The voodoo doll task: Introducing and validating a novel method for studying aggressive inclinations

C. Nathan Dewall*, Eli J. Finkel, Nathaniel M. Lambert, Erica B. Slotter, Galen V. Bodenhausen, Richard S. Pond, Claire M. Renzetti, Frank D. Fincham

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

91 Scopus citations


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. Aggr. Behav. 39:419-439, 2013.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)419-439
Number of pages21
JournalAggressive Behavior
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2013


  • Aggression
  • Intimate partner violence
  • Magical beliefs
  • Violence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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