False Memories: How Easily Are We Manipulated?

After looking at how memory can affect our music preferences in last week’s post, this post is again concerned with memories, but it focuses more specifically on false memories and the ways in which memories can be manipulated and implanted in individuals. False memories were only recently defined in the psychology lexicon, dating back no more than twenty or so years. As such, current research is being produced to expand our understanding of what false memories are and how they work. Elizabeth F. Loftus, a leading researcher on false memories, wrote on her website that false memories are “constructed by combining actual memories with the content of suggestions received from others.” The effect of false memories is well demonstrated in a study by Saul M. Kassin in which innocent participants were falsely accused of damaging a computer by pressing a wrong key. While the participants initially denied the accusation, when a confederate said that they had seen the person press the key, many participants “signed a confession, internalized guilt for the act and went on to confabulate details that were consistent with that belief.” The possibilities for abuse and unethical implantation of false memories in individuals mean that we must be aware of how this phenomenon works and what we can do to protect ourselves against it. I have commented on two blog posts, on “Symbol of remembrance triggers mass false memory” by Vaughan Bell, Ph.D., from Mindhacks.com and on “How Easily is Your Memory Manipulated?” by John M. Grohol, PSY.D., from the psycchcentral.com blog World of Psychology. These two posts look into the ethics surrounding the implantation of false memories, as well as the potential benefits and power of the manipulation of an individual’s memories. My responses to both of these blog posts can be found below and at their respective sites.

"How Easily is Your Memory Manipulated?"

I really appreciated this well written and informative post on false memories. I found it very interesting that false memories concerning food preferences could be implanted into “ordinary people.” By simply having the researchers remind the subjects of a childhood preference that they never had, the researchers were able to “noticeably alter” preferences for foods. Who knew that by telling an individual that they ‘got sick after eating a hard-boiled egg’ that they would exhibit “significantly less preference for and willingness to eat the food item.” I liked how you included the fact that this would work in a positive false memory implantation as well. It’s crazy to me that “subjects who were told that they loved asparagus as a child the first time they tried it ended up enjoying asparagus more than the control subjects…and [they] would pay more for asparagus at a grocery store!” This, however, brings us to the ethical line in which it is possible to manipulate a person’s/client’s behavior based upon suggestion and the implantation of false memories alone.

I do, however, have a few questions about the study and its effects on every day people. You mention that you don’t know the generalizability of these findings, but do you think that this expands past food and into other realms in which marketing might be manipulating individuals? Can you think of instances in which this might be the case? While there may not be ramifications for this type of manipulation, do you think that people deserve some forms of protection from the implantation of false memories, given we have seen how effective they can be in controlling behavior? In any case, given that our memories can, in some cases, be very inaccurate and be subject to manipulation, perhaps more research should be done to determine the extent to which this is occurring in other facets of life.

"Symbol of remembrance triggers mass false memory"

Thank you for bringing the research report from Cortex to my attention. I have long been interested in false memories and how suggestions can influence the perceived memories of individuals. However, I had never really considered the possibility that a “symbol of remembrance” or in this case, the clock in Bologna Centrale station, would allow for a distorted collective memory. What I found most interesting was the percentage of people who had regularly seen the clock working fine, but falsely remembered that the clock was stopped at 10:25. That 92% of people believed he clock had always been broken, even if they had worked there or visited the train station on a daily basis, is mind-blowing to me. That “127 [participants] (79%) further claimed to have seen it always set at 10.25, including all railway employees,” is also shocking due to the fact that all railway employees (who saw the clock on a daily basis) were mistaken. It would seem that the widespread usage of the clock as a fixed-symbol of remembrance led to a collective memory distortion, even amongst those who should be very familiar with the object.

Something that I wish you had touched on more would be the general theory at work in this study. Given that these findings are interesting, what does it mean for the rest of us? How does this apply to the rest of the world? You did, however, mention a parallel case which focused on the London bombings in which “40% of British participants ‘remembered’ seeing it and produce ‘details’ of the coverage when asked.” These two studies together help our understanding of memory as a “reconstructive phenomenon.” From the actual study itself, de Vito writes, “An emotionally loaded symbol acts as post-event misleading information and obscures the real experience leading to widespread individual forgetting which results in a collective memory distortion.” With this in mind, do we take away from this study that we should be wary of overproduced, overrepresented symbols and that they may distort our memory? Does this work with non-emotionally charged symbols? I look forward to hearing your response!


