Routledge just published The Video Game Debate: Unravelling the Physical, Social, and Psychological Effects of Digital Games, edited by Rachel Kowert and Thorsten Quandt. (I contributed Chapter 3, “Are Electronic Games Health Hazards or Health Promoters?”) Designed for college students, the book works for any curious person who wants to promote more intelligent and nuanced conversations about electronic games in modern life.
The persistence of “Smurfette Syndrome”
Today, my son and I were watching a taped Colbert Report broadcast, when the issue of including females in animal research came up (cue the fetching girl rodent in lipstick). It reminded me of my first academic publication: a letter to Science (249:612), titled “Shoehorning” Men Into Studies? Published in 1990, when my son was learning to crawl, it ran as follows:
Regarding the controversy about including women in National Institutes of Health-funded studies (News & Comment, 29 June, p. 1601), I can certainly understand the position of a researcher such as Charles H. Hennekens. Since he had chosen physicians as his study population, and there weren’t enough female physicians for his group to draw sound conclusions, it made sense to leave them out.
The real problem seems to lie in the unconscious assumption that the average, typical human being is male. Females are seen as a variation on this norm. How would male researchers react to the statement that “shoehorning men into studies for political rather than scientific reasons would be disastrous”?
You might call this Smurfette Syndrome, after the sole girl member of that blue cartoon tribe. In that world, “male” is the default, and “female” is just a cute trait you assign to tell the characters apart, like a hat or funny hairstyle. Hard to believe that a quarter-century later, we’re still living in that world.
New paper: Video game effects on teens with psychological problems
The Journal of Youth and Adolescence just issued a press release for a forthcoming paper that I wrote with Chris Ferguson of Stetson University. Revisiting data collected from my government-funded studies at Harvard Medical School, Chris and I focused on the subset of young teens who reported symptoms of depression and/or attention deficit disorder.
Here is an excerpt from the paper’s conclusions:
…The tragic 2012 shooting of young children in Newtown, Connecticut by a 20-year-old male reportedly fond of playing violent video games put the issue [of effects of video game violence] back on the front burner. The consensus from the government (e.g., Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, 2013) seems to have been that current research does not consistently link exposure to video game violence with aggression or societal violence, but more research is necessary to assess effects on potentially vulnerable subgroups of children.
The current study is an attempt to fill that gap by considering correlational violent video game effects in a sample of youth with clinically elevated mental health symptoms. Our results did not provide support for the hypotheses that exposure to violent video games would be associated with increased delinquency or bullying behaviors in children with elevated mental health symptoms.
Our results indicated that violent video games were associated with neither delinquent criminality nor bullying behaviors in children with either clinically elevated depressive or attention deficit symptoms. Nor did we find support for the belief that trait aggression would interact with video game violence within this sample of youth. That is a particularly interesting finding given that a combination of mental health symptoms and long-term aggressive traits are common elements to attackers who carried out school shootings (U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Department of Education, 2002)….
…Although this is only one piece of evidence, this early result does not support the belief that certain at-risk populations of youth, at least related to clinically elevated depression and attention deficit symptoms and trait aggression, demonstrate negative associations between violent video games and aggression related outcomes.