Wednesday, March 31, 2021

We examined whether violent media exposure would be associated with increased aggression, which would then spread within social networks like a contagious disease

Violent media use and aggression: Two longitudinal network studies. Martin Delhove &Tobias Greitemeyer. The Journal of Social Psychology, Mar 30 2021.

Abstract: Exposure to violent media has been widely linked to increased aggression. In the present research, we examined whether violent media exposure would be associated with increased aggression, which would then spread within social networks like a contagious disease. Two groups of first year psychology students completed a questionnaire three times over the course of a year, measuring their media exposure, aggression, personality, and social relations within the group. Cross-sectional analysis provided mixed results in regards to the link between violent media and aggression. Siena analysis found no evidence of homophily (i.e., participants were not more likely to be friends with others similar to themselves) nor of social influence (i.e., participant’s behavior did not predict a change in their friends’ behavior). However, given the relatively small sample sizes and the weak ties between participants, more work is needed to assess the spread of violent media effects.

KEYWORDS: Video gamesviolent mediaaggressionsocial networklongitudinalSiena

General discussion

The present work had three main goals. First, we aimed at replicating the link between violent media exposure and increased aggression, bringing new evidence in the current debate within media psychology. Second, we tried the case for homophily, the preference of individuals toward befriending others alike to themselves, in the context of aggression and media consumption. Third, and most importantly, we meant to test the recent claim that violent-media-related aggression could spread from consumers to their close ones (e.g., Greitemeyer, 2018).

Cross-sectional results provided mixed support for the link between violent media use and aggressive outcomes. In Study 1, the relationship between violent media use and aggressive behavior and trait aggression was not consistent. In Study 2, higher consumption of aggressive media was linked to the perception of aggressive behavior as more socially normative, but anger and aggressive behavior did not relate to violent media use. Across all six time points of the two studies, neutral media use related frequently to the different measures of aggressive outcomes, suggesting that frequency of media use, rather than the actual violent content one is exposed to, relates to some aspects of aggression. The longitudinal social network analyses did not support our hypotheses either. Homophily did not appear to influence the creation and continuation of relationships when looking at media use and aggression. Moreover, we could not find signs of social influence, be it on aggressive behaviors or norms about aggression. Overall, we did not find violent media to have a longitudinal effect on aggression.


As any work, the present research has several limitations. One of which concerns our samples. We may have lacked a sufficient sample size in order to uncover some of the effects. After exclusions, we had at most 137 participants filling our questionnaire for one time point. Assuming p < .05, the effect size we could detect with a power of .8 was r = .24. Recent meta-analyses in the context of violent video game (Anderson et al., 2010; Greitemeyer & Mügge, 2014) have estimated the effect size at r = .19, which could even be an over-estimation (Hilgard et al., 2017). Hence, even with our best cross-sectional analysis, we were lacking sufficient power.

Unfortunately, because we conducted the study over the course of two following years, there are some potential overlap between participants in Study 1 and 2, meaning that we could not conduct an integrated data analysis to improve our statistical power. Adding to this, we had a high turn-over with only slightly over half of our participants completing all three data collection phases in both studies, hindering the capacity of our Siena analysis to establish the actual effects present in our networks.

Moreover, the use of students as participants in research has been criticized (Peterson, 2001; but see Druckman & Kam, 2009). Most importantly for the present context, participants in our study indicated that the ties to the fellow students were not very close. In fact, our participants did not know each other before data collection started, that is, all of the ties consisted of newly acquainted individuals. Our hope was that by selecting a recently formed network, we would be able to observe the creation of stronger ties as the year went by, giving us an opportunity to evaluate the many changes that would appear as students started to know each other. Although we observed stronger ties at later time points (see Tables 2 and 5) this may not have been sufficient or we may have needed to continue data collection at a later time, once our participants had the opportunity to form more significant friendships. Given that individuals are most strongly affected by their relatives and close friends (Christakis & Fowler, 2009), future work examining the impact of stronger relationships on the spread of aggressive media-related aggression might support the social influence hypothesis.

