Last week, we learned of a violent game study that managed to locate a link between desensitization and aggression.
Recently, I had a chance to speak with Dr. Bruce Bartholow, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Missouri. He led the study in question and I wanted to A. discuss the implications of the results, B. gain more insight into how the study was conducted, and C. talk about a few other topics that are directly related to the subject at hand. And considering how highly we value our readers, I made sure to read through the comments to the article linked above (and Dr. Bartholow read them, too), and formulate a few questions based on that feedback.
Firstly, we tackled the subject of correlation versus causation. Dr. Bartholow admits that this is always an important question, but he clarifies that his study is indeed an experiment and that's a crucial distinction. Said Dr. Bartholow:
"The issue of correlation versus causation is hugely important in any scientific study. But this study wasn't correlational in nature; this was an experiment. We randomly assigned a violent or non-violent game, so the differences we see can only be attributed to the game itself and nothing else.
Other factors, like parental involvement, can contribute to aggression but in our experiment, none of that is relevant. The basic idea behind an experimental study is that you randomly assign people to conditions; there's a chance that someone in an abusive household might be in a non-violent or violent game condition."
Dr. Bartholow goes on to say that he certainly doesn't discount other factors that can lead to aggression, and furthermore, he clarifies the results of the study for those who jump to certain conclusions. While the link between desensitization and aggression seems to have been established, this doesn't mean the researchers have concluded that everyone who plays a violent video game will turn into a serial killer. And as for all of you who always go, "oh, I play violent games all the time and I'm fine," Dr. Bartholow responds:
"People sometimes have a hard time understanding- we don't always understand why we do the things we do. We don't have a lot of insight into what we think or how we act. One of the things I often say in the face of the 'I play violent games and I'm fine' argument is that we're not suggesting that every person who plays a violent game will become a violent person.
What we're suggesting is that immediately after playing a violent video game, that person is more likely to be more aggressive for a little while. And it might be small; they might cut someone off in traffic or give someone a dirty look. It's just an increased likelihood that they'll do or say something insulting or harmful to another person."
Feel free to discuss. For the record, we can easily condemn a great many "studies" that really don't seem to be done in the interest of science. However, this experiment is intriguing on a number of different levels, and it would be a mistake to peg Dr. Bartholow as an anti-gaming activist hell-bent on getting those aforementioned headlines. As he says, he doesn't seek to become a "policy maker" and at the end of the day, moderation for all ages is key.
I happen to agree with that. More from the Dr. Bartholow discussion soon.