Imitation of Self-Aggressive Behavior: An Experimental Test of the Contagion Hypothesis1


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    This study was supported in part by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (R-29 MH57133). The authors thank Daniel Sussman, James Adams, Susan King, and Brenda Coates for their technical contributions, and Michael McCloskey and Lillian Range for their helpful suggestions.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Mitchell E. Berman, Department of Psychology, The University of Southern Mississippi, Box 5025, Hattiesburg, MS 39406-5025. E-mail:


The purpose of the present study was to experimentally examine the influence of a self-aggressive model on self-aggressive behavior under controlled laboratory conditions. Participants (N= 94) were given the opportunity to self-administer electric shock while competing with a fictitious opponent in a reaction-time task. Participants observed the opponent self-administer either increasingly intense shock (a self-aggressive model) or constant low shocks (a non-self-aggressive model). Self-aggression was defined as the intensity of shock that was self-administered by participants. Results provide support for the notion that social information can influence the expression of self-aggressive behavior. Specifically, participants attended to the opponent's shock choices in both model conditions, and chose shocks consistent with those of the observed model.