The Psychology of Music: Memories, Liking, and Preference

For a while, I believed that art and science existed on two opposing ends of a spectrum. Where science seemed cold and calculated, art and music were filled with warmth and emotion. Any attempt to mix the two was both impossible and a bit demeaning toward the artist’s work. However, advances in modern technology and science have allowed for an increased understanding of why we appreciate certain pieces of art and not others, the effect of art on emotion, and the neurological basis of art-appreciation. This entry will primarily concern the psychological effects of music on the brain and our memories, and how we come to like certain types of music or certain songs. Major research studies mainly focus on the neurobiological and the level of familiarity as bases of liking, but they seem to overlook the societal-social causes, which I propose are as important, if not more important, than any other reason science has found.

It has been long established that familiarity is directly related to physical attraction in humans. This is best described by the “mere exposure” hypothesis presented by R.B. Zajonc in the 1960’s. He believed that by simply exposing someone to a stumulus, eventually the recognition would cause an increased aesthetic liking for that stimulus. Recently, this repeated exposure paradigm has been applied to the realm of music. The relative complexity of the song, as well as the familiarity with the genre for individuals was taken into account in a study conducted by David J. Hargreaves at the University of Leicester, England. He found that repeated exposure to a song, after controlling for objective and subjective musical complexity, would increase an individual’s liking for a song—to a point. The caveat of this study was that the subjects brought with them their “musical prejudice” which caused some individuals to experience no increased liking for a genre of music they were previously inclined to dislike.

While the aforementioned study showed that liking may increase within a genre due to repeated exposure, how do we first begin to learn to like music? There are numerous explanations, ranging from sociological-societal to biological predispositions, but Norman M. Weinberger, professor of neurobiology and behavior at the University of California, Irvine, believes that “music exists in every culture, and infants have excellent musical abilities that cannot be explained by learning.” Furthermore, another study noted that music “sounds right […] because they match the frequency ratios that our brains are primed to detect.” It would seem, then, that we are genetically inclined to like certain patterns of music that we are used to—beginning from before birth in hearing speech patterns. This, however, still does not adequately explain the emergence of “musical prejudice” that individuals experience. The second aspect of musical preference or prejudice has to do with the emotional relationship between music and memories. Just as a specific smell can evoke vivid memories, so too can music. A study by Janata, Tomic and Rakowski done in 2007 found that “as the songs increased in familiarity, so did the strength of the autobiographical memories associated with the songs.” Furthermore, “songs that were rated as 'pleasing' were more likely to evoke memories than 'not pleasing' songs.” However, because it was a correlation study, we are unable to determine if preferred songs evoke memories, or if memories caused the song to be deemed “pleasing.”

A researcher at the University of California, Davis thinks that he has found the cause behind the link between music and memories. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (seen left) with self-reports of the subjects, he discovered that “the region of the brain where memories of our past are supported and retrieved also serves as a hub that links familiar music, memories and emotion.” If this is the case, then memories linked to music and the moods of the individual in those memories can directly affect whether or not a song is “pleasing.” This is very similar to how a certain scent or smell can cause us to recall past events with a positive or negative point of view. With this in mind, the implications of studying music are profound. If music and autobiographical memory are linked, and music can be used as cues for memories themselves, then perhaps music can be an integral part of therapy for the treatment of memory-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. Given that Alzheimer’s patients can perform music long after they have forgotten other things, along with the fact that memories are temporally and sequentially defined by a memory-based soundtrack—then the loss of memory due to the disease may potentially be curtailed by anchoring music to life events for easier recall.

In my opinion, the cause of musical prejudice or preference is directly related to social psychology in that music and culture are inextricably tied into the social cues we receive from others in society. From as early as two years of age, toddlers are inclined to imitate the actions of others and derive pleasure from the awareness that they are being imitated. As social creatures, humans like to have the knowledge that others accept their choices and preferences. Thus, we are reinforced to like things we see others liking, be it from the radio, from online social networking sites, or from dance clubs and parties. When people have preferences that go against the beliefs, attitudes, or values of others, cognitive dissonance arises. The drive to reduce cognitive dissonance is strong in humans and may lead to conformity of musical preference if the music one likes goes against larger societal norms.

