Berkowitz, L. & LePage, A. (1967). Weapons as aggression-eliciting stimuli. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 7, 202-207.
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The saying, “guns don’t kill people, people do” implies that the motivation for aggression comes solely from the individual and is not influenced by situational factors or cues, such as guns. However, the classic study on aggression by Berkowitz and LePage has debunked this myth since 1967. 100 Midwestern, male undergraduates participated in a task where they were given the opportunity to aggress against a confederate by electrically shocking them. Half of the participants were angered beforehand (shocked repeatedly by the confederate) and half were not. Additionally, participants chose how many shocks to give the confederate in the presence of a gun (aggressive stimulus), a badminton racquet (a non-aggressive stimulus), or no stimulus. Researchers found that participants who had been angered and then left in the presence of the aggressive stimulus gave more shocks to the confederate than those who had been angered but had seen the non-aggressive stimulus or no stimulus and those who had not been angered. Thus, Berkowitz and LePage concluded that “many hostile acts which supposedly stem from unconscious motivation really arise because of the operation of aggressive cues” (p. 206).
This is a classic article in social psychology because it linked cognitive priming to social psychology in the area of aggression and led the way for a large area of research concerning media and other social-cognition influences on aggression.