Adding to this, the specific use of psychology students may be problematic when studying aggression. Indeed, research on the differences in personality among study majors found, among other things, that psychology students tended to score higher on agreeableness (Vedel, 2016) and lower on dark triad traits (Vedel & Thomsen, 2017) than some of the other majors, especially economics or business students. This could be part of an explanation as to the low scores we found on reported aggressive behaviors and norms. Replications using a different sample would be beneficial in the future.

Finally, although it is a great tool for social network analysis, RSiena cannot make use of the whole data we collected. As we have previously stated, behavioral dynamics of continuous variables cannot be implemented yet. In combination with the aforementioned low variance in our aggressive behavior measurement, we could have failed to find some patterns that are actually present in our sample. Another piece of information that would have been beneficial for a more precise model in the future is the relationship type. As stated above, one is more likely to be influenced by those who are closer to her/him. That is, acquaintances typically have a much lesser impact than one’s best friend. Hopefully, future improvements of Siena will allow testing of more complex models in the future, which could shed a new light on works like ours.

Future perspectives

The present work provides some insight on how media use and aggression interact in human networks. However, there are still many things to explore in this field. In the following, we present some ideas that we deem interesting for future works.

First of all, aggression is manifold, and studies on the effect of violent media took interest in many different outcomes. Potential measures of interest include hostile expectation bias (Bushman & Anderson, 2002) or desensitization to violence (Bartholow et al., 2006). Similarly, in light of Vachon et al.’s (2014) finding that empathy and aggression are only weakly related, one may want to use more sound measures of empathy (i.e., by using measures which also include dissonant responses such as sadism or schadenfreude) to explore its role in the context of violent media use in society. As a matter of fact, everyday sadism (Greitemeyer, 2015) and dark personality (Delhove & Greitemeyer, 2020) have been found to relate to violent video game use. Furthermore, based on the correlations between neutral media use and some of our aggression measures, it would be pertinent to compare the effects of violent content and of overall frequency of media consumption on aggression.

Another promising direction could emerge from exploring the effect of prosocial games on prosocial behaviors. An example of such effect stems from the work of Greitemeyer and Osswald (20092010). These authors asked their participants to play either a prosocial or a neutral video game and found that prosocial games decreased hostile expectation biases and the accessibility of antisocial thoughts as well as increased prosocial behaviors and the accessibility of prosocial thoughts. Outside of a laboratory setting, Prot et al. (2014) conducted a large-scale, cross-cultural correlational study and a two-year longitudinal study. They found that prosocial media use was linked to higher levels of helping behaviors which was mediated by increased empathy. Meta-analysis of prosocial video game use found that this effect was of a similar magnitude as that of violent video game use (Greitemeyer & Mügge, 2014). We would suggest that future work also delve into the eventual spread of positive effects of prosocial media.

In both a sample of dating, engaged, and married individuals & a dyadic sample of married couples, the strongest predictors of overall desire for touch were sex (being female) and high relationship quality (actor & partner)

Individual and relational differences in desire for touch in romantic relationships. Brittany K. Jakubiak, Julian D. Fuentes, Brooke C. Feeney. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, March 25, 2021.

Abstract: Although touch is common in romantic relationships and is generally beneficial, people differ in the extent to which they desire to give and receive touch. The current research identified individual and relationship characteristics that predict overall desire for touch and unique desire for overtly affectionate versus indirectly affectionate forms of touch. In both a sample of dating, engaged, and married individuals (Study 1) and a dyadic sample of married couples (Study 2), the strongest predictors of overall desire for touch were sex (being female) and high relationship quality (actor and partner). Attachment avoidance also predicted lower desire for touch overall (Study 1), and actor and partner attachment avoidance predicted lower desire for indirectly affectionate touch, in particular (Study 2). Finally, greater psychological distress predicted greater desire for indirectly affectionate touch in both studies. This novel descriptive information about desire for touch provides a foundation for future intervention work.

