Killing begets killing: Evidence from a bug-killing paradigm that initial killing fuels subsequent killing

Andy Martens, Spee Kosloff, Jeff L Greenberg, Mark J. Landau, Toni Schmader

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

50 Scopus citations


Killing appears to perpetuate itself even in the absence of retaliation. This phenomenon may occur in part as a means to justify prior killing and so ease the threat of prior killing. In addition, this effect should arise particularly when a killer perceives similarity to the victims because similarity should exacerbate threat from killing. To examine these ideas, the authors developed a bug-killing paradigm in which they manipulated the degree of initial bug killing in a "practice task" to observe the effects on subsequent self-paced killing during a timed "extermination task." In Studies 1 and 2, for participants reporting some similarity to bugs, inducing greater initial killing led to more subsequent self-paced killing. In Study 3, after greater initial killing, more subsequent self-paced killing led to more favorable affective change. Implications for understanding lethal human violence are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1251-1264
Number of pages14
JournalPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2007



  • Aggression
  • Genocide
  • Killing
  • Similarity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)
  • Social Psychology

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