CRVAW Faculty Journal Articles

The Voodoo Doll Task: Introducing and Validating a Novel Method for Studying Aggressive Inclinations


Aggression pervades modern life. To understand the root causes of aggression, researchers have developed several methods to assess aggressive inclinations. The current article introduces a new behavioral method-the voodoo doll task (VDT)-that offers a reliable and valid trait and state measure of aggressive inclinations across settings and relationship contexts. Drawing on theory and research on the law of similarity and magical beliefs (Rozin, Millman, & Nemeroff [1986], Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50, 703-712), we propose that people transfer characteristics of a person onto a voodoo doll representing that person. As a result, causing harm to a voodoo doll by stabbing it with pins may have important psychological similarities to causing actual harm to the person the voodoo doll represents. Nine methodologically diverse studies (total N = 1,376) showed that the VDT had strong reliability, construct validity, and convergent validity. Discussion centers on the importance of magical beliefs in understanding the causes of aggressive inclinations.

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Published in Aggressive Behavior, v. 39, issue 6, p. 419-439.

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