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Measuring Aggression in Laboratory Experiments: A Cautionary Tale

Date & Time:
15:00:00 - 16:30:00,
Monday 14 April, 2014


Researchers have been looking into predictors and antecedents of aggression for a long time, but the field is still struggling to find valid methods to measure aggressive behaviors in the laboratory. Because of ethical and legal constraints, researchers tend use measures that have little bearing on everyday aggression, such as how long it takes to recognize violence-related words (e.g., “weapon”) compared to neutral ones (e.g., “water”); how many needles participants stick into voodoo dolls; or how much hot sauce they use to spice a chili for someone else.

The Competitive Reaction Time Task (CRTT) is the measure of aggressive behavior most commonly used in laboratory research. However, the test has been criticized for issues in standardization because there are many different test procedures and at least 13 variants to calculate a score for aggressive behavior. Using three different datasets from studies that employed the CRTT to compare these variants revealed large differences in significance levels, effect sizes, and even directions of effects. This suggests that the unstandardized use and analysis of the CRTT have substantial impacts on the results obtained, as well as their interpretations, and that laboratory research on causes of aggression should be considered with great caution.

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  • Name: Malte Elson
  • Affiliation: University of Münster
  • Role:
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  • Bio: Malte Elson graduated in psychology in 2011 at the University of Cologne. Since 2012 he’s worked as a research associate in the ERC project “The social foundations of online gaming” (SOFOGA) at the Department of Communication, University of Münster, supervised by Dr. Thorsten Quandt. Within this research project, he primarily conducts laboratory experiments investigating the effects of digital games on interpersonal behaviors, such as aggression or cooperation. He also has a great interest in the production and dissemination of scientific knowledge, and runs the project that collects and aggregates scholars’ experiences with review processes in academic journals. He is currently awaiting his PhD defense on methodological problems and pitfalls in media effects research.