Effects of affective orientation and video game play on aggressive thoughts and behaviors.

Author:Cicchirillo, Vincent
 
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Although numerous studies have shown that playing violent video games can elicit aggressive behavior (C. A. Anderson, 2003a, 2004; C. A. Anderson & Bushman, 2001; C. A. Anderson et al., 2004; C. A. Anderson & Dill, 2000; C. A. Anderson & Murphy, 2003; Ballard & Lineberger, 1999; Bartholow & Anderson, 2002; Bushman & Anderson, 2002; Sherry, 2001) and cognition (C. A. Anderson, 2003a; C. A. Anderson & Bushman, 2001; C. A. Anderson et al., 2004; K. B. Anderson, Anderson, Dill, & Deuser, 1998; Bushman & Anderson, 2002), very few studies have taken into account the extent to which game players' personality traits may moderate these effects. Media scholars, however, recommend examining the roles played by personality traits in the media effects process. For example, Oliver (2002) suggested that

 individual differences can play an important role in moderating the direction and nature of media influence ... The existence of certain individual characteristics may heighten or intensify media influences or may even provide a necessary condition for media influences to occur. (p. 518) 

Regarding media violence, Sparks and Sparks (2002) suggested that the role played by individual differences in the media violence-aggressive behavior link and effects of video games on aggressive behavior will be the foci of future research. With regard to effects of violent video games in particular, C. A. Anderson (2003a, 2003b) pointed out that although there are valid theoretical reasons to believe that different types of people may be more or less susceptible to video games' effects, researchers have not really addressed this issue. Given this paucity of research, C. A. Anderson (2003a) issued a call for research on this issue. The present study responds to this call by examining the extent to which individuals' affective orientation moderates the effects of video game play on aggressive thoughts and behaviors. The hypotheses for this study are based on a rationale formulated from the priming and cognitive neoassociationistic theoretical perspectives.

Media Priming

Priming refers to the process in which certain stimuli activate ideas related to the stimuli within persons' minds. "It maintains that the presentation of a certain stimulus having a particular meaning 'primes' other semantically related concepts, thus heightening the likelihood that thoughts with much the same meaning as the presentation stimulus will come to mind" (Jo & Berkowitz, 1994, p. 46). Priming is based on the cognitive neoassociationistic perspective (J. Anderson & Bower, 1973; Landman & Manis, 1983), which conceives of human memory as a network of nodes that correspond to an individual's emotions, behavioral tendencies, and thoughts, and that are connected through associative pathways. The strength of these pathways is affected by contiguity, similarity, and semantic relatedness. Spreading activation occurs when a node is activated, causing related nodes to be activated and to spread to other thoughts, feelings, and behavioral tendencies throughout the network (Jo & Berkowitz, 1994).

Exposure to media messages is one way these memory nodes can be activated. For instance, exposure to verbally aggressive television sitcoms might call to mind certain aggressive thoughts related to aggressive ideas within one's mind (Chory-Assad, 2004). Related specifically to video games, C. A. Anderson and Dill (2000) believed that "playing a violent video game also can increase the accessibility of aggressive cognitions by semantic priming processes" (p. 773). Likewise, in the present study, it is expected that playing a violent video game will prime aggressive thoughts, which will spread to behavior tendencies marked by aggression.

Violent Video Games and Aggression

Violent Video Game Content

According to Gentile and Anderson (2003), researchers define violent video games as those games in which the player can harm other characters in the game. They go on to state that in many of today's most popular games, harming other characters is the main activity and that killing occurs at a high rate. Research by Children Now (2001) found that 89% of video games contain some violent content and that about half include violence toward other characters that would result in serious injuries or death.

Also consistent with Gentile and Anderson's (2003) observations and Children Now's (2001) results are additional content analyses that demonstrate video games' violent content. For example, Dietz (1998) found that nearly 80% of 1995's most popular Nintendo and Sega Genesis video games included some type of aggression, ranging from sports aggression (48% of violence) to criminal victimization (52% of violence). Dietz found that in most cases, the violence was directed at another human-like character and was often quite graphic. Dietz also noted that many of the games included violence as the key used to accomplish goals. Furthermore, socially acceptable aggression was shown in 27% of the video games.

