West coast rap legend and Martha Stewart BFF Snoop Dogg is stirring up controversy with his new video for “Lavender,” in which he holds up a toy gun at a clown-faced Donald Trump lookalike. Defending Snoop’s video from critics calling for punishment — which included the President himself — fellow rapper Treach argued it was a “confetti gun” that was meant to be “artistic.” Personal interpretations notwithstanding, however, psychology researchers would argue that the mere suggestion of a gun in the video could be enough to cause serious harm.
While the Suicide Squad-themed video is clearly satirical — a flag saying “Bang!” shoots out of the gun when Snoop pulls the trigger — psychological studies suggest that the potential effect of the video would not be as funny, as the mere sight of a weapon can incite aggression in the people who see it. Scientists have observed that people who are in the presence of a gun become more aggressive, regardless of whether it is real or not. This alarming, well-documented phenomenon is known as the “weapons effect.”
A psychologist named Leonard Berkowitz first coined the term to describe the outcome of his 1967 experiment, in which participants who were merely near guns were more willing to administer higher electric shocks to people who had angered them than participants who were near benign objects, like badminton racquets. After that, the weapons effect popped up everywhere: A 2006 study in the Accident Analysis and Prevention showed that car drivers would honk more out of anger when stuck in traffic behind a truck with a gun on display. These days, psychologists refer to the weapons effect when arguing that police forces shouldn’t openly carry weapons in public because the sight of guns can incite aggression, both among the public and the policemen themselves. A similar argument could be made against Snoop’s use of the gun in his video: It may be a joke, but the mere suggestion of it could have dangerous effects on its viewers.
Some psychologists have suggested that the reason the weapons effect exists is that humans see guns as a threat — much like large animals or spiders — and we are primed to react to threats by preparing to defend ourselves. In an interview with The Guardian about the weapons effect, Ohio State psychology professor Brad Bushman said, “Weapons increase all of those aggressive thoughts, feelings, hostile appraisals and the type of thinking that somebody’s out to get you, or wants to hurt you.”
Obviously, illustrating hostility is Snoop’s point, and if the sentiments behind his condemnation of artists performing at Trump’s inauguration still hold true (“I’m waiting, I’m gonna roast the fuck out of you,” he said), he definitely is giving off the message that he’s “out to get” the President and his supporters. Figuring out a way to convey this without threatening to incite public violence, however, would probably have been more consistent with his recent “No Guns Allowed” campaign, which called for more stringent gun control.