Voices In The Family radio show interviews experts on video game effects

Through the Teens & Tech blog, a radio show in Delaware called Voices In The Family inteviewed two psychology experts on the subject of video game effects, the interviewees were Dr. Douglas A. Gentile of Iowa State University and Dr. Lawrence A. Kutner of Harvard Medical School Center for Mental Health and Media and co-author of Grand Theft Childhood: the surprising truth about video games. The interview can be listened to on the net and it’s about an hour long and I recommend for anyone who needs to hear researchers’ opinions on video game violence.

My first impression of the interview was that I already know what they’re talking, so if you happen to have read their books, then you basically have a transcript that covers mostly the radio interview. So Dr. Gentile’s part can read be from Violent Video Game Effects on Children and Adolescents: Theory, Research, and Public Policy  while Dr. Kutner’s part can be read from his Grand Theft Childhood book. Otherwise, it’s quite informative about the past and current situation of psychology video game research, the two experts agree on many points of interests, such as risk factors of aggressive behaviours, some of the disagreements stem from their research studies and I was rather annoyed that the radio host asked one question to one expert, but not to both, such as what the researchers would define a violent video game.

Some highlights from the show that caught my attention:

  1. Dr. Kutner is more concerned about which part of the population that would be at risk from violent video game effects.
  2. The radio host was concerned about the rise in interactivity in video games, specifically the Nintendo Wii, Dr. Gentile replied that the research was “equivocal”. ( to my knowledge, see Barlett et al., 2007 and my post on video game violence vs. television violence).
  3. Definition of a violent video game: Dr. Gentile follows the traditional aggression research paradigm that any games is deemed violent if the objective of the game is to have the player intentionally harm another character who does not wish to be harmed. That’s a big assumption on other characters that do not wished to be harmed. Dr. Kutner’s answer was his discussion on people’s confusion between aggression and violence.
  4. Dr. Gentile discussed the one of his studies’ findings (Gentile & Gentile, 2008) while Dr. Kutner discussed his findings from his book.
  5. The radio host asked about whether a child with an aggression personality would be attracted to violent video games, which one started to affect one and the other and whether this affect a child’s aggression. Dr. Gentile replied that it doesn’t matter which one started, he emphasized what keeps increasing a child’s aggression. I surmised that he’s referring to a theoretical model called the downward spiral model.
  6. The radio host asked (to Dr. Kutner) if it was the environment has a higher role than video games in causing aggression. I find that question rather
  7. Both experts talked about risk and protective factors and how these factors can determine the levels of aggression a child might display. Dr. Gentile seems more cautious in letting kids play more video games than Dr. Kutner, although he admits that violent video games would certainly not lead someone to become a killer, but he emphasized that it affects other behaviours, such as bullying or misfit behaviours. In addition, he emphasized that violent media is something relatively controllable than, say poverty, and it’s something that can curb children’s aggression. I find it convincing, but IMO, this doesn’t mean the government has the responsibility to take action when it’s the parents that has to.
  8. One point of disagreement (I think) between Drs. Gentile and Kutner is about violent video games being learning tools for aggression. Dr. Gentile emphasized that practicing violent actions makes people better at being aggressive, Dr. Kutner added that practice doesn’t make one compelled to be aggressive and aggressive behaviours can’t be explained in simple terms.
  9. Another point of disagreement is how much time a child should play video games. Dr. Gentile said that he’d rely on the American Academic Pediatrics’ recommendation of 1 to 2 hours of media play, including TV, computer, ipod, anything related to media. Whereas Dr. Kutner is more flexible, saying that the AAP’s recommendation isn’t based on evidence. He said the amount of playtime doesn’t matter as long as the child is performing adequately at school and doesn’t show any problems towards parents, friends or anything else. If there are problems, then playing video games is just an indicator of problems and parents should focus on the underlying causes.
  10. Their opinion on the current video game rating system is that while it’s good, lot improvements are needed, mainly to address parents’ concerns on media. (see Walsh & Gentile, 2001; Gentile, Humphrey, & Walsh, 2005).

Barlett, C. P., Harris, R. J., & Baldassaro, R. (2007). Longer you play, the more hostile you feel: Examination of first person shooter video games and aggression during video game play. Aggressive Behavior, 33(6), 486-497.

Gentile, D. A., Humphrey, J., & Walsh, D. A. (2005). Media ratings for movies, music, video games, and television: A review of the research and recommendations for improvements. Adolescent Medicine Clinics, 16(2), 427-46, x.

Gentile, D., & Gentile, J. (2008). Violent video games as exemplary teachers: A conceptual analysis. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 37(2), 127-141.

Walsh, D. A., & Gentile, D. A. (2001). A validity test of movie, television, and video-game ratings. Pediatrics, 107(6), 1302-1308.


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