance on a task (e.g., listing ideas a used car salesperson might use to sell more cars) by using electric shocks. Shocks were given in amounts corresponding to the participant’s performance, with one shock being a “very good rating,” and ten a “very bad rating.” The “evaluations” (actually the agression measure) consited of the number of stressful electrical shocks given by one person to the other. The participant was seated at a table that either had a shotgun and a revolver on it, badminton racquets and shuttlecocks, or nothing at all, with the items explained as being incidental left-overs from another experiment. Angered participants who saw the guns on the table were more aggressive than the other participants. Berkowitz and LePage dubbed this the “weapons effect.” The weapons effect has been replicated many times since then, both inside and outside the laboratory.4 Simply seeing a weapon such as a gun can make people more aggressive.

A fact of life in the 21st Century is that most people spend their days immersed in media. Our electronic devices provide virtually unlimited access to media content saturated with guns and gun violence. A recent study found that the amount of gun violence in the top-selling Hollywood films rated PG-13 has more than doubled since the rating was introduced in 1985.5

Hundreds of studies have examined the link between exposure to violent media and aggression and violence. Comprehensive reviews (called meta-analyses) of these studies show that violent media (e.g., television, film, video, video games) can cause aggression  and has a small correlation with violence. One meta-analysis of 381 studies involving over 130,000 participants found that exposure to violent video games was associated with an increase in aggressive thoughts, angry feelings, physiological arousal (e.g., heart rate, blood pressure), and aggressive behavior, and was associated with a decrease in empathy and prosocial behavior (e.g., helping others).6 The effects occurred for males and females of all ages, regardless of where they live in the world.

Evidently, there is a strong link in the human brain between weapons, violence, and aggression. Humans can identify guns as quickly as they can snakes and spiders,7 which is interesting because guns are modern threats and cannot be explained using evolutionary principles. Yet poisonous spiders kill about six Americans each year,8 and poisonous snakes five,6 whereas, guns kill nearly 34,000 Americans each year.9

1 MacInnis, L. (2007, August 28). US most armed country with 90 guns per 100 people. Reuters News. Retrieved from firearms-idUSL2834893820070828
2 Bushman, B. J., & Huesmann, L. R. (2010). Aggression. In S. T. Fiske, D. T. Gilbert, & G. Lindzey (Eds.), Handbook of social psychology (5th ed., Ch. 23, pp. 833-863). New York: John Wiley & Sons.
3 Berkowitz, L., & LePage, A. (1967). Weapons as aggression-eliciting stimuli. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 7, 202–207.
4 Bushman, B. J. (in press). Aggressive cues: Violent media and weapons. In B. J. Bushman (Ed.). Aggression and violence. New York: Routledge.
5 Bushman, B. J., Jamieson, P. E., Weitz, I., & Romer, D. (2013). Gun violence trends in movies. Pediatrics, 132(6), 1014-1018. DOI:10.1542/peds.2013-1600
6 Anderson, C. A., Shibuya, A., Ihori, N., Swing, E. L., Bushman, B. J., Sakamoto, A., Rothstein, H. R., & Saleem, M. (2010). Violent video game effects on aggression, empathy, and prosocial behavior in Eastern and Western countries: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 136(2), 151-173. DOI: 10.1037/a0018251 Capped vertical bars in Figure 1 denote 95% confidence interval limits.
7 Blanchette, I. (2006). Snakes, spiders, guns, and syringes: How specific are evolutionary constraints on the detection of threatening stimuli? The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 59(8), 1484–1504.
8 in-the- us-caused- by-animals/

Written by Brad J. Bushman Ph.D

Photographed by Clayton Webster

Part I

Part III