Psychologists at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., enrolled 30 male students in what they described as a taste study. The researchers took saliva samples from the students and measured testosterone levels.
They then seated the young men, one at a time, at a table in a bare room; on the table were pieces of paper and either the board game Mouse Trap or a large handgun.
Their instructions: take apart the game or the gun and write directions for assembly and disassembly.
Fifteen minutes later, the psychologists measured saliva testosterone again and found that the levels had spiked in men who had handled the gun but had stayed steady in those working with the board game.
The "taste sensitivity" phase of the experiment was in fact intended to measure aggressive impulses. After the writing assignment, the young men were asked to rate the taste of a drink, a cup of water with a drop of hot sauce in it. They were then told to prepare a drink for the next person in the experiment, adding as much hot sauce as they liked.
"Those who had handled the gun put in about three times as much as the others — 13 grams on average, which is a lot," said Tim Kasser, one of the authors.
So the subjects were given a choice whether to take apart a kid's game or a big, real gun? Wouldn't that sort the guys into two very distinct groups right there? I'd like to see a separate test in which the Mouse Trap choosing types are given a gun to assemble and disassemble, and the gun choosing types have to fiddle with Mouse Trap.
UPDATE: I think the answer to my question whether they were given a choice is no. One or the other object was on the table. So I guess there's no way around it: Guns don't kill people. Guns make people want to kill people.
IN THE COMMENTS: The best argument around the conclusion is that the gun stimulated feelings of fear not aggression. I note that Mouse Trap makes a flawed comparison because it is a familiar, cheerfully colored, flimsy plastic child's game. A fairer comparison would have been something made of gray metal and not associated with children -- maybe a motor.
UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds links and says "I think this gives you a First Amendment right to own a gun." Hmmm. If holding a gun causes ideas to form in your head, a gun is like a book? He also links to this Jonah Goldberg post that discusses the same psych experiment. Jonah links to Andrew Sullivan, who's fretting about "what actually owning or handling a gun does to male psychology." Jonah points out how unsurprising it is that things affect our minds. And Glenn reminds us that Andrew Sullivan once promoted testosterone. Here's the old Sullivan article, which he provides on his own "Greatest Hits" page. A sample:
Because the testosterone is injected every two weeks, and it quickly leaves the bloodstream, I can actually feel its power on almost a daily basis. Within hours, and at most a day, I feel a deep surge of energy. It is less edgy than a double espresso, but just as powerful. My attention span shortens. In the two or three days after my shot, I find it harder to concentrate on writing and feel the need to exercise more. My wit is quicker, my mind faster, but my judgment is more impulsive. It is not unlike the kind of rush I get before talking in front of a large audience, or going on a first date, or getting on an airplane, but it suffuses me in a less abrupt and more consistent way. In a word, I feel braced. For what? It scarcely seems to matter.For what? Perhaps for some practical jokes involving lots and lots of Tabasco sauce.