The hot sauce paradigm is a way to measure aggressive behavior in the lab. Participants are asked to give a portion of hot sauce to another person (who they know hates hot sauce) and who will have to eat it all, ostensibly as part of a taste test.

What are the pros and cons of the hot sauce paradigm?


The hot sauce paradigm was reviewed as part of a paper discussing laboratory measures of aggression. They argued that the hot sauce paradigm's main advantages are that it is very economical, easily quantifiable, less likely than other methods to be interpreted competitively, and that it has ecological validity (Ritter and Eslea, 2005).

Given the prevalence of its use, there appears to be a surprisingly limited amount of validation studies for the hot sauce paradigm. Adachi and Willoughby (2011) reported the following in a more tangential discussion of aggression measures.

Lieberman et al. [1999] found that scores on [the hot sauce] paradigm were positively related to both trait and physical aggression scores on the Buss and Perry (1992) Aggression Questionnaire, supporting the convergent validity of the Hot Sauce Paradigm, although to date no study has measured its association with aggressive behavior outside the lab.

Ayduk, Gyurak and Luerssen (2008) suggested that one threat to the hot sauce paradigm's validity comes from rejection sensitivity (RS): "a processing disposition to anxiously expect, readily perceive and overreact to rejection." They reported that failing to control for RS could influence the results in a hot-sauce paradigm, but that statistical control was sufficient to guard against it.

The Ritter and Eslea (2005) review also provides an extensive and general critique of the hot sauce paradigm and other classic aggression measures, but this is not readily summarized. The potential problems raised by the review relate to mediating variables, social cognition, affect, questions of overt/covert aggression, among others. Overall, the biggest weakness of the method appears to be the apparent inability to conclusively rule out the influence of mediators and moderators.


  • Adachi, P. J., & Willoughby, T. (2011). The effect of video game competition and violence on aggressive behavior: Which characteristic has the greatest influence?. Psychology of Violence, 1(4), 259.
  • Ayduk, Ö., Gyurak, A., & Luerssen, A. (2008). Individual differences in the rejection–aggression link in the hot sauce paradigm: The case of rejection sensitivity. Journal of experimental social psychology, 44(3), 775-782.
  • Buss, A. H., & Perry, M. (1992). The aggression questionnaire. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63, 452– 459.
  • Lieberman, J. D., Soloman, S., Greenberg, J., & McGregor, H. A. (1999). A hot new way to measure aggression: Hot sauce allocation. Aggressive Behavior, 25, 331–348.
  • Ritter, D., & Eslea, M. (2005). Hot sauce, toy guns, and graffiti: A critical account of current laboratory aggression paradigms. Aggressive Behavior, 31(5), 407-419.

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