Supernanny segment on violent video games

Dr. Douglas Gentile in Supernanny

Note to self: I should have taken the Parent Examiner role…

Via Gamepolitics (who picked it up from the Guardian), a segment from the show Supernanny has investigated the effects of violent video games on children, with Dr.Douglas Gentile’s assistance. I saw the segment on youtube and the methods used are pretty familiar for anyone in the media effects literature: two groups of children either play a violent video game or a nonviolent video game. Their heart rate are being monitored, and they were shown a violent news report. Some children were interviewed by Dr. Douglas Gentile who simulated an accident by overturning a stack of pencils. The results showed that children in violent video game group were physiologically desensitized to the violent news report and they are less likely to help pick up the spilled pencils. That’s unsurprising results to me and even if skeptic gamers don’t accept the validity of this experiment, that doesn’t matter since the experiment was based on earlier ones, albeit with adults.

However, I was disappointed on the interview simulations in that Dr. Gentile did not proceed (after a certain delay or immediately) to pick up the spilled pencils or say any prompts to incite the child to help. If you’ve seen the video, the first simulation had him react ‘naturally’ to the accident. That’s a believable simulation. On subsequent simulations (as far as I’ve been shown), he did not react as naturally as the first one.  That irks me a lot since I am in a psych lab that does similar simulations with children. Speaking of which, I recognized familiar camera equipment that we also use in the lab. I’ll show the video to my colleagues and hear their opinion.

Skimming over the comments (and ignoring the rage) on the youtube video, this was pointed out several times. One particular comment was how children mimicked the interviewer’s behaviours of which I also observed when I saw it the first time.

Update (11/02/10): My colleagues’s share my skepticism about the manner the simulation was conducted. One noted how children were trying to pick on behavioural cues from the interviewer in order to react. Another opined that emotional reactions from the first few seconds should be examined as well.

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2 thoughts on “Supernanny segment on violent video games

  1. After watching the YouTube video, I’ve got to say, that was a very good catch. It would seem the children are simply following Dr. Gentile’s cues. His reaction to the “accident” appeared to change based on the “type” of child he was interviewing. Something is a little fishy there, to a point where I would question his credibility.

    Regardless of the results, Jo Frost’s conclusion about the ratings is the real point to focus on. The reason those ratings are there is because we are affected by what we see/play/read.

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