Via gamepolitics, Brad Bushman and Craig Anderson had conducted two sets of studies that showed how violent media numb individuals from helping others. Here’s the university press release and be sure to listen to the podcast. A little aside, I would like to give my finger to Wiley-Blackwell for poor customer service, again. Why make a press release in February when that paper isn’t going to be published until March? Can’t hold back the excitement?
Two studies tested the hypothesis that exposure to violent media reduces aid offered to people in pain. In Study 1, participants played a violent or nonviolent video game for 20 min. After game play, while completing a lengthy questionnaire, they heard a loud fight, in which one person was injured, outside the lab. Participants who played violent games took longer to help the injured victim, rated the fight as less serious, and were less likely to “hear” the fight in comparison to participants who played nonviolent games. In Study 2, violent- and nonviolent-movie attendees witnessed a young woman with an injured ankle struggle to pick up her crutches outside the theater either before or after the movie. Participants who had just watched a violent movie took longer to help than participants in the other three conditions. The findings from both studies suggest that violent media make people numb to the pain and suffering of others.
Since they used a classical quasi-experimental paradigm from Bibb latané and John Darley, the bystander effect. My first impression is that they just added their knowledge on aggression and violent media into an existing experimental paradigm and saw the results.
Participants: 320 college students
Measures: they used the video game rating sheet to assess the games (if there are differences on various factors like boringness or violent content, etc.), and participants indicated their favourite gaming genre. In addition, a lengthy bogus questionnaire.
Video games used: Carmageddon, Duke Nukem, Mortal Kombat, Future Cop are the violent games. Glider Pro, 3D Pinball, Austin Powers, and Tetra Madness are the non-violent games.
Participants are randomly assigned to one of the games and played for 20 minutes. They are then given the questionnaires and when they are doing the lengthy bogus questionnaire, the experimenter played an audio recording of a staged fight. The recording I believe is to standardize the event across all participants. If it’s not, then you might find one staged fight scene believable and another one not believable making some participant data unsuable or making data analysis a living hell for the poor research coders. In any case, they tested out the staged fight to see if it’s believable and they made some adjustments until it’s believable by all testers. The experimenter timed the participants on how long they would help out and some other detail that I leave out.
In general, there are no differences between participants in the violent (21%) or non-violent (25%) video game condition on whether they decided to help, it was noted that individuals who stated their favourite game (that involves fighting with hands or weapons) were among those who helped the least (11%) versus those whose favourite game is non-violent (26%).
When participants to help, there was a difference in that those in violent took longer: 73 seconds versus 16 seconds. They were less likely to report that they heard a fight (94% versus 99%) and they thought the fight as less serious ( average score of 5.91 versus 6.44 out of a scale of 10).
Looking at the effect size (cohen’s d only), according to wikipedia it’s small with the exception to the time it takes to help.
This one is a field experiment and therefore has high external validity (IMO). Now imagine candid camera-style experiment, but this time from a movie theatre where they showed a violent (The Ruins) or non-violent (Nim’s Island) movie and you’ve got an actor whose obviously injured and dropped something and needs help. Do this before watching movie and after the movie. What you get are helping behaviour differences. Go back to the abstract for details of the procedure.
Participants: 162 moviegoers who did not suspect anything. Consent was not required because no personal information was asked of them. So researchers don’t know their age or socioeconomic status, but given that everyone goes to the movies, the experimenters are just doing the experiment with random people. It’s a give and take limitation between uncontrolled experiment versus tightly controlled experiment.
Results: no difference in helping behaviours before moviegoers watched a movie (violent or nonviolent). Personality factors are ruled out. Crowd effects were duly noted. There are differences in helping behaviours after moviegoers watched a movie, those who saw a violent movie took longer to help ( M= 6.89 seconds versus M =5.46 seconds).
That is all. I’ll be making some comments at gamepolitics to address whatever questions commentators may have.
Bushman, B. J., & Anderson, C. A. (2009). Comfortably numb: Desensitizing effects of violent media on helping others. Psychological Science, 20 (3), 273-277. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02287.x.