Our Most Recent Work

  • NEW When Mass Shootings Fail to Change Minds About the Causes of Violence: How Gun Beliefs Shape Causal Attributions

    Stroebe, W., Agostini, M., Kreienkamp, J., Leander, N. P. 2022 Psychology of Violence Psychology of Guns, Guns and Society

    Objective: We developed and tested a gun-blame attribution model to explain why mass shootings do not change attitudes toward gun control among gun owners and/or conservatives. For a mass shooting to increase gun control support, individuals must attribute the shooting at least partly to gun availability. Such attributions are unlikely for individuals who believe that there would be less crime if more people had guns. Method: After two mass shootings, we assessed political orientation, gun ownership, the belief that widespread gun ownership reduces crime, causal attributions about the mass shootings, and attitudes toward gun control (Orlando, N = 1756; El Paso, N = 910). Data were analyzed using multiple regression (Study 1) and path analyses (Study 2). Demographic information is reported in the Supplemental Material. Results: Across both shootings, political conservatism and gun ownership positively predicted a belief that widespread gun ownership reduces crime, which subsequently predicted less blaming of gun availability for mass shootings and less support for stricter gun laws. Conclusions: Findings support our gun-blame attribution model. Mass shootings predict people's attitude toward stricter gun laws if they attribute the mass shooting to gun availability. Such attributions are unlikely for U.S. gun owners and/or conservatives, who are more likely to believe that widespread gun ownership reduces crime. To the extent that this belief is ideological, persuasionbased psychological interventions are unlikely to be as effective as political intervention.

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  • NEW How News Exposure and Trust in Law Enforcement Relate to Defensive Gun Ownership

    Kreienkamp, J., Agostini, M., Leander, N. P., Stroebe, W. 2021 Psychology of Violence Psychology of Guns, Guns and Society

    Objective: According to a recent psychological model of defensive gun ownership, the perceived need to own a gun for self-defense corresponds with two independent construals of threat: specific threats, namely the Perceived Lifetime Risk of Assault (PLRA), and diffuse threats, namely the Belief in a Dangerous World (BDW; Stroebe et al., Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 2017, 43(8), 1071). The present study assessed how these threats correspond with two factors known to influence gun ownership: frequency of mass media news exposure and trust in law enforcement to protect citizens from violent crime. These factors represent social information on which people may base their threat perceptions, which could, in turn, influence defensive gun ownership. Method: The proposed indirect effects model was tested using structural equation modeling (SEM) over two independent online survey samples of U.S. handgun owners (total N = 1,691). The defensive gun ownership concept included measures of self-reported reasons for gun ownership, gun-use beliefs, as well as behavioral self-reports. Results: Both news exposure and trust in law enforcement indirectly related to defensive gun ownership, via their effects on specific and diffuse threat perceptions. News exposure indirectly related to higher reports of defensive gun ownership, whereas trust in law enforcement was indirectly associated with lower reports of defensive gun ownership. Conclusions: The results indicate that social information variables relate to defensive gun ownership via threat perceptions.

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  • NEW Gun Violence

    Myers, D., Müller, T., Rajan, S. 2021 The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Critical Perspectives on Mental Health Guns in Psychology, Guns and Society

    Gun violence persists as a devastating public health crisis in the United States. Each year, an estimated 1,600 children die from gun violence, another 6,200 survive gunshot injuries, and thousands more are indirectly impacted (e.g., children who have witnessed gunfire, heard gunshots, or know a friend or family member who has been shot). Though there is notably little research in the area of gun violence prevention in comparison to other public health issues of this magnitude, the existing research underscores the breadth of childhood exposure to gun violence and its direct relationship to poor mental health outcomes. This section ends with a discussion of the implications of this relationship for clinicians and educators: individuals engaged in the prevention of and response to gun violence exposure and, by extension, the promotion of the mental health and well-being of children.

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  • Do Canadian and U.S. American handgun owners differ?

    Stroebe, W., Kreienkamp, J., Leander, N. P., Agostini, M. 2020 Can. J. Behav. Sci. Psychology of Guns, Guns and Society

    This study of male Canadian (n = 475) and U.S. (n = 425) handgun owners addresses 2 questions: (a) Are there differences in gun-related motivation and behaviour patterns; and (b) does the Model of Defensive Gun Ownership of Stroebe, Leander, and Kruglanski (2017) fit data of Canadian handgun gun owners? U.S. and Canadian gun cultures are supposed to be different: Unlike most U.S. gun owners, Canadian gun owners are not assumed to purchase guns for self-defense because they trust their government to protect them against crime. Although Canadian and U.S. handgun owners differed in their gun-related motivation and behaviour patterns, these differences were less substantial than expected: Mean levels of trust in law enforcement of Canadian and U.S. handgun owners did not differ. Furthermore, half of Canadian gun owners considered self-defense to be an important reason for gun ownership. Finally, a structural equation model that had fit the U.S. data of Stroebe et al. (2017) could also be applied to the Canadian data. Given that 30% of all Canadian handguns were purchased between 2012 and 2017, which is when shootings became more common in Canada’s large cities, we speculate that recent events may have reduced differences that might have existed between Canadian and American handgun owners.

