Friday, May 12, 2006

Guns and Hot Sauce Study

I've seen this at a bunch of places and it's quite humorous.

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.

I don't pretend to understand how taste sensitivity relates to aggressive impulses, but then I don't see how these psychologists could make that conclusion either. Most of the blogs I've seen pretty much come to the same conclusion of "so what" on the finding.
Alphecca had this:
What the article failed to mention is that maybe the students (all 30 of them) were not used to handling a firearm in the first place. Certainly a firearm is a lot more interesting than a boring board game like Mouse Trap. If a youthful person had never even held a handgun, wouldn't there be a surge of something? I understand that men who handled women's breasts (such as their wive's or girlfriend's) had a higher testosterone level (Bet they were salivating...) than those who handled cantalopes... How many run out and rape women?
This observation goes right into answering Andrew Sullivan's statement as pointed out by Jonah Goldberg:
Afterward, those who handled the gun showed a jump in testosterone levels. Subjects were then asked to drink a cup of water with hot sauce in it and then prepare a similar drink for someone else. Those who handled the gun were more likely to add more hot sauce than those who didn't. This means, according to the paper, that "handling a gun stirs a hormonal reaction in men that primes them for aggression." Time magazine's Andrew Sullivan gleaned major news here: "A new front has just opened up in the 2nd Amendment debate. The usual NRA argument is that guns don't kill people; people kill people. I've always been almost-persuaded by this. The missing link is what actually owning or handling a gun does to male psychology. Does it ramp up testosterone all by itself and thereby make firing a gun more likely?" Sigh. One could spend all day raising serious questions about the merits of this study. First of all, have you ever tried to put "Mouse Trap" together? It's really hard, emasculating even, perhaps to the point of causing testosterone to plummet to tea-party-with-your-toddler levels. And why a game at all? Why not a motor or something equally benign but a bit more, you know, manly? And maybe adding extra hot sauce has less to do with aggression than it does with testosterone's effects on a desire for spicy food? Perhaps testosterone levels tend to rise in men invited to participate in a "taste study," only to be handed a big honkin gat by a total stranger? And what about the ladies? Shall we venture to guess what hormonal fluctuations await women asked to dismantle guns or absurdly complex toys?

But all of this misses the point. A more insidious danger than guns is the rush to medicalize behavior. Let's stipulate that handling a gun causes testosterone levels to rise. Let's also concede that elevated testosterone levels are associated with aggression. So what? Does this tell us anything important or new? Science is learning how to measure all sorts of really interesting things, from the effects of porn on the male brain to the effects of porn on the male brain. Whoops. I guess that answers what those effects are.

Read the rest of Goldberg's Op-Ed. It's at least amusing and at most puts this "study" into perspective.

1 comment:

geekwife said...

I just feel the need to state (once again) that I utterly despise the New York Times.