Keywords: Affection, attachment, individual differences, romantic relationships, touch

The results suggest that people low in moral character are likely to eventually dominate cheating-enabling environments, where they then cheat extensively

Selection effects on dishonest behavior. Petr Houdek   Štěpán Bahník   Marek Hudík   Marek Vranka. Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 16, No. 2, March 2021, pp. 238-266.

Abstract: In many situations people behave ethically, while elsewhere dishonesty reigns. Studies of the determinants of unethical behavior often use random assignment of participants in various conditions to identify contextual or psychological factors influencing dishonesty. However, in many real-world contexts, people deliberately choose or avoid specific environments. In three experiments (total N = 2,124) enabling self-selection of participants in two similar tasks, one of which allowed for cheating, we found that participants who chose the task where they could lie for financial gain reported a higher number of correct predictions than those who were assigned it at random. Introduction of financial costs for entering the cheating-allowing task led to a decrease in interest in the task; however, it also led to more intense cheating. An intervention aimed to discourage participants from choosing the cheating-enabling environment based on social norm information did not have the expected effect; on the contrary, it backfired. In summary, the results suggest that people low in moral character are likely to eventually dominate cheating-enabling environments, where they then cheat extensively. Interventions trying to limit the preference of this environment may not have the expected effect as they could lead to the selection of the worst fraudsters.

Keywords: cheating, self-selection, behavioral ethics, honesty-humility

5  General discussion

People choose different situations based on their personality and preferences. In the case of cheating, the moral character of individuals affects the situation selection (Cohen & Morse, 2014). Moral or guilt-prone people are ready to stop behavior that could harm others and even sacrifice financial reward to do so. On the other hand, unscrupulous people seek such situations (Wiltermuth & Cohen, 2014). Accordingly, we found that participants low in honesty-humility tend to prefer cheating-enabling environments, where their rate of cheating can further escalate.

Based on our results, we recommend enriching the experimental methodology by including the possibility of selection of conditions by participants. Experimental designs typically involve measurement of behavior in assigned conditions, and even participants who would not prefer or encounter these conditions in real life are forced to deal with them in an experiment. While the ability to choose one’s circumstances may be sometimes limited, inclusion of the possibility of self-selection of participants in different conditions would allow for generalization of experimental findings even in situations where people can select their environment and it would thus improve external validity of experiments.

From a practical perspective, our results show the importance of influencing self-selection of people into companies, departments, and other groups. If individuals motivated only by self-interest perceive public office as an opportunity to enrich themselves, the people with low moral character will seek to become civil servants and politicians. Indeed, studies conducted in India show that people who cheat in a laboratory task are more likely to prefer public sector jobs (Banerjee, Baul & Rosenblat, 2015; Hanna & Wang, 2017). Likewise, Ukrainian law students who cheat and bribe in experimental games are more likely to aspire to careers such as judges, prosecutors, and government lawyers (Gans-Morse, 2019). On the other hand, the self-selection of honest people exists in the Danish public sector (Barfort et al., 2019; for cross-country analysis, see Olsen et al., 2018). Selection of honest people in occupations in which dishonesty may have high societal costs could often be more effective than efforts trying to reduce dishonesty of people who have already chosen them.

The reported studies tested many effects, especially related to moderation of the studied effects by personality characteristics. While some of the tested effects were supported by strong evidence or replicated in a subsequent study, other effects were supported by weaker evidence, or the pattern of results between studies was more ambiguous. We did not control the experiment-wise error rate because we were not primarily interested in whether there is any significant association. However, the number of tested effects means that there is a higher chance that some of them are falsely positive or negative, and the positive results supported by weaker evidence should be interpreted with caution and subject to future replications.

