Does trait anxiety make your more or less likely to support war & aggression?

Recently, one of the grad students in my department gave a brownbag talk about the relationship between fear and aggression.  On the one hand, one might expect fear to lead to aggression as one perceives threat to a greater extent and responds accordingly.  On the other hand, fear is associated with withdrawal and so we may expect those who are naturally fearful to avoid aggressive actions, such as war.

I analyzed data on our support for war and peace measure (e.g. “War is sometimes the best way to solve a conflict” – Van der Linden et. al 2008) as well as a measure of trait anxiety (e.g. how accurately “get stressed out easily” describes you – from the IPPI BIS/BAS scale).  Unfortunately, the analysis I ran isn’t particularly conclusive, but part of science is hopefully sharing both conclusive and inconclusive results so that others can build on it.  There is a small significant negative correlation (r=-.166, p<.001) between trait anxiety and support for war.  From the below graph, this relationship appears strongest in moderates (perhaps because they have made up their minds less about war/peace), but is consistent across groups except libertarians.

Trait Fear/Anxiety and War/Aggression support

The straight lines above are linear relationships and the curvy lines are if we allow SPSS to fit a curvy line to the data.  There is a semi-consistent result, but the slopes certainly aren’t dramatic.  I also ran the analysis for Big 5 Neuroticism and the correlation between that and support for war was even smaller (r=-.052) though still negative and significant (p=.004 since there were 3,041 participants vs. 604 in the above graph).

The take home message?  I would say that it seems likely that there is an overall slightly negative relationship between general anxiety and general support for war.  However, it seems likely (and consistent with previous research) that in a specifically threatening situation, the results might be quite different as the chronically stressed individual might perceive much greater threat and therefore support war in specific threatening cases to a greater degree than a less anxious individual.  I hope to have more to report on this in the future as to what these cases look like and I’d welcome any comments pointing to other relevant research as it’s something I’m learning about.

- Ravi Iyer



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