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Rodney Myerscough and Stuart Taylor - The Effects of Marijuana on Human Physical Aggression

Rodney Myerscough and Stuart Taylor - The Effects of Marijuana on Human Physical Aggression

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Journal
of
Personality
and
Social Psychology
1985,
Vol.
49, No.
6,
1541-1546
Copyright1985by the
American Psychological
Association,
Inc.
0022-3514/85/S00.75
The
Effects
of
Marijuana
on
Human Physical Aggression
Rodney
Myerscough
and Stuart Taylor
Kent
State
UniversityThirty male undergraduates received intense provocation
following
their ingestion
of
one of three
doses
of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol
(THC).
The subjects in thelow-dose condition tended to respond in a more aggressive manner than the subjects
in
the moderate- and high-dose conditions. The subjects in the
high-dose
conditionbehaved in a relatively nonaggressive manner throughout the experimental session.
Considerable controversy
has
existed con-cerning
the
presumed relation between mari-juana consumption
and
aggression.
A
minority
of
investigators have maintained that mari-juana can precipitate aggressive behavior,especially when
an
individual experiences dis-tortionsinperceptionor asenseof
deperson-alization. Nahas
(1973)
concluded that a panicreaction could develop in users "who becomeagitated and
feel
threatened."
He suggests thatunder such conditions,
a
"reaction
to
unpleas-antstimulimay beviolent." Most researchers
have
argued that,
if
anything, marijuana
in-
hibits aggression. Tinklenberg (1973) con-cluded that "the available dataonphysiological
and
psychological
effects
of
marijuana strongly
suggests
that marijuana
does
not
usually
in-duce
violence, aggressive
or
sexually aggressivebehavior." According to
Ausubel
(1958),"marihuana
by
virtue
of its
stupefying
effects,
may
sometimes inhibit
the
expression
of ag-gressive
impulses."
A
review
of the
experimental research
onthe
instigating
effects
of
marijuana indicatesthat very
few
studies have actually manipulated
marijuana
consumption and monitored inter-personal aggression. Salzman, Van
Der
Kolk,
and Shader (1976) reported a series of studies
on the
effect
of
marijuana
on
verbal hostility
in
a small group setting. The authors reportedthat intoxicated subjects evidenced a reduction
in
irritability and hostile
feelings
as compared
to
sober controls.
Taylor
et
al.
(1976)
investigated
the
effect
of
marijuana
on direct, physical aggression.
Sub-
This researchwassupportedin pan byNational Institute
of
Drug Abuse, GrantDA01444 toStuart
Taylor.
Requests
for
reprints should
be
sent
to
Stuart
P.
Taylor,
Department
of Psychology,
Kent State
University,
Kent,Ohio,44242.
jects
ingested a high or low dose of either al-cohol (1.5 vs. .5 oz. per 40
Ibs.)
or
delta-9-
tetrahydrocannabinol
(.3 vs. .1 mg per
kilo-
gram).
Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)
isthe
primary psychoactive ingredient
in
mari-juana.
The
subjects
were
given
the
opportunityto shock increasingly provocative opponents
while
competing
in a
task involving reaction
time.
According to the results of the study, the
subjects
in the high-dose alcohol condition set
significantly
higher levels
of
shock than
thesubjects
in the low-dose
condition.
On theother hand,
the
high dose
of THC did not fa-
cilitate aggressive responding.
In
fact,
there
was
a tendency for the high
dose
of THC to
pro-
duce a
suppression
effect.
The
major
purpose
of the
present study
was
toextendtheresultsof the
Taylor
et al.study
by examining
the
effects
of a
larger dose
of
marijuana
on shock setting behavior. The spe-
cific
doses
of THC
administered were
.1,
.25,
and
.4
mg/kg.
The secondary purpose of the
study
was to
observe
the
effects
of a
more
in-tense
level
of
provocation
on the
shock-setting
behavior of the
intoxicated subjects.
In the
Taylor
et al.
study, provocation
was
manipu-
lated
by programming the opponent to grad-
ually
increase
his
shock intensity.
In the
pres-
ent
study, the opponent set intense shocks
throughout
theexperimental
session.
The
subjects
in the
Taylor
et al.
study were
given
the
choice
of
selecting
1 of 10
shock
in-
tensities on each trial. The most intense shock
available
for
selection, Number
10,
corre-sponded
to the
presumed opponent's "un-
pleasantness"
threshold, thatis,that shockin-tensity
that
the
opponent
had
previouslyjudged to be highly unpleasant. In this study,the subjects and their presumed opponent were
given
the option of delivering an
electric
shockthat corresponded
to
twice
the
opponent's
un-
1541
 
