Killing is positive! (Lang et al. 2013)

Heart rate recordings by Ben Lewis-Evans (University of Groningen) who is not involved in this particular study

Annie Lang (Indiana University) is a name every grad student should know. In fact, one of her former graduate student is a faculty member at OSU (Zheng Joyce Wang). She is big because she developed the Limited Capacity Model of Motivated Mediate Message Processing (LC4MP) explaining how we pay attention to information, be it to a conversation, television or videogames. She is also one of the few who studied communication through psychophysiology.

So when her name came up and it involves videogames, then it must be important, although painful to read since I’m weak against psychophysiology research.


This paper reports a study designed to investigate whether playing violent video games elicits the psychological conditions theoretically required for media use to cause aggressive behavior. Specifically, the study was designed to examine whether these games elicit desensitization, facilitation, and disinhibition. Thus, does physiological arousal in response to violent activity decrease over time during game play, and is there a difference between novice and experienced game players (as would be expected if desensitization had occurred)? Do players experience positive emotional states when actively engaged in virtual violent behavior (fighting and killing opponents) – a necessary condition for disinhibition? Do game players frame their motivations in terms of self-defense and game success, as would be necessary for facilitation to occur? The results showed that playing first-person shooters did elicit these requisite patterns of cognitive, physiological, and emotional states. Violent game play is a positive, arousing, present, dominant experience, as required for disinhibition and facilitation. Experienced game players are less aroused than less experienced game players (as required for desensitization). Further, during a game-playing session, exploring and searching for enemies become less arousing, while fighting and killing become more arousing over time (as required by desensitization and facilitation).

Via Jamie Madigan, I learned that Michael Ambinder [see post, see article] whose mentor is Daniel Simons (University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana), another big name in psychology, used psychophysiology to help design videogames, such as Left 4 Dead. Continue reading


Your index and ring fingers and how much you like violent media (Huh, in press)

"Talk to the hand" (Terminator 3)

I can’t pass this up, it’s too weird and thankfully that article is short, so I’ll write this post accordingly.

This came up on 15 May 2011 when I got an email alert from Sciencedirect of an in press article (as of this writing) digital ratio and media preference. I rarely encountered digit ratio research, I once saw a poster presentation at the CPA convention in 2009. Haeng Ryang Huh (Sejong University) has this brilliant idea of checking it out and published it in Personality and Individual Differences.


Digit ratios (2D:4D) contain information concerning an individual’s propensity towards aggression. Our study adds the first clue to better understanding the relationship between 2D:4D and exposure to aggressive contents in entertainment products. Our findings suggest that individuals with low 2D:4D prefer aggressive contents such as action films, sports telecast, killing and achieving games, hip-hop music, and erotic video clips rather than do individuals with high 2D:4D. Also individuals with low 2D:4D tend to demonstrate less preference for romance films than individuals with high 2D:4D. In addition, we found that low 2D:4D was associated with a preference for sports instead of other genres of entertainment products. Therefore, 2D:4D (a putative correlate of prenatal sex steroids) helps us to better understand the rationale of individuals’ preferences for media violence.

I think the ratio of your index and ring finger having to do with various aspect of your life seemed weird, but its Wikipedia article has some citations that this is a handy avenue of study. So I’m writing this post as I read the article. Continue reading

Playing a video game before bedtime has a slight effect teenager sleep (Weaver et al., 2010)

Mafuyu Shiina (Seitokai no Ichizon) does not sleep at all, she plays...

Via Gamepolitics, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine has found that an experiment involving teenagers playing Call of Duty 4 for 50 minutes before their bedtime took slightly longer to fall asleep. I don’t have access, so I’m deferring this post to Sciencedaily.


Study Objectives: Video-game use before bedtime has been linked with poor sleep outcomes for adolescents; however, experimental evidence to support this link is sparse. The present study investigated the capacity of presleep video-game playing to extend sleep latency and reduce subjective feelings of sleepiness in adolescents. The arousing psychophysiologic mechanisms involved and the impact of presleep video-game playing on sleep architecture were also explored.
Method: Thirteen male adolescent “evening types” (mean age = 16.6 years, SD = 1.1) participated in a counterbalanced, within-subjects design with experimental (active video gaming) and control (passive DVD watching) conditions. The experiment was conducted in the Flinders University Sleep Research Laboratory.
Results: Relative to the control condition, presleep video-game playing increased sleep-onset latency (Z = 2.45, p = 0.01) and reduced subjective sleepiness (Z = 2.36, p = 0.02)—but only slightly. Video gaming was related to changes in cognitive alertness (as measured by α power: p < 0.01) but not physiologic arousal (as measured by heart rate: p > 0.05). Contrary to previous findings, sleep architecture was unaffected (both rapid eye movement and slow wave sleep: p > 0.05).
Conclusions: Results suggest the direct effect of presleep video-game playing on adolescent sleep may be more modest than previously thought, suggesting that surveys linking stimulating presleep activities to poor sleep need substantiating with empirical evidence.