The study of music and liking is, in the end, difficult due to the idiosyncratic nature of personal preference. However, the previous research findings, taken together, lead to the idea that we like music based on the memories associated with certain songs, similarity to music within a familiar genre, the familiarity of a specific song, and the social acceptance that goes along with liking a song that others like, as well. In the end, science and art are not opposing factions. Each can be used to learn more about the other. Not only do we see beauty in science—in the study of the human body or mathematical functions, but we also see calculated patterns in the arts. If music can be used as a treatment for diseases like Alzheimer’s disease or chronic depression, perhaps more research needs to be conducted to determine the different ways music can impact our lives.


Facial Movements and Babies: Morality Re-defined?

Over a hundred years ago, psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud presented a very famous structural model of morality and personality consisting of three parts, each developing over a span of a few years. The first part, and the part we are born with, is the “id.” The id is the part of human brain activity that drives the pleasure principle; the id is concerned with satisfying basic instincts, regardless of the situation. The second structure, which develops over the next three years, is the ego. The ego is related to a child’s understanding of the “other,” or how other people may have their own needs and desires that need to be filled as well. Freud’s last structure, and the part that this entry is concerned with addressing, is the “superego.” Freud believed that the superego develops by age five in children, and it is responsible for guiding humans in questions of morality or ethics. Freud believed that the superego developed as a result of the environment and rules from primary and secondary caregivers.

While Freud’s theory has provided a base for many other psychologists to create their own versions of human personality and morality, two recent entries in the blogosphere focus on findings which portray morality in a novel way, as something innate and necessary for human survival. The first entry is by John M. Grohol from the Psychcentral blog entitled “Is Morality a Basic Instinct?” In the entry, Grohol examines new research in which scientists studied facial movements to draw parallels between physical and moral disgust in order to show how they may be related on a primitive level. The second entry, written by Jonah Lehrer from The Frontal Cortex blog, is entitled “Babies and Morality.” Lehrer examines an argument made by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, which suggests that perhaps human morality lies in “cooperative breeding” and may be “rooted in the cries and smiles of infants.” My responses to both of these entries can be found below and at their respective sites.

“Is Morality a Basic Instinct”

Having taken numerous child development psychology classes in school, I found this entry to be extremely interesting and thought-provoking. Most developmental theories taught today are based on the earlier works of psychologists like Freud, Piaget, Vygotsky, and Ainsworth, which mainly believe that morality is a learned, experiential construct—something that is gained through social rules from primary caregivers. The idea that morality could be “hard-wired into our brains” goes against much of what I have already learned; therefore, I have a few questions about the study itself.

Upon reading the study, I was struck by the specificity of the conclusion based solely upon evidence relating the facial movements for disgust and moral disgust. I can understand how conditioned taste aversion would cause facial movement in the levator labii region, as this was something that may have “evolved from a functional role in regulating sensory intake,” which Darwin suggested long ago. Furthermore, I can believe that similar movement in the levator labii region would result from disgust in the unfair conditions in the Ultimatum Game, but how did this movement come to be an accepted construct for morality? Furthermore, in the article you cite, the author quotes Adam Anderson when he says, “Surprisingly, our sophisticated moral sense of what is right and wrong may develop from a newborn’s innate preference for what tastes good and bad.” Do you think this is a fair assertion to make when the journal article from Science says that “anger and sadness endorsement…did not correlate with levator labii region activity,” and that “contempt, another emotion that has been theoretically linked to immorality also did not correlate with the activation of the levator labii region?” Given that previous research has shown that anger has opposing neurological and physical patterns, do you foresee any way to test for other aspects of morality or immorality beyond the facial movements and self-report for disgust?

While I feel that the assumptions being made might be premature without further research, this entry was an extremely interesting read, giving me something else to think about today. Thank you for this post, and I look forward to hearing from you or other bloggers in the future.

“Babies and Morality”

This is an interesting post, which presents the idea of morality as something not derived from our complex brains, but rather as a result of the evolution of humans as “cooperative breeders.” This, like another blog entry found on PsychCentral, presents a new way of looking at human morality, which goes against the previous notion that morality and ethics are learned from experience from a caregiver or society. Dr. Hrdy argues in the article that the ability “to cooperate in groups, to empathize with others and to wonder what others are thinking and feeling” arose in response to the “selective pressures of being in a cooperatively breeding social group.” While I agree that on some level, this does make sense, but is this purely speculation on Dr. Hrdy’s part or does she have empirical evidence to back up this assertion? Furthermore, I am not so sure that the article you are citing truly allows you to dismiss the notion that human morality is a system of behaviors “attributed to the Ten Commandments, Kant, etc.”

