In psychology, to reach answers we begin with the right questions.
1. Would Will Smith have slapped Mike Tyson, or 50 Cent Curtis Jackson if they had made the same joke that Chris Rock made?
No. According to evolutionary psychology, he probably would not have slapped Mike Tyson, nor 50 Cent Curtis. They are 2 Alpha males, with a history of using violence to resolve conflicts, equipped with more physical strength and fighting skills than Will. He would have found a way to deal with his anger and rationalize it. He would have told himself a story like “it’s part of being famous”, like he mentioned, or come up with any internal dialogue that would help him manage the anger. Manage it in a way that would not put him in a position to get physically hurt. Chris Rock did not register as a threat to him. Will perceived Chris as a weaker, more passive male, than himself, and this emboldened Will to attack him. Because he didn’t fear any physical harm from Chris. This is how bullying works.
2. Would he have slapped anyone if he knew that he would go to jail as a result—like any normal person would?
3. Would he have slapped anyone if he didn’t believe that he could get away with it, because of his fame, money, and status?
The answer to questions 2 and 3 is No. If Will would have seen going to jail as a likely possibility for attacking Chris, his brain would have triggered a psychological self-preservation mechanism. It would have helped him modulate his anger and aggression. To help him avoid the experience of being arrested, and ashamed. The threat of losing his status, his career, his security, and the security of his family, would have acted as an internal brake. He did not feel any emotional restraint because he doesn’t feel that he has to face any adverse consequences. So he felt free to unleash his aggressive impulse and assault Chris with impunity.
4. Is it because he suffers from an “anger problem”? (not a real diagnosis by the way).
Maybe. But the psychological disorders that cause angry and aggressive impulses do not automatically make a person actually assault someone. Let me illustrate my point with this story/example. I have done therapy with federal prisoners. I did therapy with a man that had completed a 5-year sentence in federal prison. He shared with me that he had suffered from uncontrollable anger. He is the kind of guy that would get out of his car, and punch someone because they had honked their horn. He was convicted for drug trafficking. He showed up at the prison with his “anger problem”. The first day, someone angered him, and he got into a fight. He ended up in solitary confinement. After he got out a guard made him angry and he confronted him angrily, he was sent to solitary confinement for a longer time. He also learned that he was surrounded by people capable of murder. People that were more violent, stronger, and connected to gangs. The accumulation of all these factors somehow made him able to develop the capacity to control his anger, even though he still felt it. Somehow he no longer expressed it by attacking someone whenever he was triggered. What happened? Human beings, like any other creature, want to survive, and this survival instinct can overcome any other surface “problems”. When the stakes and the consequences are high, the most explosive, violent people, find a way to modulate their emotions. When the consequences are costly enough.
5. What does this incident reveal about Will’s character and psychological makeup?
Will revealed a sense of entitlement and a narcissistic view of himself. Perhaps fueled by his fame, status, and money. In his speech, he revealed a grandiose belief that he is guided by God to be a “protector”. This is a statement of extreme grandiosity. His privileged status probably makes him feel that he is exempt from the same rules, and consequences, that guide other people’s behavior. He feels special and chosen, and justified, by God. This opened the way to feel free to discharge what he interprets as righteous anger on a person that he perceived as being non-threatening.
So, what will keep Will from doing it again? Nothing. If he doesn’t experience severe negative consequences to his fame, status, relationships, or finances, he will feel more emboldened than ever. And so will thousands of people that are watching.