The design used in this article can be further extended in various ways. In particular, it is possible that any determinants of cheating that have been observed in experiments without taking self-selection into account may not influence people who would be actually present in real-world cheating-enabling environments (Houdek, 2017, 2019). Such environments may include only individuals with low levels of honesty-humility personal traits who are prepared to cheat regardless of any intervention. Moreover, if an intervention makes cheating more reprehensible or costly to these individuals, they may simply move to a similar environment without the intervention. The self-selection may eventually negate any positive effects of the intervention on the overall level of cheating (e.g., Nettle, Nott & Bateson, 2012). Future studies may directly test this potential implication of our findings.

Another topic for future research are reasons for self-selection into groups. These reasons might vary and result in a specific composition of a group, which can further influence behavior of its present or future members. For example, in certain professions (investment banker, salesperson, advertiser), dishonesty or deception could be perceived as a signal of a person’s skills, and honest people may therefore avoid these professions. Such adverse selection could eventually lead to persistent dishonesty in these professions (Gunia & Levine, 2016). Yet another possibility for extension is to examine whether selection affects enforcement and punishment. With more cheaters, enforcement and punishment may be more diffused, which may attract additional cheaters in the group (Conley & Wang, 2006). While we have considered a monetary fee associated with the choice of the cheating-enabling environment, another possibility is to include non-monetary costs — such as reputational — of choosing the cheating-enabling environment. Finally, all the cheating behavior in our experiments might have been perceived as basically victimless. Future research may examine self-selection in cases where cheating has identifiable victims.

Results suggest that economic factors primarily were related to homicide and suicide cross‐nationally; per capita gun ownership was not an indicator factor cross‐nationally

Examining homicides and suicides cross‐nationally: Economic factors, guns and video games. Christopher J. Ferguson  Sven Smith. International Journal of Psychology, March 30 2021.

Abstract: Understanding why different nations have different homicide and suicide rates has been of interest to scholars, policy makers and the general public for years. Multiple theories have been offered, related to the economy, presence of guns and even exposure to violence in video games. In the current study, several factors were considered in combination across a sample of 92 countries. These included income inequality (Gini index), Human Capital Index (education and employment), per capita gun ownership and per capita expenditure on video games. Results suggest that economic factors primarily were related to homicide and suicide cross‐nationally. Video game consumption was not a major indicative factor (other than a small negative relationship with homicides). More surprisingly, per capita gun ownership was not an indicator factor cross‐nationally. The results suggest that a focus on economic factors and income inequality are most likely to bear fruit regarding reduction of violence and suicide.

Memorable meals: Remembered eating happiness was predicted by the worst eating experience, but not by the best or final eating experience

Villinger K, Wahl DR, Schupp HT, Renner B (2021) Memorable meals: The memory-experience gap in day-to-day experiences. PLoS ONE 16(3): e0249190, Mar 30 2021.

Abstract: Research shows that retrospective memory is often more extreme than in-the-moment experiences. While investigations into this phenomenon have mostly focused on distinct, one-time experiences, we examined it with respect to recurring day-to-day experiences in the eating domain, focusing on variables of the snapshot model—i.e., the most intense and the final experience. We used a smartphone-based Ecological Momentary Assessment to assess the food intake and eating happiness of 103 participants (82.52% female, Mage = 21.97 years) over eight days, and then calculated their best (positive peak), worst (negative peak) and final experiences. Remembered eating happiness was assessed immediately after the study (immediate recall) and after four weeks (delayed recall). A significant memory-experience gap was revealed at immediate recall (d = .53). Remembered eating happiness was predicted by the worst eating experience (β = .41, p < .001), but not by the best or final eating experience. Analyzing changes over time did not show a significant memory-experience gap at delayed recall, but did reveal a similar influence of the worst eating experience (β = .39, p < .001). Findings indicate that, in the domain of eating, retrospective memory is mainly influenced by negative experiences. Overall, the results indicate that the snapshot model is a valid conceptualization to explain recall of both outstanding and day-to-day experiences.