December 13, 2006

Guns, testosterone, and hot sauce

Recently, Knox College senior Jennifer Klinesmith and a couple of her psychology professors set out to prove what I suspect they believed all along:

•guns are inherently evil

•testosterone is bad

•cayenne pepper sauce is an instrument of torture

The result: ""Guns, testosterone, and aggression: A test of a mediational model" (PDF, 88 KB)

As a man who grew up in a house with a number of guns and a bottle of Tabasco sauce on the kitchen table, I took a certain interest in the article. Apparently, I might be the man whom professors Tim Kasser and Frank T. McAndrew are warning you against.

Their methodology was simple: "30 male college students provided a saliva sample (for testosterone assay), interacted with either a gun or a children’s toy for 15 minutes, and then provided another saliva sample."

In fact, it was not even a real firearm but a "pelletgun identical in size, shape, and feel to a Desert Eagle automatic [sic] handgun."

Apparently no one controlled for whether the students were previously familiar with guns or not! It seems to me that, for example, someone least likely to react to the airgun as "a stimulus signaling competition and a threat to status" might be the guy who packs them in the airgun-factory shipping department.

Once presumably super-charged with testosterone, the subjects were told to put some drops of Frank's Red Hot sauce in a cup of water for someone else to drink. As in most experiments, the rats monkeys human subjects were lied to, having been told that the experiment was on "taste sensitivity in males."

Did anyone think of the well-known health benefits of ingesting cayenne peppers?

The researchers believed that their assay confirmed their hypothesis, and they found a compliant journal in which to publish.

What underlies such research? It's a belief, I think, that our basic nature is somehow "wrong." I come back to the Gary Snyder quote that I referenced earlier about whether or not humans are (wild) animals:

[M]any people who have been hearing this since childhood have not absorbed the implications of it, perhaps feel remote from the nonhuman world, are not sure they are animals. They would like to feel they might be something better than animals.

Consequently, our basic state as humans, testosterone and all, is presumably something that must be "outgrown." Let us have the new Postmodern Man.


Anonymous said...

Is it possible that the lab rats who got the gun to play with were just bored, and wanted to spice things up a little?
I loved your post.

Anonymous said...

YES! Anyone who had ever actually held a gun (real firearm or pellet gun) would not get excited. The "study" did not control for familiarity with guns.
This is junk pseudo-science with a political motive.