The blog of Dr. Arlin James Benjamin, Jr., Social Psychologist
Sunday, September 24, 2017
Thinking straight about media violence
I am a bit swamped, so this will be a very brief post. As one can sort out relatively easily, my area of expertise is aggression, and much of my work has examined the influence of aggressive or violent cues on various outcomes (usually cognition). Although I am at a primarily teaching oriented university, and carry a heavy teaching load (at least four courses, each an individual prep, per semester - plus summer), I do try to conduct research when I can and certainly make a point of staying current with the state of research in my area of expertise. One conclusion I am drawing is that much of the research in these areas became needlessly politicized probably long ago. Violent video games come easily to mind, but I could point to research on practically any other aggression-inducing cue. To wit, there is a faction who is convinced that violent video games are terribly harmful and another faction of individuals who are convinced that violent video games have no effect whatsoever. Here's my quick take, based on reading a number of original reports, contributing to some of that research myself, and reading far too many meta-analyses and critiques and counter-critiques of said meta-analyses: it is possible to acknowledge that there is a real tangible effect of video game violence on aggressive cognitive and behavioral outcomes (and I make that conclusion taking into consideration the very real problem of publication bias) and also acknowledge that video game violence is highly unlikely to be an antecedent to real life violence. My reading of the literature has led me to conclude that following scenario is likely the most plausible short term effect of playing video games: if one happens to interrupt a gamer while playing their favorite game, they will probably say some very regrettable things to you that they would not otherwise say, because aggressive thoughts have been primed by their immediate stimuli, they have been provoked (in this case interrupted while trying to concentrate) and attribute their arousal to the interruption. In other words, yes, one will act incrementally more aggressive than they might have otherwise, but that these behavioral outcomes that we observe in the lab, field, and in our daily lives fall far short of mass shootings and social collapse. Should we be concerned about the impact that video game play has? Of course. Should we panic? For goodness sake, no. I'll have more to say later, and I will want to expand a bit more broadly to other situational cues. More to come. Stay tuned.
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