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Personality Drives Us Toward Violent Videogames

2010 December 15

ResearchBlogging.orgIt’s only a couple of weeks since my massive coverage of video games research, but another interesting article has come up on the topic. This time – an exploration of personality as it can be used to explain attraction to violent video games.

Chory and Goodboy (2010)[1] investigate this in the context of the Big Five personality traits – openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism/emotional stability.  They examine this in the context of the “media uses and gratifications perspective,” which posits that the interaction between basic human needs and society result in a motivation to gratify certain other needs.  This perspective isn’t explained much more clearly than this, but as far as I can tell, this means that we are motivated to consume media (e.g. television, video games) in order to interact more directly with society as a whole.  Well… okay.  If you guys say so.

They do discuss several specific motivations to play video games, which a person might have in any combination:

  • arousal - to feel emotions (e.g. to be excited, scared, angry, etc.)
  • challenge – to test skills and ability, for your own sake
  • competition - to test skills and ability, for others’ sake
  • diversion – to reduce stress or for escapism
  • fantasy - to take the role/identity of someone else
  • social interaction - for social rewards associated with interacting with other people

I would hope, given this setup, that they would test the relationship between the Big Five and these dimensions of video game playing motivation.  Unfortunately, they didn’t.  They justify this in a peculiar way:

although the current study was grounded in the uses and gratifications perspective, neither motives nor gratifications obtained were assessed. This approach is consistent with that of Krcmar and Kean who suggested that researchers may infer motives for media use by studying the relationship between personality and media. To validate the present study’s findings further, however, future research should measure players’ motives for violent video game play and the gratifications they experience.

Let me paraphrase: “It’s okay that we didn’t measure their motives because another researcher said that was a fine approach.  But future, OTHER researchers should definitely measure them.”  Thanks for that – real helpful.

So instead, the researchers simply examined the correlations between violent video game play and the Big Five.  So this doesn’t really give us any information on the specific motivations for video game play.  This is an important point that I’ll get back to.  For now, it does give us a more general picture of motivation.

Overall, they found that people high in openness and also people low in agreeableness were more likely to play violent video games.  Extraversion was also positively related, but I suspect they did not have a sufficient sample size to find a significant result here.  Agreeableness was the strongest of these relationships, though it was not large: r = -.23.

They also conducted some peculiar secondary analyses examining differences in personality based on the violence of people’s “most-played video game” and “second most-played video game” but this is an artificial dichotomy, and as a result, the relationships are artificially inflated, so I don’t place much trust in these values.

What’s peculiar about this study, which the authors discuss, is that it is at odds with some other violent media research.  Personality, for example, does not predict attraction to action films, which theoretically contain more violence than other genres.  But this may be due to the contamination of the “violence” construct in such studies – action does not necessarily “equal” violence, so these studies must be considered with some caution.

Up to this point, I am with the authors.  This seems like a totally innocent study of video-game playing motivation.  But then they take is a step further – a step unjustified by their research:

If, as the results of this study suggest, personality motivates frequency of violent video game play and the violent/nonviolent nature of video games individuals play, then certain personality types may be more vulnerable to the effects of these games than others. As playing violent video games is associated with increased aggression, individuals who are less agreeable, more open, more extroverted, and less neurotic may be more likely to develop aggressive tendencies than persons with other personality compositions because they play violent video games more frequently than do these others.

This makes a blanket assumption that “more violent games” leads to “more aggression” – a causal relationship.  This has never been demonstrated empirically.  Certainly, when children are exposed to violent video games, they are more likely to engage in violent behavior for a short time afterward.  But this is true of any displays of violence – children tend to model behavior they witness (see Bandura’s social learning theory).  There is little evidence that this is true in adults, and definitely no evidence that exposure to violence over time leads to more aggression over time.  This is simply an assertion, and one not backed by the evidence they present here.

This also assumes that “attraction” equals “vulnerability.”  That’s not a stretch – it’s broken logic.

This is also where the specific motivations that they did not measure come into play.  If the researchers had, for example, linked these personality traits to play for arousal, they might be able to make a case that people playing violent video games did so because they enjoyed the feelings they got from being violent.  But unfortunately they did not measure this, and thus these conclusions are overreaching.

At the least, we now can say that open, disagreeable, and possibly also extraverted people are attracted to violent video games.  We also know that personality is at least in part genetically driven, which suggests that attraction to violent video games may be partially genetic.  And that’s pretty interesting all by itself.

Footnotes:
  1. Chory, R., & Goodboy, A. (2010). Is Basic Personality Related to Violent and Non-Violent Video Game Play and Preferences? Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking DOI: 10.1089/cyber.2010.0076 []
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