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  • Biased Hate Crime Perceptions can Reveal Supremacist Sympathies

    Leander, N.P., Kreienkamp, J., Agostini, M., Stroebe, W., Gordijn, E., Kruglanski, A.W. 2020 PNAS Guns in Psychology, Guns and Society

    People may be sympathetic to violent extremism when it serves their own interests. Such support may manifest itself via biased recognition of hate crimes. Psychological surveys were conducted in the wakes of mass shootings in the U.S., New Zealand, and the Netherlands (total N = 2,332), to test whether factors that typically predict endorsement of violent extremism also predict biased hate crime perceptions. Path analyses indicated a consistent pattern of motivated judgment: hate crime perceptions were directly biased by prejudicial attitudes and indirectly biased by an aggrieved sense of disempowerment and white/Christian nationalism. After the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, disempowerment-fueled anti- Semitism predicted lower perceptions that the gunman was motivated by hatred and prejudice (Study 1). After the Christchurch mosque shootings, disempowerment- fueled Islamoprejudice similarly predicted lower hate crime perceptions (Study 2a). Conversely, after the Utrecht tram shooting (perpetrated by a Turkish-born immigrant), disempowerment-fueled Islamoprejudice predicted higher hate crime perceptions (Study 2b). Finally, after the El Paso shooting, hate crime perceptions were specifically biased by an ethno-nationalist view of Hispanic immigrants as a symbolic (rather than realistic) threat to America; that is, disempowered individuals de-emphasized likely hate crimes due to symbolic concerns about cultural supremacy rather than material concerns about jobs or crime (Study 3). Altogether, biased hate crime perceptions can be purposive and reveal supremacist sympathies.

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  • Frustration-Affirmation? Thwarted Goals Motivate Compliance With Social Norms for Violence and Nonviolence

    Leander, N.P., Agostini, M., Stroebe, W., Kreienkamp, J., Spears, R., Kuppens, T., van Zomeren, M., Otten, S., Kruglanski, A.W. 2020 JPSP Guns in Psychology, Guns and Society

    When thwarted goals increase endorsement of violence, it may not always reflect antisocial tendencies or some breakdown of self-regulation per se; such responses can also reflect an active process of self-regulation, whose purpose is to comply with the norms of one’s social environment. In the present experiments (total N = 2,145), the causal link between thwarted goals and endorsement of violent means (guns and war) was found to be contingent on perceptions that violence is normatively valued. Experiments 1–3 establish that thwarted goals increase endorsement of violence primarily among U.S. adults of a lower educational background and/or men who endorse a masculine honor culture. Experiment 4 manipulates the perceived normative consensus of college educated Americans, and demonstrates that thwarted goals increase college educated Americans’ endorsement of whatever norm is salient: prowar or antiwar. Generalizing the model beyond violent means, Experiment 5 demonstrates that goal-thwarted Europeans report increased willingness to volunteer for refugee support activities if they perceive strong social norms to volunteer. Altogether, these findings support a frustration-affirmation model rather than frustration-aggression, whereby thwarted goals increase compliance with perceived norms for behavior, which can increase endorsement of violent means such as guns and war, but also nonviolent charitable actions.

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  • Mass Shootings and the Salience of Guns as Means of Compensation for Thwarted Goals

    Leander, N.P., Stroebe, W., Kreienkamp, J., Agostini, M., Gordijn, E., Kruglanski, A.W. 2019 JPSP Guns in Psychology, Guns and Society

    Between 2016 and 2017, Americans suffered three of the deadliest mass shootings in modern history by a lone gunman: the Orlando nightclub shooting, the Las Vegas strip shooting, and the Texas church shooting. We studied American gun owners in the wakes of these tragedies, theorizing that a byproduct of the salience of mass shootings is to increase the salience of guns as means of individual empowerment and significance. We hypothesized that this increase in salience would be especially relevant in the context of thwarted goals, because such individuals may be seeking a compensatory means to interact more effectively with their environment. In four studies of U.S. gun owners (N = 2,442), we tested whether mass shooting salience interacted with thwarted goals to predict justification to shoot suspected criminals, willingness to engage in vigilantism, and perceptions that guns are means of empowerment. The thwarting of goals was either experimentally induced via failure on an achievement task (Study 1) or measured via perceptions of disempowerment in society (Studies 2-4). Moderators included perceptions of mass shooting threat and real or imagined temporal proximity to specific mass shooting events. Across studies, results indicated an interaction between thwarted goals and mass shooting threat; proximity yielded mixed results, as the key factor seemed to be the self-relevance of any given attack. Altogether, thwarted goals motivate people to seek means to restore their sense of effectiveness, and guns are more likely to be perceived as means to such ends when mass shootings are highly salient.

