Psychiatrist cites her sources to assert claim that violent videogames is linked to rape

The upcoming videogame, Bulletstorm, caused a furor in Fox news because of its use of sexual innuendo. Much like any videogames in the past that Fox news seemed to gasp in disgust, it earned several superlatives: it earned the title of worst video game in the world. Again, this situation is similar to the Mass Effect love scene. Since I don’t follow Fox News news gaffes, I’m probably sure there are more videogame related superficial and superlative claims.

Kotaku followed the story[1], it turns out that Fox news was being a deceptive by cutting out experts’ responses or selective through agenda setting [Rock, Paper, Shotgun]. One particular quote that riled every gamer and blogger (me included) is the following misquote from Carole Lieberman, a psychiatrist:

The increases in rapes can be attributed in large part to the playing out of [sexual] scenes in video games.

Her full response as reported by Kotaku:

Video games have increasingly, and more brazenly, connected sex and violence in images, actions and words. This has the psychological impact of doubling the excitement, stimulation and incitement to copycat acts. The increase in rapes can be attributed, in large part, to the playing out of such scenes in video games.

Even with her full quote, the damage is much worse since she made quantified claims: doubling this and that? Copycat acts? If she made quantified claims, then that means she had an article that empirically found such relationship. An article from deconstructed her claims and promptly trashed them thanks to simply showing rape statistics and asking Douglas Gentile, someone who does actual research on videogames. Next, she was hounded to provide sources to support her claims. Update (16/02/11): Forget my blog, Rock, Paper, Shotgun did an amazing job at dissecting the sources. Got to them.

John Locke (Lost) is disappointed at Fox news and Lieberman

Via Gamepolitics, she provided citations that I was… disappointed. I must say that her citations are too general. Three articles [1][2][3] addressed the issue of sexual depiction in media in general.  A quick look at these articles (1&3), the articles made mentions of research on sexualized violence against in television. I’ll repeat again, sexualized violence against women in television. Here’s a quote from the APA piece (1):

WHEREAS studies further suggest that sexualized violence in the media has been linked to increases in violence towards women, rape myth acceptance and anti-women attitudes. Research on interactive video games suggests that the most popular video games contain aggressive and violent content; depict women and girls, men and boys, and minorities in exaggerated stereotypical ways; and reward, glamorize and depict as humorous sexualized aggression against women, including assault, rape and murder

As far as Lieberman’s literature review, her sources were not supporting her conclusion entirely. Sexualized violence against women in media does not directly lead to increase likelihood to rape women, but lead to more acceptance of rape myths, anti-women attitudes and violence towards women. Attitudes, but not behaviours. Linking sexual attitudes with sexual behaviours is not exactly easy to do, since there’s a whole of bunch variables factoring into, like social contexts, internal states, etc.

Her next citation is a Psychology Today blog post by Karen Dill (whom Fox News should’ve asked). If Carole Lieberman read the blog post carefully, Karen Dill cited some relevant videogame research (that I blogged). Dill’s post is about Rapeplay, a genuinely sexually-explicit and violent Hentai game from Japan. That game is a genuine piece of academic interest into sexualized violence media effects research, because it contained a lot of content that is just damning degrading to women. In short, Rapeplay is a violent pornography videogame. Bulletstorm has only sexual innuendos and would hardly be classifed as violent pornography. Content-wise, Bulletstorm sounds tame compared to Rapeplay, probably like a potty mouthed man you might hear at some bar or party. Social context-wise, Bulletstorm is M-rated for adults or young adults, not children. At the top of my head in terms of immediate effects, any guy (or less likely gal) who repeats those sexual lines is likely to have played the game. When it comes to sexual attitudes, I’ll defer judgment to the experts…

If Lieberman were to correct herself by being more specific to sexualized videogames, then as far I can recall there are two relevant studies. Karen Dill’s in 2008 and Mike Yao’s in 2010. Their outcome variables measured sexual attitudes towards women, Dill included an attitudes towards supporting rape scale and both used a paper-and-pencil questionnaire. The questionnaire is about hypothetical scenarios “depicting sexually-exploitive opportunities” (Yao et al., 2010) and asked participants how likely (on point scales) they were to take advantage of the situation.

Do these studies measured actual rape behaviours? No. Can they directly measure rape behaviours in future studies with the same population? Ethical not. Even If they do, participants are highly likely to lie about raping behaviours.  Hence, the hypothetical scenarios measure. Can they asked rapists about their videogame play? Sure, but the rapists themselves can be different from gamers and the general population on many factors. So what’s the take home message about Carole Lieberman’s claims? Quote from Douglas Gentile in the Wired piece : “… is extrapolating farther than science actually allows her.”

Frankly, Lieberman’s citations of her sources is not helping at all.

So, I’ll stop here because I’m about to collapse and whenever possible somebody from Ohio State University send me a sandwich because I was hungry writing this post.

Update (20 minutes later?) And now something completely different:



4 thoughts on “Psychiatrist cites her sources to assert claim that violent videogames is linked to rape

  1. I too found this explosion on the news and Internet waves and, frankly it made a massive splash. Karen is my dissertation chair, so I’m very close with her on these matters. The biggest problem with this type of analysis and research is specifically studying something because you are predicting that X result will happen. That’s not science. That’s predicting behavior by asking leading hypothetical questions.

    Instead, violent video game research (and I’m sure glad the Wired article contacted and got responses from Gentile since he’s a heavy hitter in this field) should throw out a net and catch what it can catch, not specifically hunt for this one species. To continue with the wave/ocean metaphor.

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