Brad Bushman, professor of psychology and communication studies at the University of Michigan, and faculty associate at the Institute for Social Research, is the newest associate editor for Psychological Science. He has been an associate editor and consulting editor on a number of journals including Psychological Bulletin, Psychological Methods, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Bushman joins two other associate editors: Peter C. Gordon, University of North Carolina; and Reid Hastie, University of Chicago.
Bushman’s collegiate studies didn’t begin with psychology. He was initially an engineering student at Weber State College, but got sidetracked by an honors course on human aggression. Bushman was also affected by a violent crime that occurred in his junior high school teacher’s store, in his hometown of Ogden, Utah. Among the unique details of the case were that in the course of a robbery, two gunmen forced their victims to drink Drano and covered their mouths with duct tape to prevent them from spitting it out. Reading court transcripts, Bushman learned that shortly before their crime, the two men had watched the film Magnum Force three times in one day. (Magnum Force is a Clint Eastwood movie in which a man kills a prostitute by forcing her to drink Drano.) Bushman also learned that the two men hadn’t simply found Drano and duct tape in the store; they had taken it with them as a premeditated lethal weapon. “You can’t conclude that watching Magnum Force caused these two armed men to kill their victims,” Bushman said, “but this piqued my curiosity.”
Bushman switched fields, earning degrees in psychology, education, statistics, and social psychology so that he would be well prepared both to teach and to investigate the causes and consequences of aggression. (He says his mother wasn’t surprised. When he was three, he pointed to a picture book showing two dinosaurs fighting, and bawled, “Why are they hurting each other?”)
A critic of violence as entertainment, Bushman has questioned many popular myths about the causes and consequences of aggression.
One myth, according to Bushman, is that low self-esteem is a risk factor for violence. The real culprit is narcissism, he said. Self-love that features an emotional investment in feeling superior leads people to retaliate aggressively when that sense of superiority is threatened. To tell all students they are special, to abandon D and F grades and instead to tell poor students that they are “making progress toward standard,” is to encourage an undeserved feeling of entitlement that is likely to backfire.
“Narcissists are fine until they get a blow to their egos,” he said. “If you praise them they act just like everybody else. Only when somebody criticizes, threatens, or excludes them — doesn’t give them the respect they feel they deserve — do they behave aggressively.”
Bushman has irritated more than a few therapists by insisting that research does not support another popular myth: that venting anger — yelling or hitting a pillow or punching bag, for example — is cathartic. His research shows that “venting anger is like using gasoline to put out a fire; it only makes things worse. It feeds aggressive thoughts, angry feelings, and arousal levels.”
His research has also dealt a blow to the myth that sex and violence are good marketing vehicles. To determine how violent content in television programs affects the memory for ads, Bushman inserted the same ads into programs comparable in content except that some were violent and some were not. Viewers of the violent programs were far less able to remember product brands than viewers of the nonviolent programs. The same was true for viewers of sexually explicit programs. (Bushman reports on these findings in “Violence and Sex in Television Programs Do Not Sell Products in Advertisements” in the September 2005 issue of Psychological Science.)
Bushman brings to his research a strong interest in metaanalysis, a quantitative approach to reviewing scientific literature. Scientists who are careful about conducting their original studies, he says, are often careless in summarizing the results of several studies on a topic.
More information on Psychological Science and other journals published by the American Psychological Society, including submission instructions, is available at www.psychologicalscience.org/journals.