1542
RODNEY
MYERSCOUGH
AND
STUART
TAYLOR
pleasantness threshold. During
the
experi-mental
session,
the
opponent
was
programmed
to
attempt
to
administer
the
high-magnitude
shock
to the
subject
on two
separate
occasions.
It
was
hypothesized
that
the use of
this high-magnitude shock would vary, inversely,
as a
function
of the
dose
of THC
consumed.Method
Subjects
The
subjects were
30
male
undergraduates,
over
18
years
of
age, attending Kent State University. Subjects were
at-
tracted
by
folders placed
in
buildings
on
campus.
On thecover of
each folder
was a
request
for
paid volunteers
for
a
psychological experiment.
The
possible
use of
drugs
was
not
mentioned
in the
folder.
Potential subjects were con-
tactedbyphoneand
informed
thatthe
experiment con-cerned
the
effects
of
marijuana
on
perceptual-motor skills,that they would receive $2.00
per
hour
for
their partici-pation,
and
that
the
experiment would
be
conducted
at
the
University Health Center.
The
subjects were then
scheduled
for a
preliminary interview with
the
director
ofthe
health center.Prior
to the
interview,
the
subjects completed
a
drug
use
questionnaire
and
signed
a
statement acknowledgingthat they
had
some experience with marijuana
and
knewthat they could terminate their services
at any
time without
penalty.
The
subjects also authorized
the
director
of the
health center
to
examine their health records
in
order
to
rule
out any
medical contraindications
to
their partici-pation
in the
experiment.
Procedure
Upon arriving
at the
health center,
the
subject
was
weighed
and
escorted
to a
cubicle containing
a
bed,
a
chair,
and a
nightstand.
Before
the
drug
was
consumed,
thesub-
ject
signed another consent
form
acknowledging that
he
was
informed
of the
drug that might
be
used
in the ex-periment
and
that electric shock would
be
administered.
Each subject
was
randomly assigned
to one of the
fol-
lowing
conditions:
low
dose
(.
1 mg per kg
body weight),
medium
dose
(.25mg per kg
body weight)
and
high dose
(.4
mg per kg
body weight). Subjects consumed
THC
ob-
tained
from
the
National Institutes
of
Health
as a 97%
pure solution
in
absolute alcohol,
and
prepared
as an
aqueous suspension with
polyvinyl-pyrrolidone.
This
sus-
pension
was
added
to 240 ml of
ginger ale.
Fifty
minutes
after
the
drink
was
consumed,
the
subject
was
escortedto a
small cubicle that contained
the
taskboard.
The
subject
was
seated
by the
experimenter
and a
concentric shock
electrode
was
attached
to his
left
wrist.
The
subject then observed
the
experimenter
(on a TV
monitor)
place
an
electrode
on the
presumed male
oppo-nent's
wrist.
The
monitor
was
turned
off
and the
subject's
and the
confederate opponent's
"unpleasantness"
thresh-olds
for
shock were
assessed
separately
by
administering
a
series
of
increasing shock intensities.Each subject
was
informed
by
means
of a
tape-recorded
message that
he was
competing
in a
task involving reaction
time
with another subject
in an
adjoining room.
At the
beginning
of
each trial,
he was
instructed
to
select
(by
pressing
1 of
11
buttons)
any one of the
11
intensities
of
shock
he
wished
his
opponent
to
receive.
The first
10
but-tons were labeled
1
to
10.
The
button labeled
10
corre-sponded
to the
subject's unpleasantness threshold. Number
9 was set at 95% of the
maximum, Number
8 at 90% ofthe
maximum,
7 at 85% of the
maximum,
and so
forth.
The
eleventh button
was
designated
as 20 and was
pur-
portedly
set at
twice
the
intensity
of the
10th button.
The
subject
was
informed that
the
shock would
be ad-ministered
to his
opponent
at the end of a
trial
if he
were
faster
than
his
opponent
and
that
he
would receive
the
shock
his
opponent
set for him if his
opponent were
faster.
Thus, he
realized that either
he or his
opponent would
receive
a
shock, depending upon
the
outcome
of the
com-petition
and
that both could select
the
intensity
of
the
shock
the
other would receive. Regardless
of who
won,
the
subject
was
able
to
see,
after
each trial, what level
of
shock
his
opponent
had set for him by
observing which
of
11
lightscorresponding
to the
11
shock settings
was
lit.
The
frequency
of
wins
and
losses
and the
amount
of
shock received were programmed
by the
experimenter.
The
task
was
then begun.
All
subjects competed
for 33
trials. These consisted,
first of
all,
of 5,
6-trial
blocks
of
high
provocation.
The
mean shock intensity
set by the
opponent during these three blocks
of
trials
was
eight, withshock settings
varying
from
seven
to
nine.
The
subjects
received
shock
on one
half
of
these trials, indicating that
they
had
lost
the
trial.
On two
occasions (Trials
19 and
26),
the
opponent
was
programmed
to
attempt
to
deliver
a
20-level
shock that
was
presumably twice
as
strong
as
pain
threshold.
On
these
two
occasions,
the
subjects
won
and
did not
receive this shock; they just observed
the 20
feedback light
flash.
Finally, Trial
33
measured
the
subject'sreaction
to the
feedback
of Trial 32.
Results
Onthe first
trial, subjects were required
to
select
a
shock intensity without
any
knowledge
of
the
opponents'
aggressive
intentions. Thus,
an
analysis
of
initial settings should
indicate
the
influence
of
marijuana
on
aggression
in
the
absence
of
provocative stimulation.
An
analysis
of
variance
ANOVA
performed
on the
subject's initial
trial
mean shock settings
re-
vealed
no
differential
dose
effects.
Mean initialshock settings
for
low-,
medium-,
and
high-dose conditions were 2.6,
3.1, and
3.5, respec-
tively.
During competition,
all
subjects
had the
opportunity
to
administer
one of
11
levels
of
shock
to
their opponent. Although Levels
1
through
10
represented varying
percentages
of
the
"unpleasantness"
threshold, Level
20 rep-
resented twice
the
magnitude
of
this
threshold.
In
order
to be
able
to
include
all
settings
in
the
analysis
of
mean shock settings,
a
value
of
11
was
assigned
to the 20
shock setting.
This,
 
