After the horror of a shooting spree, it sometimes emerges in the media that the killer was a member of a shooting club. Unsurprisingly, calls often then ensue for shooting club membership to be discouraged or even banned. Two assumptions underlie such calls: first, that shooting clubs attract aggressive people to their membership, and second, that contact with guns increases aggression. Now Maria Hagtegaal and colleagues have tested whether this is true, by comparing the self-reported aggression levels and personality profiles of 59 members of Dutch shooting associations and 67 non-member, age-matched controls. Their key finding was that shooting club members are less aggressive and impulsive than controls, not more, and that most of them became a member for relaxation, or to socialise, whereas only a small minority (6 per cent) joined the club to let off steam or vent their frustration.
Obviously a major weakness of this study is its reliance on self-report. But the researchers recognised this and included a measure of "social desirability" - the tendency for participants to answer in a way that casts them in the best possible light. The social desirability measure included impossibly good items like, "Are all your habits good and desirable ones?". Strong agreement with such statements indicates dishonest answering. The shooting club members displayed more social desirability than the controls, but crucially, their lower aggression and impulsivity remained even after adjustment for their higher social desirability.
Nagtegaal, M., Rassin, E., & Muris, P. (2009). Do members of shooting associations display higher levels of aggression? Psychology, Crime & Law, 15 (4), 313-325 DOI: 10.1080/10683160802241682
Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.