A Hornet’s Nest Over Violent Video Games

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Repost from the Chronicle of Higher Education

By James D. Ivory and Malte Elson

When the relative peace and safety that many of us enjoy are blighted by horrific  crimes, like the recent shootings at the Washington Navy Yard, the public naturally wants to know why. In recent years, the urge to make sense of such crimes has led to the identification of a culprit: Violent video games, many people believe, cause violent behavior. Among social scientists interested in media effects, the topic is a hornet’s nest.

In 2005 the American Psychological Association released a policy statement claiming that research has consistently found that violent video games influence various outcomes like aggressive thoughts and behavior and “angry feelings.” As we write, a committee of psychologists appointed by the association is reviewing the statement to consider revising or replacing it. We are two of more than 200 scholars from psychology, communications, criminology, and other fields who have signed an open scholars’ statementurging the committee to repeal the 2005 document’s strong claims. We believe that the APA needs to tread more carefully into the politics of the public discussion of research.

The reason is simple: The evidence is mixed. There is a lot of cleverly designed research exploring potential effects of violent games on laboratory outcomes—such as whether a person completes an unfinished story with an aggressive ending or how much hot sauce a subject chooses to give a stranger to eat—that is only abstractly related to truly antisocial aggression. There are also large-scale surveys examining correlations between respondents’ game use and their reports of delinquency and misbehavior. Some studies find such relationships; some do not. Over the years, the latter have become more common in the growing body of research. Most relevant to social concerns, little or no evidence exists to show that violent video games can be identified as a unique contributor to serious violent crime.

But the research culture surrounding violent video games has become so contentious that scholarly differences of opinion have created an impasse that restricts reasonable discussion in public and in academe. Scholars disagree about what research should be considered to assess effects, who is competent enough to draw conclusions, and how much of a consensus on the topic exists. The imbroglio provides a case study in how the cold equations of science can be contorted by the human elements in academe.

What can we learn from this mess? For starters, there is a chasm between the answers about violent video games that society seeks and the answers that research provides. Society wants answers about antisocial behavior in real life; the mixed bag of laboratory studies can’t provide those. Society wants to know what to do; current research about violent crime and video games doesn’t add up to enough evidence to support policy recommendations. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for researchers to use terms like “aggression” loosely when they describe their findings about laboratory outcomes, allowing a lay audience and policy makers to misinterpret their conclusions.

Second, some researchers tend to selectively report findings, claiming that the effects of violent video games on aggression are as pronounced as the effects of smoking on lung cancer, or of condom use on HIV risk. In some cases, “average” findings from meta-analyses are used to support claims about consistent effects, but meta-analyses tend to “split the difference” among widely discrepant findings. That, then, is often misreported as a consistent pattern of results across a large number of studies. The fact that the social sciences are plagued by a publication bias (the tendency to publish conclusive studies over inconclusive studies) may further sway meta-analyses.

Lastly, and most troubling, there has emerged a pronounced tendency for some researchers to denigrate the competence—and even the character—of scholars who are unconvinced about the social harms of video-game violence. Sometimes skeptics are likened to deniers of climate change (an area where there is more consensus); at other times, they are called “industry apologists.”Articles have been written comparing career accomplishments and publication records of researchers supporting and challenging claims of negative video-game effects, mistaking quantity of publications and journal impact factors for quality of research, and asserting that early-career scholars with short résumés are unqualified to comment on the matter.

The lesson for those involved in any debated area of research is clear: When the arguments stray from the science to the résumés of those discussing it, we run the risk of perpetuating established views and celebrating former research accomplishments more than new knowledge.

Like many people involved in this debate, we want to support research and policies that lead to reduced violent crime. But that goal is not served by jumping to conclusions with public-policy statements that outreach the evidence, spurring mistaken efforts by legislators to exert political pressure on scientists and encourage specific outcomes. Even if we want a culprit to blame, we cannot ignore inconclusive research on video games and violence.

We can understand why violent video games have been a suspect in the search for answers to societal violence, but so far the research has not supported the indictment. It is therefore inappropriate to list violent video games as a known risk factor for social violence along with more proven factors like previous mental-health problems or a history of family violence. It is improper to portray games as presenting a public-health crisis.

While researchers continue to explore the topic, we would do well to keep our minds on the principles of science and maintain a healthy respect for all of those practicing it. Otherwise, we will let an important societal question become an aggressive academic game.