I personally feel that human morality and ethics span far wider than our dealings with babies, and it is constantly shifting to keep up with the changing times. While in some aspects, I can identify with some of what Dr. Hrdy believes is true, it simply does not account for a myriad of other daily human interactions, and thus is inadequate for explaining morality as a whole. Also, just because I can see how it might be true, doesn’t mean that it is the best explanation for how the world works. In conclusion, the article unfairly assumes that humankind is wholly altruistic and uses this idea as a basis for morality, but this is a hasty assumption that, while new and different, is unproven. Until I am given any sort of empirical evidence to believe otherwise, the article and your post isn’t much more than an interesting, thought-provoking idea.


Cyber Bullying: Road Rage v2.0?

As one of the most important mediums of communication in society today, the internet provides a valuable service to the public; it connects hundreds of millions of individuals through open forums, blogs, and social networking sites. The advent of these different types of sites has created an instantaneous, constantly occurring dialogue, regardless of geographic location. However, the increased interconnectivity also comes with a price: face-to-face communication may occur less, and, as CNN has reported, the level of aggression and bullying over the internet is rising at a rapid rate. I contend that the reason for this cyber bullying is that most of the communication occurring on the internet is done anonymously. Furthermore, this cyber bullying is a real problem, and while it may not be bullying in the traditional, physical sense, actual harm can come from psychological bullying, and it needs to be addressed in an attempt to curtail the increasing trend of aggression.

Many of the channels of communication on the internet today, like chat rooms, blogs, and forums, allow for communication to occur anonymously. Often, the identities of the posters can be hidden which “can embolden individuals” in both positive (to voice concern without repercussion) and negative (as a mask for verbal cruelty) ways. Lesley Withers, a professor of communication at Central Michigan University, noted that the difference between the pre-internet era and present day is that “now there’s a perception of anonymity[…]people think what they say won’t have repercussions, and they don’t think they have to soften their comments.” The main difference between face-to-face communication and internet communication is in the difference between verbal and nonverbal cues. Text-based communication lacks the cues that verbal communication gives, which adds to the detachment and helps to de-humanize others over the internet. This very detachment has led to vitriolic or aggressive communication over the internet which has had a negative effect for those on the receiving end of the comments.

This lack of face-to-face interaction also leads to aggression in a parallel, real life way in the form of road rage. Often characterized by “sudden acceleration, braking, close tailgating, sounding the vehicle’s horn, and, of course, the classic one fingered salute,” road rage is a common part of today’s driving experience and something that many encounter or participate in on a daily basis. The psychological cause for road rage often stems from the fact that many feel secure behind the locked doors of the car, as well as the fact that drivers “may develop a sense of anonymity and detachment in the confines of their vehicles.” I have seen very normal, mild mannered individuals get extremely angry with other drivers without justification. In a psychological sense, the cause for this is that they often have a fundamental attribution error, choosing to overestimate the personality-based explanations and underestimate the situational variables for the behavioral actions of others. The drivers who feel road rage are unable to humanize the driver of another car, and they choose to attribute poor driving to ineptitude or a lack of concern, rather than to think about other possible reasons for the poor driving. Furthermore, road rage and subsequent poor driving can be controlled by cops who issue traffic tickets, but there are generally very few repercussions for cyber bullying, which makes it more of an important problem.

In online virtual environments, like those found in “Massively Multiplayer Online Games” like “Second Life” or “World of Warcraft,” entire groups of individuals have emerged known, in gaming vernacular, as “flamers” or “griefers.” These players actively go out of their way to be negative to other individuals. While this harm may not be physical in nature, the psychological effects can often be just as damaging. Players who invest hours of time into their game avatar can feel a sense of attachment or pride, as the character is a representation of the self in the game world. When a person’s avatar is bullied, the psychological harm involved is potentially longer lasting than physical harm due to this attachment. There really is not that much that can be done to stop this problem in these online virtual environments. As a second life player notes, “if you are attacked in Second Life, there’s little you can do besides file an abuse report.” Furthermore, by bullying other players, negative, hurtful behaviors are sometimes reinforced with attention or status, which only furthers this problem.

