Two years ago, I posted about Sabine Glock (University of Luxembourg) and Julia Kneer’s (University of Cologne) experiment on how priming people’s thoughts about violent videogames influenced their aggressive cognition. I also said that I would investigate this line of research… well it failed to launch.
At least they continued their research and they recently published their latest findings in Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking.
Censorship of violent digital games, especially first-person shooter (FPS) games, is broadly discussed between generations. While older people are concerned about possible negative influences of these games, not only players but also nonplayers of the younger net-generation seem to deny any association with real aggressive behavior. Our study aimed at investigating defense mechanisms players and nonplayers use to defend FPS and peers with playing habits. By using a lexical decision task, we found that aggressive concepts are activated by priming the content of FPS but suppressed afterward. Only if participants were instructed to actively suppress aggressive concepts after priming, thought suppression was no longer necessary. Young people still do have negative associations with violent video games. These associations are neglected by implicitly applying defense strategies—independent of own playing habits—to protect this specific hobby, which is common for the net-generation.
Perspectives on Psychological Science, an academic journal, has published a special issue regarding problems of scientific research, included in the issue is Christopher Ferguson’s (Texas A&M) take on this issue.
The authors examined the issue of violent videogames by beginning from an intergenerational perspective. The familiar themes of technological changes are present where the older generation is concerned about new technology as it sets them uneasy about its effects on the younger generation while the younglings perceived such uneasiness as general cluelessness. In the case of videogames, the authors asked if the net-generation, both gamers and non-gamers, would defend videogames from the rhetorical attacks of their elders. Their reasoning is that they grew up with videogames as a normal leisure activity, play or not, and it has become part of their culture or their established group identity. Given that videogame references are the norm in television, it is mainstream culture for my undergraduate students. (However, I am taken aback by their speech patterns like “truth” or “whatevs” as a sentence, I only took on “fail”). The authors asked what cognitive structures would govern defensive reactions from both gamers and non-gamers when primed by the association that violent videogames is related to aggression and violence.
The authors examined such defensive reactions through the priming route. When someone says violent videogames, related ideas, such as things (e.g. game titles, characters, stories, school shootings etc.) and abstract concepts (e.g. war, terrorism, army, etc.) are brought into consciousness. Some ideas are strongly brought up into consciousness for some or weak for others. In effect, a pro-FPS player would have many and nuanced concepts to the FPS whereas a total beginner would have few and superficial concepts related to the FPS [see hilarious video]. The one that gets defensive is the thought that violent videogames causes violent and aggressive behaviours, especially when we start associating with school shootings, everybody knows that and everybody has some ideas about it and it just hurts my studies.
The authors conducted an earlier study where they primed gamers by mentioning violent videogames and found that they took longer to respond to aggressive words. This longer response latency is a defence reaction as they argued that videogames are relatively linked to their self-concept or identity, it seemed like a personal attack of sorts. The authors argued that non-gamers would have similar defence reactions as they may have friends who play videogames and defending videogames is a way to protect their friendship or in-group membership if we take this at a larger scale.
The authors proposed that thought suppression as a defensive reaction to this aversive association. Thought suppression would require considerable mental effort and its strength depends on how personally relevant it is to the person. Such considerable mental effort would show in terms of reaction time to related concepts, in this case, aggressive words. Two suppression routes can be conceptualized, one is that they are protecting videogames because they are also protecting themselves, something that gamers would do. The other route is that protecting videogames to avoid the negative feelings when the associations are brought, that is something non-gamers would do.
With these thoughts, the authors posed four questions: (1) does FPS priming affect gamers and non-gamers in the same way? (2) Do gamers suppress such aversive associations? (3) Do non-gamers suppress aggressive concepts too and do they do it to protect their generations or to avoid those negative feelings? (4) if they were directly asked to suppress them, would there be a need for defensive reactions?
Participants: 80 male undergraduates from the University of Cologne. Average age is 24. Half of the sample has appreciable videogame experience with an average of 5.04 hours per week of gameplay time.