THE
EFFECTS
OF
MARIJUANA
1543
of
course, is a highly conservative assignmentbecause
the
subjects certainly responded
to
thisoptionas representing more than a value
of 11.
A
3 X 5
ANOVA
was
then performed
on the
mean shock intensities set by the subjects inthevarious drug groups during the blocks ofincreasing provocation. According
to
thisanalysis,
the
main
effect
of
drug dose
was not
significant.
The
blocks
effect
proved
to behighly
significant,
F(4,
108)=3.72,
p <
.01.Mean shock settingsforblocksonethroughfive
were,
5.43, 5.68, 5.92, 6.14, and 6.27, re-spectively.
The
Dose
X
Block interaction
was
not significant at the .05 level. However, aninspection of the mean shock settings, pre-sented
in
Figure
1,
appear
to
indicate that
thelow-dose
group responded more aggressivelyduringthe last two blocks than the
medium-
and
high-dose
groups. Subsequent
Newman-Keuls
tests tend
to
support this perception.
The
low-dose subjects set
significantly
higher shocksin blocks
four
and five than the subjects in themedium-
and
high-dose groups. Furthermore,
only
the
low-dosegroup
set
significantly highershocks
in
Block
5
than Block
1.
Proportions of 20-levelshockswere calcu-latedforthose blocks
before
theopponent'sfirstselectionof the 20button (Block1,2, and
3),
the block following the first instance in
which
the opponent set the 20 button (Block
4)
and theblock
following
thesecond instancein which the opponent set the 20 button (Block
5). An
ANOVA
was
performed
on the
arc-sine
transformed
proportions of 20s set by the three
drug
groups
on
Blocks
1
through
5
(Myers,
1972).
According
to
this analysis,
the
main
ef-
fect
of
drug groups
was
significant
at
less thanthe .01 level,
F(2,
27)= 7.45. The mean
trans-
formed
proportions of 20-level shocks set bythe subjects in the low, medium and high doseconditions were .213, .029 and .046, respec-
tively.
The mean proportion of 20-level shocks set
for
theopponent increased significantlyas a
function
of
blocks,
F(4,
108) =
8.10,
p <
.001.
The mean transformed proportions of 20s set
on
each of the five blocks of trials, averaged
over
groups, were .00, .00,
.037,.
179,
and .264,
respectively.
The interaction of groups andblocks
was
also significant,
^8,
108)
=
2.51,
p
<
.05. According to this interaction, subjects
who
received
a low
dose
of
marijuana were
8.00
-
7.00-
6.00-
5.00
4.00
o o
LOW DOSE
o
o
MODERATEDOSE
A
A
HIGH
DOSE
3
BLOCKS
Figure
1.
Mean
shock
settings
as a
function
of
dose
and
blocks.
more
likely to retaliate with the 20 button than
were
subjects who received a lower dose.
It will
be recalled that during the competi-
tive
task, subjects were provoked witha 20-
level
shock on Trials 19 and 26. In order toassess
the
immediate impact
of
this intenseprovocationon thesubject's aggressive behav-
ior,
an
ANOVA
was
performed
on the
shock
in-
tensities
set on the
trials immediately
preceed-
ingandfollowing
provocation.
A 3 X 2 X 2
(Dose
X
First
and
Second Provocative Event
X
Pre-Postprovocation
Trial)
ANOVA
indicatedthat the Dose X
Pre-Postprovocation
Trial in-teraction
was
significant,
F(2,
27) = 3.35,
p <
.05. According
to
this interaction,
as
presented
in
Figure 2, only the
low-dose
group appeared
to
respond
to the
intense provocation
on
Trials
19
and 26 by increasing their shock
settings.
Subsequent Newman-Keuls tests showed
that
the low-dose subjects set significantly highershocks
after
receivingtheinformation thattheopponentset the20-level shock than before
receiving
this information. High- and medium-dose subjects, on the other hand, did not sig-
nificantly
increase their shock settings as a
function
of
intense provocation.
According
to a 3 X 5
ANOVA
(Drug Dose
X

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