A more recent content analysis conducted by Smith, Lachlan, and Tamborini (2003) examined 1999's 20 most popular Sony PlayStation, Nintendo (N64), and Sega DreamCast games for acts of violence. Smith et al. found that even games receiving an Entertainment Software Rating Board rating of E/K-A (for everyone 6 years and older) featured, on average, at least one violent interaction per minute. Games rated T (for teen audiences 13 years and older) and M (for mature or adult audiences 17 years and older) contained, on average, 4.59 violent interactions per minute. Furthermore, about half of the time the violence in E/K-A rated games was justified and rewarded, resulted in unrealistically low harm to targets, and appeared in a humorous context. Never was the violence punished. In comparison to the E/K-A rated games, the violence in games rated T and M was even more likely to be shown as justified and was more likely to be repeated. The T and M rated games also contained more depictions of blood and gore and included the use of guns and unconventional weapons, such as baseball bats and chairs, to execute the violence.

Violent Video Game Effects

Aggressive Cognition. Not only do video games contain violent material, but higher levels of aggressive thoughts and behaviors have been observed among individuals who play these types of games. Experimental research conducted by C. A. Anderson and colleagues has shown that participants who play violent versus nonviolent video games tend to experience more aggressive thoughts following play. For instance, Bushman and Anderson (2002) found that participants who played a violent video game tended to expect others to react to potential conflicts with aggression to a greater extent than did participants who played a nonviolent video game. Likewise, C. A. Anderson et al.'s (2004) results indicated that participants who played a violent video game produced a higher rate of aggressive word completions than did those who played a nonviolent game. Finally, meta-analyses have consistently shown violent video game play to be linked with higher levels of aggressive thoughts. C. A. Anderson and Bushman's (2001) meta-analysis indicated that playing violent video games was associated with increased aggressive cognition (r = .27) and that player sex, player age, or study type (e.g., experiment vs. nonexperimental) did not impact this effect. More recent meta-analyses conducted by C. A. Anderson and colleagues yielded similar results. C. A. Anderson's (2003a, 2004) and C. A. Anderson et al.'s (2004) meta-analyses, which included studies with adults and children as participants, demonstrated that playing violent video games significantly increased aggressive cognition. C. A. Anderson (2003a) observed similar results when examining only studies that included children as participants.

Aggressive Behavior. In addition to increasing users' aggressive thoughts after play, violent video game play has also been associated with higher levels of aggressive behavior after play. Experimental studies conducted by C. A. Anderson and colleagues showed that participants who played a violent video game punished confederates with higher levels of white noise blasts than did participants who played a nonviolent video game (C. A. Anderson et al., 2004; C. A. Anderson & Murphy, 2003; Bartholow & Anderson, 2002). Similarly, participants who played a violent video game punished confederates more aggressively by holding their hands in ice water for longer periods of time than did participants who played a nonviolent video game (Ballard & Lineberger, 1999). Meta-analyses have also shown violent video game play to be associated with increased aggressive behavior. Sherry's (2001) meta-analysis indicated that video game use was associated with higher levels of aggressive behavior (e.g., aggression during free play, reward or punishment), with a mean effect size of r = .09. Compared to Sherry's results, C. A. Anderson and Bushman's (2001) meta-analysis indicated that playing violent video games was even more strongly associated with aggressive behavior (r= .19) and that player sex, player age, or study type did not moderate this effect. Likewise, C. A. Anderson's (2003a) and C. A. Anderson et al.'s (2004) meta-analyses demonstrated that playing violent video games significantly increased aggressive behavior in children and adults. Finally, C. A. Anderson's (2004) meta-analysis suggested that the best estimate of the effect size for violent video game play on aggressive behavior was approximately .26.

Given the research on the effects of playing violent video games on...

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