Internet bullying has also assumed the role of anonymous gossip or slander. Websites, like the now defunct “Juicycampus,” provided a safe haven for writing whatever gossip internet bullies wished to write without any negative consequences. Furthermore, even after the website was embroiled in legal battles concerning the harmful effects of the anonymous bullying, there were no repercussions for the writers of the gossip itself, only repercussions for the owners of the site. While there have been reports of jobs being lost, relationships ruined, and even lives taken as a result of internet bullying, the problem remains; there is little that can be done to police this type of activity in any wide-scale, all-encompassing way. Though internet bullying is much more prevalent and possibly more dangerous, the internet remains ungoverned and uncontrolled by any unifying body with absolute power.

The solution, then, is a long-term, individualistic answer, similar in some ways to the solution for solving road rage. First, and probably hardest to engender, is the need for compassion in every individual on the internet. There should be more attempts to humanize communication and interaction over the internet, like requiring websites to hold its posters or members accountable for their actions. Secondly, there needs to be more parental responsibility for children’s activities over the internet. Though the internet is a new medium, more awareness needs to be raised concerning the actual dangers involved with its use. Finally, the government is slowly attempting to pass legislation trying to make cyber bullying a criminal act. These steps, while they may not guarantee anything, may help to ameliorate some of the problems associated with anonymity and cyber bullying over the internet.


Psychology in the Blogosphere: Misuse of Power?

Last week, I examined the application of psychology research studies and how they could, in one specific case, be misused and twisted in order to provide a basis for new legislation. While the outcome of the legislation concerning aggression and video games is still undecided, this week I entered the blogosphere to read about other ways in which psychology is meeting realms of modern technology. In light of my previous post, I was drawn to blog posts concerning the psychological effects of social networking sites. Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter are fast becoming some of the most important and popular destinations on the internet. Facebook, alone, has “more than 175 million active users,” and “more than 3 billion minutes are spent on Facebook each day (worldwide)." Due to the growing popularity of these websites, new psychology research studies are emerging to explain the link between the internet and the brain. In light of this, this week I examine a post by John M. Grohol, PSY.D., entitled “Can Blogging Make You Happier?” on the World of Psychology blog, which looks at a research study linking blogging and happiness. Additionally, I consider a post called “Facebook Causes Marble Loss” on the Mindhacks.com blog by Vaughan Bell, Ph.D., which critiques the improper use of psychological research studies and the negative effect that can occur from it. My responses to both of these blog posts can be found below and at their respective sites.

"Can Blogging Make You Happier?"

Given the increasing popularity of blogging and social networking sites, like Twitter or Facebook, the study you cite in this post is both timely and meaningful. I found it intensely interesting that the authors of the research study used self-disclosure theory and social capital theory to illuminate some of the links between blogging and a subjective sense of well-being or happiness. However, I have a few questions pertaining to the internal and external validity of the study itself, and I was hoping to hear your opinion on them.

When you mentioned that there “isn’t a whole lot of research into blogging, so this study is a valuable contribution to our knowledge and understanding of behavior,” are you concerned with the fact that this study was conducted in Taiwan, a more collectivistic culture, as opposed to the United States, whose citizens might have a more independent view of the self and culture? Will the results that were found in one location, in your opinion, translate to the people of another culture? Furthermore, a well known problem with many research studies is that the subjects are predominantly female college students. What kind of impact does this have on the generalizability of the study itself? Given that Facebook, a social networking site, posted on their statistics page that “the fastest growing demographic is those 30 years old and older” do you foresee other studies being produced to account for different demographics?

You mentioned in your post that “self-disclosure on those blogs will help them improve these existing relationships,” but can you imagine a situation in which blogging, with “lurking strangers (32.55%)" or anonymous commenters might have a negative impact on self-reported happiness. A quick glance at most Youtube comments to posted videos will show a fair amount of negativity from anonymous posters over the internet. Have you perhaps seen any current research with measures happiness, blogging, and anonymity? Finally, given the penchant for mainstream mass media to take psychological studies out of context as seen here, are you at all concerned with studies like these or other future studies misleading and changing public opinion and policy concerning the internet, blogging and social networking sites?

I really appreciated your post about blogging and happiness, but I feel like there might be a few loose ends, and I look forward to hearing your opinion concerning the questions I have.

