from the when-everything-looks-like-a-scapegoat... dept
Brad Bushman, the Ohio State University researcher who (usually in conjunction with Craig Anderson) has somehow managed to ignore a body of work to the contrary, has again produced a study that claims video games turn players into monsters. His study, conducted with the aid of Italian researchers, makes a couple of specific claims based on the observed behavior of the 172 subjects.
– People playing violent video games are more dishonest than those playing non-violent games.
– People playing violent video games exhibit less self control than those playing non-violent video games.
Subjects either played violent games (Grand Theft Auto III or GTA: San Andreas) or non-violent games (Golf3D or Pinball3D). During their playtime, they were given a bowl of M&Ms to snack on, but were first warned that eating too much candy in one sitting was “unhealthy.”
Let’s stop right here for a moment and consider the credibility of researchers who (presumably with a straight face) told teenagers that eating too much candy would make their tummies hurt. The health implications of a single bowl of candy in a research setting are effectively nil, but this ridiculous instruction is used as evidence that violent video games adversely affect players’ judgement.
According to Bushman’s research, players playing violent games ate more than those playing non-violent games. Ipso facto, violent game players have less self-control.
Post-playtime, players were given a set of logic questions to answer and received a raffle ticket for each correct answer. The “catch” (as it were) was that players were allowed to collect these tickets themselves from an envelope. Research showed those playing violent games were eight times as likely to grab more tickets than they actually earned, thus suggesting players of violent games are more subject to moral turpitude.
An additional factor thrown into the mix was a post-play “game” which gave players the option to blast losing players with a loud noise through their headphones. (There was actually no one on the receiving end of the blasts, which is kind of a shame…) Violent game players were much more prone to do this, again suggesting those under the influence of Grand Theft Auto tend to be more aggressive and harmful towards others.
The problem with Bushman’s study is that it collects evidence on short-term effects (behavior observed during or shortly after play) and uses that to suggest there are long-term repercussions inherent in playing violent games. It’s completely unsurprising that those who had played Grand Theft Auto would be more prone to blast other players with noise than those who played a sedate game like Golf. (It would be interesting to see this comparison done more aggressive sports games — like football, hockey or boxing.) Both games demand a different mental approach and a game containing violent behavior would likely see a short-term rise in aggression in most players.
Also, when players have just finished playing a game where their protagonists can break all sorts of laws, taking a couple of extra tickets just doesn’t seem to be a big deal. But this is behavior viewed nearly immediately after playing. A reasonable amount of “cool down” time would likely reduce this number. Stealing a raffle ticket from a research project is a far cry from exiting the building and punching people or making off with their vehicles.
The less said about the candy “evidence,” the better. But, if nothing else, we are again observing behavior during and shortly after gameplay, not long-term indicators.
It needs to be highlighted that the negative behavior was more prevalent in those who “scored highest on a measure of moral disengagement.” This suggests the underlying factors are pre-existing, rather than created by gameplay. Research subjects with moral issues were more morally suspect. Go figure. Bushman wants to believe the video games alter the morals of players, but his own research states otherwise. In fact, Bushman himself states otherwise.
“Those who are most morally disengaged are likely to be the ones who show less self-restraint after playing.”
Even the “moral disengagement” is questionable. Take a look at one of the questions used to indicate “moral disengagement.”
“Compared to the illegal things people do, taking some things from a store without paying for them is not very serious.”
Well, no kidding. Someone doesn’t have to be suffering from outsized “moral disengagement” to realize that stealing from a store is a much less serious crime than other criminal acts (like, say, stealing directly from another person). Anyone who disagreed with this statement has some moral issues of their own.
Bushman’s study involved 172 students, a grouping that will generally produce statistically solid results. But compare those 172 who seemingly proved Bushman’s theory (“violent video games are unquestionably bad”) to a recent study involving 11,000 children that spanned 10 years. A broader base, spread over time, indicated that video game playing had nearly no discernible effect on children.
Bushman’s (and Anderson’s) body of work has tried to prove that violent video games make people violent, but has actually done little more than see him push preconceived notions under the pretense of “science.” His research tends to indicate short-term effects but his statements assert players of violent video games are incapable of resetting their moral compass. He’s been called out before for his flawed research and cherry-picked “analysis.” This is more of the same. Bushman ignores the results his own “moral disengagement” test and makes the claim that violent video games make otherwise good people aggressive, dishonest and (LOL) eat more candy.
Because of his past “research,” Bushman (and Anderson) will continue to be the go-to man for talking heads who want their own perceptions of Big Bad Video Games confirmed. Those willing to see past the headlines will find little more than a researcher repeatedly confirming his own bias.
Filed Under: brad bushman, studies, video games, violence