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  • Is It a Dangerous World Out There? The Motivational Bases of American Gun Ownership

    Stroebe, W., Leander, N.P., Kruglanski, A.W. 2017 PSPB Psychology of Guns, Guns in Psychology

    Americans are the world’s best armed citizens and public polling suggests protection/self-defense is their main reason for gun ownership. However, there is virtually no psychological research on gun ownership. The present article develops the first psychological process model of defensive gun ownership—specifically, a two-component model that considers both the antecedents and consequences of owning a gun for protection/self-defense. We demonstrate that different levels of threat construal—the specific perceived threat of assault and a diffuse threat of a dangerous world—independently predict handgun ownership; we also show how utility judgments can explain the motivated reasoning that drives beliefs about gun rights. We tested our model in two independent samples of gun owners (total N = 899), from just before and after the Orlando mass shooting. This study illustrates how social-cognitive theories can help explain what motivates Americans to own handguns and advocate for broad rights to carry and use them.

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  • The impact of the Orlando mass shooting on fear of victimization and gun-purchasing intentions: Not what one might expect

    Stroebe, W., Leander, N.P., Kruglanski, A.W. 2017 PLOS One Pscyhology of Guns, Guns and Society

    Mass public shootings are typically followed by a spike in gun sales as well as calls for stricter gun control laws. What remains unclear is whether the spike in gun sales is motivated by increased threat perceptions or by concerns about gun control, or whether the sales are mainly driven by non-owners purchasing guns or gun owners adding to their collection. Two surveys of gun owners and non-owners, conducted immediately before and after the Orlando shooting, allowed us to assess its impact on threat perceptions and on gun-purchasing intentions. Although there was a minor impact on threat perceptions of non-owners, neither group reported any increased gun-purchasing intentions or an increased need for a gun for protection and self-defense. We suggest that these responses are representative for the majority of Americans and, therefore, people who are influenced by mass shootings to buy guns are probably an atypical minority.

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  • Firearm Availability and Violent Death: The Need for a Culture Change in Attitudes toward Guns

    Stroebe, W. 2015 ASAP Gun Use in Societies

    There are two conflicting positions toward gun ownership in the United States. Proponents of stricter gun control argue that guns are responsible for 32,000 gun‐related deaths each year and that the introduction of stricter gun control laws would reduce this death toll. Gun rights advocates argue that the general availability of guns reduces homicide rates, due to deterrence and because guns are effective means of self‐defense. Based on a review of the evidence, I draw the following conclusions: Gun prevalence is positively related to homicide rates. There is no evidence for a protective effect of gun ownership. In fact, gun owners have a greater likelihood of being murdered. Furthermore, gun ownership is associated with an increased risk of serious injuries, accidental death, and death from suicide. The evidence on the effectiveness of gun control measures has not been encouraging, partly because the influential gun lobby has successfully prevented the introduction of more effective measures. A federal registration system for all firearms would address many limitations of present gun control measures. To mobilize public opinion, a culture change in attitudes toward firearms is needed.

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  • Firearm possession and violent death: A critical review

    Stroebe, W. 2013 AVB Gun Use in Societies

    This article critically reviews the empirical research on the association of firearm possession with suicide and homicide. Both suicide and homicide reflect intentional behavior with the goal of killing oneself or another person. Firearms provide merely a means of reaching this goal. The possession of a firearm can, therefore, not be a primary cause of either suicide or homicide. However, since a defining characteristic of both suicide and homicide is the success of killing, and since guns are more effective means for reaching this goal than poison or other weapons, the rate of firearm possession can be expected to be positively related to overall rates of suicide and homicide. This prediction has been tested with individual-level as well as macro-level studies. Individual-level studies, which typically use case–control designs, allow a better control than macro-level studies of the cultural, demographic, and economic determinants of suicide and homicide. In macro-level studies, the potential impact of gun possession on overall rates is likely to be confounded by the factors that motivate people to commit suicide or homicide. Despite these methodological limitations, the research reviewed in this article supports the assumption that easy access to firearms increases the risk of dying from violent causes. With very few exception, studies found gun ownership positively related to gun-related suicides and homicides. Furthermore, there is evidence that guns do not merely serve as substitutes for other means of killing, but increase the overall rates of suicide and homicide.

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