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Good Question: Is Aggression Contagious?

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The brawl at the Mall of America Monday night started out as one fight and spread into many more.

It’s not uncommon to see fights get out of control. When given the option to “fight or flight,” are we more likely to choose fight when we’re around others?

We ask the experts, is aggression contagious?  Good Question.

In the case of the chair-throwing teens at the Mall of America, Minneapolis Psychologist Dr. Michael Thompson said the right chemistry came together at the right time.

Thompson specializes in social psychology.  He said aggression does spread.  When you’re a kid, he said it spreads even faster.

“They don’t have the self-regulation that adults have, they don’t know necessarily the correct ways to act in public,” Dr. Thompson said.

When you add numbers to the fight, Dr. Thompson said people will intentionally try to get “lost in the crowd” so it makes it tougher for them to get caught.

“It’s the anonymity. I can do things and act in a manner that maybe I’ve only thought of or even dreamed of doing,” Dr.Thompson said.

Situations with teens escalate the fastest when there’s an audience to cheer the victor.

“Likely, it’s somewhat exciting,” Dr.Thompson said. “We hear about the fight or flight response, that’s very real where when we feel ourselves threatened, we lash out in that.”

Dr. Thompson said another big reason aggression spreads is because as people, we want to protect our friends. The motivation is often not about entering a fight but more about not wanting to let our friends down.

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