James D. Ivory is an associate professor of communication at Virginia Tech. Malte Elson is a research associate in the department of communication and doctoral student in the department of psychology at the University of Münster in Germany.

Immigration Reform and the Media: An Interactive Lecture by Dr. Hector Amaya

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Over the past decade the U.S. government has jailed hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants without recourse to some of the most basic human rights. Dr. Amaya’s talk will discuss how the development of these detention centers connects with journalists deferring to government authority. He will describe how these abuses threaten all of us.

Brought to you by the Gonzaga University M.A. in Communication & Leadership Studies, Unity Multicultural Education Center, Office of the Chief Diversity Officer, La Raza, CCASL, University Ministry, Center for Teaching and Advising, and Center for Global Engagement.

Jepson Wolff Auditorium on the Gonzaga Campus at 7:00 pm September 25th. For more details call (509) 313-3567

Digital deception: People who lie while texting take longer to respond

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Also true for digital conversations on social media, instant messaging

Ever been trading a flurry of text messages when there’s an awkward pause? Well, research from BYU shows you probably should be suspicious.

A new study finds when people lie in digital messages – texting, social media or instant messaging – they take longer to respond, make more edits and write shorter responses than usual.

“Digital conversations are a fertile ground for deception because people can easily conceal their identity and their messages often appear credible,” says Tom Meservy, BYU professor of information systems. “Unfortunately, humans are terrible at detecting deception. We’re creating methods to correct that.”

According to Meservy, humans can detect lies about 54 percent of the time accurately – not much better than a coin flip. It’s even harder to tell when someone is lying through a digital message because you can’t hear a voice or see an expression.

With the many financial, security and personal safety implications of digital deception, Meservy and fellow BYU professor Jeffrey Jenkins, along with colleagues at the University of Nebraska and the University of Arizona, set up an experimental instrument that tracked possible cues of online lying.

The researchers created a computer program that carried out online conversations with participants – similar to the experience consumers have with online customer service questions.

More than 100 students from two large universities, one in the southeastern U.S. and one in the southwestern U.S., had conversations with the computer, which asked them 30 questions each.

The participants were told to lie in about half of their responses. The researchers found responses filled with lies took 10 percent longer to create and were edited more than truthful messages.

“We are starting to identify signs given off by individuals that aren’t easily tracked by humans,” Meservy said. “The potential is that chat-based systems could be created to track deception in real-time.”

The findings appear online this week in the academic information systems journal ACM Transactions on Management Information Systems.

Meservy and Jenkins, who coauthored the study, said we shouldn’t automatically assume someone is lying if they take longer to respond, but the study does provide some general patterns.

The researchers are furthering this line of research by using a variety of other sensors including Microsoft’s Kinect to track human behavior and see how it connects with deception.

“We are just at the beginning of this,” Jenkins said. “We need to collect a lot more data.”

Douglas C. Derrick, assistant professor of IT Innovation at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, was the lead author for the study.

What would life be like without a cell phone? | Marketplace.org

Spectators take pictures with their smartphones as they watch a parade celebrating Britain's athletes who competed in the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in central London on September 10, 2012. Britain was bidding a fond farewell om September 10 to a golden summer of Olympic and Paralympic sport with a victory parade by athletes through London ending up at Buckingham Palace. AFP PHOTO / POOL / STEFAN WERMUTH        (Photo credit should read STEFAN WERMUTH/AFP/GettyImages)

Spectators take pictures with their smartphones as they watch a parade celebrating Britain’s athletes who competed in the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in central London on September 10, 2012. Britain was bidding a fond farewell om September 10 to a golden summer of Olympic and Paralympic sport with a victory parade by athletes through London ending up at Buckingham Palace. AFP PHOTO / POOL / STEFAN WERMUTH (Photo credit should read STEFAN WERMUTH/AFP/GettyImages)

What do you suppose life would be like if you’d never gotten hooked on that oh-so-handy electronic tether?

Gary Sernovitz is the managing director of the investment firm Lime Rock Partners. And he doesn’t have a cell phone.

“For the last two decades, I have spent 83 percent of my waking hours enjoying the freedom of not owning a cellphone, 5 percent feeling smug about it, 2 percent in situations in which a phone would have been awfully convenient and 10 percent fielding incredulous questions,” he wrote for the Wall Street Journal. “But in a few weeks, I will buy a phone. I am scared. I am afraid of losing a small part of my identity.”

To hear the story on Market Place, click the link here: What would life be like without a cell phone? | Marketplace.org.