Bastian Sample Essay

Evaluate one contemporary study from the Learning Theories topic (band-marked)

Bastian et al’s (2012) wanted to know whether playing violent video games reduces a person’s perception of their own humanity and that of their co-players. Participants were randomly assigned to play Mortal Kombat or Top Spin tennis in pairs for 15 minutes, either competitively or collaboratively with the co-player. Next they completed 7 point rating scales (1: not at all/7: very much so) to measure ‘perceptions of humanness’ of self and co-player, e.g. “I felt like I was mechanical and cold, like a robot” and “I felt like I lacked self-restraint, like an animal” Ratings for humanity of self and co-player were significantly lower for the people who played the violent game compared with the non-violent game: (self: violent: M=3.74, non-violent: M=4.35, coplayer: violent: M=4.43, non-violent: M=4.93) and these differences were highly significant in both cases. The also found that effects were not related to the degree of frustration, enjoyment or excitement of the games. Bastian et al concluded that violent games, can dehumanize players and their opponents.

A weakness of the study is the poor generalizability. Although the sample was relatively large (106), it comprised all undergraduates students (mean age 19) and there were more than twice as many women in the sample as men. This means that  violent video games may not have the same dehumanising effect on older or younger players and those from less affluent or well-educated backgrounds. Also the gender imbalance means the findings may not be the same with all males and this is important as violent games tend  to be played more by males.

Despite this weakness, the design of the study means that the results could be considered reliable as the standardised procedure that was employed makes the study replicable and thus scientific. There were mainly controlled variables such as ensuring that all players played the same game (Topspin tennis or Mortal Kombat) for the same amount of time, whilst blocked from being able to see their opponent by a barrier. Also the questionnaires used quantitative data to find out about perceptions of humanity using likert scales and this means that the data is not open to interpretation by the researcher improving the reliability further.

Bastian’s study is without doubt an interesting study, however many psychologists advocate that violent video games are not directly linked to violent acts and a group of over 200 academics signed a letter to show their feelings about the APA report which suggested there was a link. This is important because many psychologists would argue that Bastian’s findings lack application to real life; just because you self-report feeling less human after playing for 15 minutes, does not mean that your intentions towards others or likely possible real world behaviours will change and make you become more violent.

This said, it is another piece of research that could be applied in schools to help educate pupils and parents about possible effects of violent game play. Interestingly the flip side of this is that playing co-operative games could in fact enhance feelings of humanity and this could be an area for future research. This could potentially be a way of helping children or adults who have problems with aggression to feel more connected to other people and less dehumanised and this would be a highly beneficial application for society.

With regard to validity the study has strengths and weaknesses, firstly the players only play for a very short amount of time and in the real word players often spend hours engaged in a game, however one could argue this simply demonstrates how quickly people become dehumanised and one could argue playing for longer would simply lead to even greater effects although this has not been studied and therefore potentially people reach a ceiling and then become more humanised again the longer they play.

Also as we know nothing of the participants previous gaming history the reason they say they feel more dehumanised could be due to demand characteristics in that they know this is the expected outcome and therefore demonstrate this through their self-report meaning that the conclusions lack internal validity.

People who regularly play these games may have had a different outcome on the questionnaires as they have a more positive view of the games in the first place.

However it should also be noted that in the study they used random allocation to the two groups of violent and non-violent games which should have decreased participant variables which may have hampered the validity however in the real world people are not randomly allocated, people choose to play either violent or non-violent games and therefore it would be interesting to study a group of people who are regular player and see how the games affect their perceptions of humanity.

Another validity problem with the study is it not clear what exactly is having the dehumanising effect and this is because in Mortal Kombat you observe violent acts being enacted but you are also in control of violent acts being committed in the game against others and therefore it is hard to disentangle whether observation of violence or being violent in the game is linked to dehumanisation.

In conclusion, it can be seen that Bastian’s study is clearly an important contribution to the new field of cyber-psychology and the effects of living in a digital/cyber world in terms of the impact on the self who exists in the non-cyber world. Despite some methodological issues with generalizability and validity , the potential applications particular with regard to how video games could be used to positive ends is an exciting area for future research.