Digital game playing and direct and indirect aggression in early adolescence: The roles of age, social intelligence, and parent-child communication (Wallenius et al., 2007)

This article was very tricky and again found it by luck. They called video games as digital games, which confounds my search. Again, I seem to can’t resist writing more since that praise from John Rice, Am I that easily pleased?

Abstract

The roles of age, social intelligence and parent-child communication in moderating the association between digital game playing and direct and indirect aggression were examined in 478 Finnish 10- and 13-year-old schoolchildren based on self-reports. The results confirmed that digital game violence was directly associated with direct aggression, especially at age 10, but only among boys. The moderating role of social intelligence was substantiated among older boys: game violence was associated with indirect aggression among those with high level of social intelligence. Further, as hypothesized, digital game playing was associated with direct aggression especially when parent-child communication was poor, but only among boys. Our findings emphasize the importance of individual and situational factors as moderators of the link between game violence and aggression.

Wallenius et al. investigated several interesting variables on the effects of violent video games. I will name them and the rationale behind them.

From birth until adulthood, the body undergoes many developments and changes, physically and mentally. This is quite noticeable in adolescence, where hormones and rapid social changes made most of our lives seem pretty miserable. Psychologically, our mind grows as well as we learn a lot and adapt to changing social environments, from a safe kindergarten to asshole-filled high school life (yes, I hated my high school life). Adolescence goes through a lot of changes and, therefore, individuals are likely to be more tensed and aggressive. So, violent video games would have a stronger effect among adolescent, especially boys

Another concern is the brain’s hard wiring of cognitive schemas, or IMO, personality. So exposure to media violence active cognitive schemas of aggression, if this exposure is chronic and the individual is growing up. It might mean that one’s aggressive cognitive schema in the brain is more active to the detriment of other cognitive schema, such as altruism. Once these neural connections of these cognitions are established and hard-wired, a person is more aggressive than those are not chronically exposed to media violence.  So it is reasoned. Of course, the keyword is chronic, thank goodness for school, well maybe not in high school.

Indirect aggression, using human relationships, others’ feelings, thoughts and behaviours to put oneself in a favourable light and putting down another. Research on the associations between violent video games use and indirect aggression are mixed. So there might be a mediating factor, social intelligence is identified as such and it is defined as the level of social and verbal skills an individual possesses.

Finally, Wallenius et al. will investigate the associations between video game use and quality of parent-child interactions. What is known is that healthy parent-child interactions act as a protective factor on the effects of media violence and aggression. Well, I do believe that parents have one of the largest influences on their children because they are the first socialization influence in life and interact with the most. However, some studies have found that parent-child quality has no or little influence on violent video game effects on aggression. So, it still needs to be clarified.

Hypotheses

  • 1a. younger children (10-year olds) who play more violent video games will be more aggressive, according to the neural connections theory.
  • 1b. Adolescents who play more violent video games will be more aggressive, due to puberty.
  • 2. Children with higher social intelligence who play more violent video games will choose to aggress indirectly.
  • 3. Parent-child interaction quality will have a moderating effect on violent video game and aggression, i.e. children with poor parent-child quality interaction will be especially affected by violent video games.

Methods

Participants: 478 Finnish schoolchildren participated in the study. 222 from 4th grade (mean age=10.27, SD=0.47) and 256 from 7th grade (mean age=13.28, SD=0.46).

Measures

Play time: questions on their playing television or console games, and playing computer and internet games. Three types of questions are asked for these two types of games: (1) how often they generally played on a 5-pint scale, (2) how much time they generally spent during school days, (3) how much time they generally spent during the weekends.

Violence in games: questions on how often the games contained violence on a 4-point scale.

Social intelligence: revised version on the 10-item Peer-Estimated Social Intelligence Scale. It’s designed to measure four components of social intelligence: person perception, social flexibility, accomplishment of one’s own social goals and behavioural outcomes. The items are answered on a 5-point scale.

Parent-child communication: Parent-Adolescent Communication Scale. It has 14 items on a 5-point scale. It measures two categories: Positive and open parent-child communication, and negative and conflicting parent-child communication.

Direct and indirect aggression: Direct & Indirect Aggression Scale. It has 10 items for physical aggression, 12 items for indirect aggression. These items are answered on a 5-point scale.

