WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — A study that involved hot sauce and math problems will be seen by psychology professors as a possible clue into mass shootings and other acts of violence.
Winston-Salem State University Associate Professor of Psychology Amber DeBono has just published research in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology linking disrespect to aggression. She said there’s a big divide between being rejected with respect and leaving someone feeling “dissed.”
“I started to notice all these school shooters and one of the common themes is that they were all being rejected in some way,” said DeBono, who had a good friend trapped in a classroom with a shooter at the University of Arizona.
That friend made it out without any injuries but she was traumatized.
“She witnessed her teachers get shot and this guy came in and shot his professors,” said DeBono.
It provided the inspiration for her theory that being disrespected and rejected had a far greater impact on someone than simply being fired or rejected with respect.
“What happened at Columbine, Virginia Tech; I mean almost every month you hear about some kind of school shooting that’s happening and I thought this is really important research and I could try and understand at least some of the reasons why these things are happening,” said DeBono.
DeBono said her research tested people by giving them problems that researchers knew irked their test subjects. People who hated spicy food were given hot sauce instead of ketchup. Other test groups who hated doing math were forced to do arithmetic. In both cases, some test subjects were ridiculed and others treated with respect. DeBono found that people who felt disrespected were more likely to lash out in aggression.
“They’re very benign things but just everyday people that are doing our studies are becoming more aggressive when they are disrespected not when they are disliked,” said DeBono.
DeBono believes her research can be applied in the classroom with students who are being picked on.
“Once we get into adolescence I think respect becomes a lot more important to us,” said DeBono. “So if we see that kids are being rejected and on top of that it’s very disrespectful to the person — that it’s making them feel like less of a person — that’s when teachers may need to step in to mediate the situation.”
DeBono said treating coworkers and employees with respect can help prevent violent work place incidents as well.
“We have to be mindful that if we do have a situation where we have to reject someone, we have to fire an employee for example, we want to make sure we’re doing it in as much of a respectful way as possible,” said DeBono. “We don’t want them coming back and retaliating.”