Priming material: 10 screenshots from Left 4 Dead and Modern Warfare 2 were used. A larger pool of screenshots was pre-tested for valence and arousal, 10 screenshots were selected that has lowest ratings on valence and highest ratings on arousal. Based on the ideas of the International Affective Picture System, the order of the 10 selected screenshots were arranged in order to induce aggressive concepts during priming.
Dependent measure: the lexical decision task using words from their previous studies. One of 30 words would be randomly shown. 10 words were aggressive, 10 were neutral and 10 were filler words. The participants were asked to quickly and accurately decide whether the words they were shown were German words or not.
Participants were randomly assigned to one of four groups. The no-priming group were not shown the screenshots and went ahead to the lexical decision task. The other groups were asked to watch a series of screenshots (10).
After that, the three groups were given different instructions. The no-suppression group went directly to the lexical decision task. The suppression group was asked to write an essay about a person who plays FPS games as a free time activity. They were instructed to avoid writing anything negative associations, in particular to aggression. The fourth group, aka the bicycle group, was asked to write an essay about riding a bicycle. This fourth group is to take the no-suppression and suppression groups difference into account, this difference is the time delay between priming and the lexical decision task.
Eventually, all participants completed the lexical decision task with a practice session of course.
Data points where participants took way too long to respond were eliminated from analysis.
They conducted a mixed-factor 2 (gamers vs. non-gamers) X 4 (group condition) X 2 (word type) ANOVA. The last factor was entered in as a repeated measure.
The ANOVA revealed an interaction between word type and group condition. As expected by their hypotheses, those in the no-suppression group responded more slowly (M = 857.74 ms) to the aggressive words than those in the suppression (M = 723.70 ms) and no-priming group (M = 699.77 ms). There were no differences between the suppression and bicycle groups (M = 838.82 ms). However, there was no significant difference between gamers and non-gamers. This showed that when primed by “FPS”, the participants were suppressing aggressive concepts.
Comparing response latencies between aggressive and neutral words, they found that those in the no-suppression and bicycle group showed slower response times to aggressive words (M = 857.74 ms and 729.55 ms, respectively) than to neutral words (M = 838.82 ms and 746.65 ms, respectively).
The take-home message is that a rhetorical attack on videogames is a rhetorical attack on the net-generation. For research purposes, any mention or mere presence of violent videogames as a focus of an experiment is bound to bring out defensive reactions from the student participants or priming stereotypes. Although, telling participants to avoid associating negative things about violent videogames leads to relaxation and confidence about the study being friendly to them, so I read between the lines.
The authors surmised about the non-gamers motives for suppressive negative concepts with violent videogames. They surmised that given those in the bicycle condition showed suppression effects, it means that they are defensive until they are relaxed as shown in the suppression condition. This supports that the net-generation as a whole view videogames as part of their cultural identity.
The authors offered another view in how defence strategies worked by emphasising the positive aspects of videogames. Unfortunately, this is their limitation in that they did not include positive words, but there is evidence in the literature that videogames are played because they are fun, enjoyable and very social. Thus, we might expect in a future study that positive words would result in faster response time relative to neutral and aggressive words. I’ll be waiting for that study.
An interesting sidenote is who are defending videogames. I vaguely remember some qualitative research involving interviews with young children defending videogames, but was cautious about its effects involving younger siblings. Glancing some parts of Cheryl Olson and Lawrence Kutner’s Grand Theft Childhood research, parents may also play a part in defending videogames, mostly I believe is that they don’t see their children being aggressive twats and of course, good parenting style. However, they might have different attitudes for legislation for other children via the Third Person effect.
On the internet, I stopped reading comments on gaming sites whenever a videogame study is reported, it usually end up being a vitriol of personal attacks on the researchers, outright denials using anecdotes, or on barking at the methodology without considering the reality of data collection. The November issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science might make zealous gamers feel vindicated about their opinions about videogame research, but they must consider that research supporting their views are not immune.
Kneer, J., Munko, D., Glock, S., & Bente, G. (2012). Defending the doomed: Implicit strategies concerning protection of First-Person shooter games. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 15 (5), 251-256. DOI: 10.1089/cyber.2011.0583