Aug. 21, 2000 Preexisting traits may have greater effect on behavior than short term video play
WASHINGTON -- Children who are either aggressive or empathic seem not to have those traits changed by short-term exposure to violent video games, according to new research being presented today (Aug. 7, 2000) at the 108th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association (APA).
Psychologists Jeanne B. Funk, Ph.D., and Debra D. Buchman, Ph.D., R.N., and their colleagues Melissa Myers and Jennifer Jenks studied the video and computer game-playing habits of 35, 8- to 12-year-olds (25 boys/10 girls) categorizing their three favorite video or computer games. The children were also asked to complete two survey tools‹the Attitudes Toward Violence Scale (child version) and Child Opinion Scale, an empathy measure.
After completing the questionnaires, the children played one of two computer games for 15 minutes. One game was nonviolent, the other violent. Next, the children responded to 14 gender-specific vignettes; half were designed with aggressive responses as a possible alternative ("Julie always likes to start fights with other kids"), the other half were designed to trigger empathic responses ("Bobby is walking outside for recess. He sees a new kid in his class crying at the side of the playground"). The children were then asked to describe what happened next in the vignette scenarios and what they would do if they found themselves in such situations.
An analysis of the children's responses found no significant relationship between playing a violent video game during the testing and scores on the subsequent measures of empathy and aggression. According to the researchers, the brief period of game playing seemed to have minimal impact on how the children responded to the vignettes. But, a child's choice of his or her "favorite" video game was significantly related to the child's total aggression score. In addition, children's preexisting aggression score predicted their total aggression measure. Children whose favorite games were violent scored the highest on the total aggression measure.
Why? The authors theorize that it may be that children who have a preference for violent games are more likely to give aggressive responses as a result of their long-term exposure to such games. Or, it may be that aggressive children simply prefer violent games. Most likely, according to the authors, the reason for the choice is some interaction between personality traits and exposure, but more research is needed to determine in what proportion.
The authors suggest that their findings show that in any research on the impact of electronic games, it is critical to examine preexisting tendencies that may have an impact on an individual's response pattern. According to the authors, these preexisting tendencies "may be a more powerful determinant of postexperimental response than any short-term circumscribed manipulation."
The authors caution that the present finding should not be interpreted as indicating that there is no relationship between a child's choice of video games and aggression and empathy. They do suggest, however, that preexisting tendencies may have a stronger influence on behavior than short-term playing of violent video games.
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