Contagion of Violence Project
Project Summary

Violence is a contagious disease. As with other contagious diseases, if people are exposed to violence, their own risk of behaving violently increases. Yet, unlike most contagious diseases, a person does not need to be very close to the violence in order to be infected with it. One can catch it at a distance. The infecting exposure can be an exposure to violence right in front of the person or it can be an exposure to distant violence through electronic media. The violence can be real-world violence or it can be dramatized violence. Furthermore, once a person catches the violence disease, the person becomes an infecting agent passing the disease to others. This contagion happens because various social cognitions and emotional reactions underlying aggressive behavior are automatically acquired from observing violence and subsequently promote violent and aggressive behavior.

The Contagion of Violence project aims to accumulate empirical data that demonstrates contagion of violence through exposure to proximal real-world violence and also through exposure to more distal and unreal violence in the electronic media. We also elaborate the psychological processes that underlie these effects including the mediators and moderators of the effects. We contend that this process is as powerful as it is because imitation and observational learning are innate and automatic in young humans, and because the human nervous system is particularly wired to promote imitation. Finally, we aim to demonstrate that conceiving of violence as a contagious disease has benefits for violence prevention efforts.