For every research study that says games cause increased aggression, there are thousands of gamers who protest, saying, "Gaming didn't make me more aggressive, I would have started World War III by now if it were true..." Of course these personal opinions can't refute a study by themselves, but the ubiquity of this response did get researchers thinking.
Cognitive Daily, a ScienceBlog, reports on a new study which tries to answer the question "What effect does personality have on aggressive influence?" The project examines why the blanket influence suggested by other studies doesn't affect everyone. What they found was that the personality factor of agreeableness might influence our reaction to aggression-related cues.
The experiment ran as follows. Following a word association game, which used either "neutral" or "aggressive" word associations, players were asked to set the volume for a "punishment" noise blast. The researchers looked exclusively at initial volume setting, so the results wouldn't be affected by anything but the word association "priming."
Both low and highly agreeable persons set the initial volume about the same when "primed" with a neutral association (for example: "buy" and "mop"). But the results were significantly different when the subjects were primed with aggressive words ("torture," "slash"). Less agreeable subjects set the initial volume very high, but agreeable subjects actually set it lower than when presented with a neutral priming. So the agreeable subjects were apparently being even nicer when primed with aggressive words.
Baffled, researchers looked at pro- vs. anti-social word associations. The new test looked at reaction time for word association, asking participants to label words as pro- or anti-social. The results showed that agreeable subjects were faster at correctly categorizing words, both pro- and anti-social, no matter what kind of words they had been "primed" with.
While the study doesn't claim any conclusive results, it does suggest that being of a certain personality type might could make you more resistant to anti-social or aggressive suggestions, which would cast doubt on any particular game's ability to program players you with a specific (i.e. - violent) response. Being aggreeable seems to imbue one with anti-aggressive tendencies. In fact it might make gamers more agreeable even as they are exposed to aggressive influences. Perhaps their "moral compass" kicks into high gear at that point.
The research supports focusing on the development of agreeable behavior in children as a powerful tool in decreasing aggressiveness. For all the nitty-gritty, you'll find the study in Psychological Science, Volume 17, pg 136-142, printed in February of this year by the Association for Psychological Science.
CM: This research is by no means conclusive, but it is an interesting look at just how well negative influences imprint on us in the short term, and how our previously learned behavior plays a part. Remember what MIT's Henry Jenkins once said. "Like any media, games have the greatest impact when they reinforce beliefs, and the least impact when they challenge beliefs." I'm curious to how this meshes with a child's development of Kohlberg's Moral Stages.
Reporting from Saskatchewan, GP North American Correspondent Colin McInnes (aka Jabrwock)