Procedure

Questionnaires are administered to schoolchildren in their class, with permissions and consents (won’t bother with details). The participants fill out two questionnaires, given twice with a one-week interval.

Results

Correlations between the variables were conducted, but the main course is from several hierarchical multiple regressions.

Significant main effects were found for boys between the association of video game violence and direct aggression; poor parent-child communication is positively associated with increases in direct and indirect aggression for both genders; older girls were more indirectly aggressive than younger girls. So for video game effects, it seems that regardless of how much time you spend on video games, video game violence is positively associated to direct aggression.

Continuing on the results, a significant interaction effect was found for boys only on the association between age and game violence on direct aggression, this association is stronger among the younger boys (10-year olds). So this is an inverse relation, older boys are less affected by violent video games. However, this does not mean that boys will grow out of it.

Analyses on social intelligence, a negative significant interaction effect was found for boys between social intelligence and game playing for indirect aggression. So the more you play and the higher your social intelligence, the less you are indirectly aggressive and vice versa. A positive interaction effect was found between social intelligence and game violence. So the more violent games you play and the higher your social intelligence, the more you are indirectly aggressive and vice versa. This association is stronger among older boys (13-year olds).

 Results on parent-child communication, there is signification interaction effects found between age and parent-child communication which those two factors influence the association between game playing and direct aggression. This association is also true for game violence and direct aggression. This association is stronger among younger boys (10-year olds). Essentially, game playing and game violence in combination with poor parent-child communication is associated to higher levels of direct aggression. 

Discussion 

This is not a bad study, although I get a bit confused when a study looks through a lot of variables. From the study results, in general there is a positive association between video game violence and direct aggression. When you add other variables like social intelligence and age, the association between game playing, game violence to direct aggression is non-significant. However, it does indicate that parent-child communication has an association for violent video games and direct aggression. So this is evidence that healthy parent-child relationship in general is good for children’s behaviours. Nevertheless, even without video games in the equation, poor parent-child relations would still be a factor in aggression.  

As for indirect aggression, this study raises some concerns and some puzzlement. So there’s a negative relationship between social intelligence and game playing, but a positive one for game violence. So what if a boy with high social intelligence who plays a lot and with a lot of violent video games, does that mean the effects of those two variables cancel each other out on direct aggression? Hmmmm…. Another surprising thing is that there were no significant results for girls at all on the association between video games and aggression. IMO, I believe that video games are still the domain of boys and that girls don’t often play violent video games. In addition, I’ve done some research on indirect/social/relational aggression and they are more aggressive in that domain. So, it means that video games has no associations with girls’ indirect aggression, perhaps these games don’t exposed these types of aggression that often. A new question arises is what about games that contain a lot of relational violence? 

Regarding children’s age, the results seem to point that violent video game has an effect with children’s cognitive schema than the interaction with hormones and biological changes. So, playing violent video games have a stronger effect among younger children than older children. From a broader perspective, the “growing up in a hostile world” is predictive of children’s aggression, children learn of aggressive scripts as a way of life. But please don’t take it to heart. Some implications that I’m thinking is that to make sure to help children differentiate kinds of aggressive behaviours: that is, “aggressive behaviours” and “aggressive play” (i.e. children’s rough and tumble or dodgeball). But it also means that there’s a great potential to have children behave good whilst in a hostile environment. 

Keep in mind that this study investigated among children and not young adults, so no generalization past the mentioned age group. 

Wallenius et al. wrote some cautionary notes, (1) this study does not establish the direction of the causes, so it could be poor family relations lead to more violent games or more violent games lead to poor family relations. (2) The measures used in this study are self-reports from the participants, they could lie or inaccurate in their estimates. (3) The amount they play video games is not always accurate, it could be overestimated. (4) The items for game violence can be subjective among participants, so more objective measures are needed. (5) it is a cross-sectional study, so it doesn’t reveal look into developmental issues as much as a longitudinal study.

Wallenius, M., Punamäki, R., Rimpelä, A. (2007). Digital game playing and direct and indirect aggression in early adolescence: The roles of age, social intelligence, and parent-child communication. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 36(3), 325-336.

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