A14 Causal Essay — Jon Gonzoph

The missing link between violence in games and violence in real life…remains missing.

     Aggression is not simply a negative force. The same desire that can cause one to destroy and corrupt can cause another to excel and innovate. Aggressive action caused by envy of another’s higher performance or paycheck can instill a drive to improve oneself just as easily as it can create the desire to tear down the more sucessful.While there are many studies that link an increase in aggression to violence in video games, they do not speculate at the effects of this increase. Worse, the most frequent tests that conclude a higher level of aggression are flawed in several basic ways. Thus, considering the current evidence, there is little support for the conclusion that violence in video games causes any direct or noticeable harm.

            The most common test for increased aggression is the 29 question Buss-Perry Aggression Questionnaire, which was first published in the 63rd Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. It tests for physical and verbal aggression, as well as anger and hostility. Physical aggression measures the likelihood of provoked as well as unprovoked violent physical contact between the subject and either people or objects; verbal aggressions measures the subjects tendency to argue and disagree with others. Anger measures the subject’s temper and how often they get angry, and hostility tests what the subject thinks of their friends and strangers (Buss-Perry Questionnaire). On the surface, it appears to be very complete; however, by examining the questions themselves, it is clear that they have numerous faults and should not be used to show an increase in negative aggression.

One of the major problems with the Buss-Perry Questionnaire is that a majority of the questions ask about past actions. For example, in the first nine questions relating to physical aggression, 3 of them ask about controlling the urge to strike people, if the subject gets into fights more then the average person, and if they have threatened anyone in the past (Buss-Perry Questionnaire). In a short term study, the answer to these questions changing does not indicate an increase in aggression, because these actions are in the past and thus cannot be changed by any current actions. Rather, it shows a change in perception regarding past actions. While a study over a longer time period could track a change in these questions, the fact that they have no context or timeframe attached to them mean that it is equally possibly that a change in perception is to blame for the changes, not an increase in aggressive actions. The other sections have the same problem, with the questions relating to anger and verbal aggression being composed almost entirely of this type of questions.

The next faultthat quickly becomes apparent when reading the questions is that they do not necessarily show an increase in aggression that causes harm. The 5 questions on verbal aggression are a sterling example of this, because responses that are more aggressive can usually be seen as a virtue rather than a fault. For example, question ten reads “I tell my friends openly when I disagree with them” (Buss-Perry Questionnaire).  But being unafraid to voice a personal opinion is highly prized in many individual-oriented cultures, and the question provides no context to help determine if this is a situation that would be better served by remaining silent. The lack of context on this and many other questions necessarily leads to different subjects relating to them in different ways – question 10 can be applied equally to disagreeing about the tastes of food and disagreeing about significant social and moral issues such as gay rights or abortion.. All of the verbal aggression questions are in this same ambiguous vein, and the section on hostility fares little better. Two questions in the hostility section, “I am suspicious of overly friendly strangers” and “When people are especially nice, I wonder what they want” are taught to children from an early age to avoid them being taken advantage of, and can easily be seen as a virtue as well as a fault.

The second commonly used test is the Hot Sauce Paradigm. In this test, the subject is given a bowl and four different types of hot sauce ranked by spiciness, and to give select the type and amount to be given to a person down the hall who explicitly does not like spicy foods. This test is generally seen as more persuasive because it measures a direct act of aggression rather then simply  asking questions and trying to determine the aggression from the subject’s responses. One major issue with this test, as posited by Dominik Ritter and Mike Eslea in the study “Hot Sauce, toy guns, and graffiti: A critical account of current laboratory aggression paradigms” is that there is no alternative to giving hot sauce. Thus responses are not testing if an aggressive response would occur, but rather the severity of a forced aggressive response. There is also a significant disconnect between the subject and their supposed victim. If the subject was considering taking aggressive action that would hurt someone physically or verbally, in almost all situations they would have to take into account the reaction from that person. With this increased distance from the person, it becomes much more likely that the subject will chose a more aggressive response, since they have more emotional distance as well as less danger to self (Ritter). The final problem with this test is one of scope. Giving someone too much hot sauce is a less grievous offence then physically hurting someone or even verbally deriding them. It is incorrect to assume that these two situations are analogous, because the stimuli needed to convince a subject to give someone more hot sauce may be very different then the stimuli needed to move them to more aggressive or violent actions.

Clearly, there is little evidence to support that violence in video games causes direct harm. The two most common tests are severly flawed, as one tests more for perception of aggressive acts rather then aggression itself and the other creates a situation that is rarely applicable in nonlaboratory environments. Further, even if both tests are accurate despite these flaws, neither gives sufficient evidence that this aggression will only lead to negative results.

Works Cited

Buss-Pretty Aggression Test. Link

Ritter, Dominik, and Mike Eslea. “Hot Sauce, Toy Guns, And Graffiti: A Critical Account Of Current Laboratory Aggression Paradigms.” Aggressive Behavior 31.5 (2005): 407-419. Academic Search Premier. Web. 11 Apr. 2012.

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1 Response to A14 Causal Essay — Jon Gonzoph

  1. davidbdale says:

    You’re at your best in situations like this one, Jon, where you can see clearly the flaws in another’s logic. I very much admire the careful deconstruction you’ve done here of the hot sauce paradigm, which seems so convincing at first glance, and so flawed when considered closely. Very nice work.
    Grade Recorded.

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