Weaver, E., Gradisar, M., Dohnt, H., Lovato, N., & Douglas, P. (2010) The effect of presleep video-game playing on adolescent sleep. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 6 (2), 184-189.

Violent media induces higher stress reactions (Maass et al., 2010)

These two (Lucky Star) are experiencing different levels of stress

I’m pretty stressed lately from lots of things like graduate school, the CPA poster, class assignments, and daylight savings. But, I’m pretty relaxed when I’m gaming.

Speaking of stress, German psychologists Asja Maass, Arnold Lohaus (University of Bielfeld) and Oliver Wolf (Ruhr-University Bochum) have published an article about media use and its relation to sub-types of stress.


The study is on the effects of entertainment media on physiological and psychological indicators of stress. The concept of stress is considered to play a key role in the explanation of the effects of media use on aggression, academic performance, and health. Two types of media (television and video games) and violent versus nonviolent content were compared. Differential effects on physiological measures (heart rate [HR], heart rate variability [HRV], cortisol, salivary alphaamylase [sAA]) and subjective experience were expected. Study participants consisted of 98 boys, aged 11 to 14. Physiological stress reactions were higher for video games than for television with regards to HR and HRV. Violent content had greater effects on physiological stress than nonviolent content, when measured in terms of sAA, cortisol, and HRV. Violent content, in general, was rated as being more stressful but also more enjoyable. The results underline that certain types of media use are associated with subjective and physiological indices of stress.

I’m thinking of doing skype conversations with the grad advisors. Continue reading

The size of your striatum is key to your gaming success (Erickson et al., in press)

A lot of news reports on a neuropsychological study about the size of your striatum, responsible for procedural learning, being a key factor in successfully learning and mastering a video game. Since it’s a neuropsychological study and I’m weakest in that area, I’ll refer the reporting to other sources. This research is brought by Kirk Erickson (University of Pittsburgh), Walter Boot (Florida State University), and the folks from the Lifelong Brain and Cognition Lab (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign).


Video game skills transfer to other tasks, but individual differences in performance and in learning and transfer rates make it difficult to identify the source of transfer benefits. We asked whether variability in initial acquisition and of improvement in performance on a demanding video game, the Space Fortress game, could be predicted by variations in the pretraining volume of either of 2 key brain regions implicated in learning and memory: the striatum, implicated in procedural learning and cognitive flexibility, and the hippocampus, implicated in declarative memory. We found that hippocampal volumes did not predict learning improvement but that striatal volumes did. Moreover, for the striatum, the volumes of the dorsal striatum predicted improvement in performance but the volumes of the ventral striatum did not. Both ventral and dorsal striatal volumes predicted early acquisition rates. Furthermore, this early-stage correlation between striatal volumes and learning held regardless of the cognitive flexibility demands of the game versions, whereas the predictive power of the dorsal striatal volumes held selectively for performance improvements in a game version emphasizing cognitive flexibility. These findings suggest a neuroanatomical basis for the superiority of training strategies that promote cognitive flexibility and transfer to untrained tasks.

Other sources: ScienceDaily, BussinessWeek, BBC NewsUniversity Press Release.

Erickson, K. L., Boot, W. R., Basak, C., Neider, M.B., Prakash, R. S., Voss, M.W., et al. (in press). Striatal volume predicts level of video game skill acquisition. Cerebral Cortex, DOI: 10.1093/cercor/bhp293

Hormonal responses differences when playing against an ingroup or outgroup (Oxford et al., 2009)

Via gamepolitics, this study examined FPS players’ hormonal responses towards an in-group versus an out-group in a competitive setting. I can understand the evolution part, but I’m a complete beginner in neurobiology, I can’t understand the entire results section.


For 14 teams of three young men, salivary testosterone and cortisol were assessed twice before and twice after competing in within-group and between-group video games that simulated violent male–male competition. Men who contributed the most to their teams’ between-group victory showed testosterone increases immediately after the competition, but only if this competition was played before the within-group tournament. High-scoring men on losing teams did not show this immediate effect, but they did show a delayed increase in testosterone. In contrast, high-ranking men tended to have lower testosterone and higher cortisol during within-group tournaments. The results are consistent with the hypothesis that men’s competitive testosterone response varies across ingroup and outgroup competitions and is muted during the former. The testosterone response during the between-group competition also suggests that violent multiplayer video games may be appealing to young men because they simulate male–male coalitional competition.

I’ve emailed one of the authors for clarification, if the study has an implied link with aggression. Continue reading