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The Biased Research on Violence in Entertainment

by Izzy Kalman (December 2007) With increasing frequency, the mental health organizations are urging us to use “research based” interventions, encouraging us to believe that researchers are the ultimate arbiters of truth. However, if you studied research and statistics, you know how easy it is for research studies to be biased.I have written previously about the scientific bias against violent entertainment. I recently came across another example. The November/December 2007 issue of the research journal, Aggressive Behavior, had a paper called Longer You Play, the More Hostile You Feel, by Christopher Bartlett, Richard Harris, and Ross Baldassaro. The introduction says:

With the improvement in video game technology over the years, games are becoming more realistic and, possibly, more immersive, which provides a capturing, almost addictive quality. Thus, it is important for researchers to study the effects of video games, especially the negative effects, such as aggression.

This paper was, of course, reviewed by peers, who find nothing troubling about this statement. But it expresses in a nutshell the fundamental bias of the field. Why is it “especially important” to study the negative effects of playing video games? After all, if so many of our youth are playing these games, shouldn’t we want to know if these activities have any positive effects? How can scientists be experts in their subject matter if they purposely look only at the negative? Didn’t they learn that the way Mother Nature works is that when we do something biologically beneficial, we get pleasure? If video games give their players so much pleasure, aren’t they fulfilling positive biological needs? Maybe we’ll discover that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks? Perhaps this knowledge would help us relax about our kids’ activities instead of potentially damaging our relationships with them by restricting and punishing them for engaging in the entertainment they love? Perhaps we would even conclude that we should join our kids when they play these games.

And maybe we’ll conclude that we should stop wasting government grant money on fun but pointless research experiments on violent video games and direct those funds to more productive research?

But of course the researchers aren’t interested in the positives, and neither are their peers who review their articles. They are only interested in the negatives, so all they can possibly see is the negatives. The References section of the paper lists dozens of articles on violent entertainment, and not a single one of them refers to the positive purpose of violent entertainment. Try it yourself. Conduct a search for research papers that deal with the positive effects of violent entertainment. If you find anything, I’d love to know about it!

And there you have it: an entire branch of scientific study that is biased against the subject it studies.

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