"Facebook Causes Marble Loss"

That very awkward feeling you mention in the beginning of your post is an all-too-familiar feeling I get when I watch or read mainstream media report “facts” based loosely upon research studies. I recently touched on this issue in a recent blog post of mine in which a Congressman from California slightly misused research findings to propose legislation concerning aggression and video games (putting a warning label on video games, similar to a pack of cigarettes). As such, when I found this blog post, I was intrigued to read your opinion on the subject.

Personally, I am glad that you called Aric Sigman’s article “drivel,” as it clearly is nothing more than that. The very idea that the use of social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter could lead to health risks from societal withdrawal is laughable at best. Furthermore, Sigman “cherry-picking” his data is extremely socially irresponsible and potentially morally reprehensible, especially to claim it as truth to news media outlets. From what I have found, the Biologist is a peer-reviewed journal, but what can stop mainstream news outlets from claiming these papers as “the truth?” Does the fault lie with the magazine reviewers, themselves? Furthermore, do you see this as a problematic trend which is getting worse as new mediums technology are studied? What do you suppose is the basis for news outlets being so eager to latch on to and report inconclusive or incorrect findings? How might Sigman explain the antisocial and negative effects of reading a book, for example?

I would draw your attention to a recent blog post by John M. Grohol, PSY.D., called “Can Blogging Make You Happier?” from Psychcentral’s World of Psychology blog where he talks about a Taiwanese study which found that blogging can increase levels of social integration and interconnectivity, and therefore happiness. This study is similar to some of the other studies already posted on your blog, but how do you feel about a study like this, which has no control group, is based solely on self report, and is conducted in a different culture (individualistic vs. collectivistic)? Are studies like this any different—information-wise—from Aric Sigman’s study?

Finally, I would like to thank you for producing such a funny, illuminating response to a major social problem in today’s society. All too often, poor scientific research studies are taken out of context and “swallowed by most mainstream press outlets without question.” It would seem that the only way to combat this is to raise awareness about the problem itself. I appreciate the work you have done thus far, and I look forward to your response.


Aggression from Video Games: A Question of Definition

Video games have progressed in complexity and scope faster than any other medium of multimedia entertainment, and with these advances, they have also faced an increasing amount of scrutiny from lawmakers, news media, parents and scientists alike. Indeed, many of today’s most popular titles bear very little resemblance, if any at all, to their predecessors. Games like Atari’s Pong (1972) and Namco’s Pac-Man (1980) are not only different in look and feel, but also in interactivity and levels of immersion. In recent years, new genres of video games like the first person shooter (FPS), and combat-fighting oriented games have emerged and gained popularity with youth and adolescents. Grand Theft Auto III (see above left, 2001) is one such FPS, in which the player can control an avatar who has the ability to violently fulfill his every whim in a virtual world, be it shoot guns, kill pedestrians and cops, steal cars, or break any law. The popularity of Grand Theft Auto is astounding, with “worldwide sales [of Grand Theft Auto] approaching $2 billion.” This in turn has increased the levels of concern surrounding what effect and what impact these games are having on the youth of today. But is there an actual cause for concern? U.S. Congressman Joe Baca thinks so. In his January 7th, 2009 press release, he introduced the Video Game Labeling Act of 2009, legislation which would mandate that all video games “with an Electronics Software Ratings Board (ESRB) rating of Teen (T) or higher be sold with a health warning label,” a label similar to those found on cigarettes. The basis for this legislation comes from certain scientific studies that “continue to show a proven link between playing violent games and increased aggression in young people.” Congressman Baca is not the first, either, to propose legislation, which seeks to limit the distribution or packaging of violent video games. The major problem, however, with Congressman Baca’s legislation, and other legislation like it, is that it represents one side of a hotly contested debate, without taking the time to adequately define the terms being used. He cites “scientific sources” as his evidence, but what exactly they are saying?

At the very first, there exists an unaddressed issue of the difference between the types of aggression and aggressive behavior. Depending on which frame or lens through which one views these terms, they can numerous applications. Physiologically, aggression may be related to heart rate and skin conductance. Neurologically, aggression could be viewed in terms of increased brain activity in the amygdale. Behaviorally, aggression is defined as the behaviors that cause psychological or physical harm in another individual. The problem that arises from these definitions is that certain studies will choose to measure one or the other in relation to video games and provide it to the public as definitive proof. An example this is well-illustrated in a study conducted at Michigan State University, which, incidentally, was also cited by Congressman Baca as scientific proof. The experimenters used an fMRI machine to track the neural patterns of thirteen individuals while they played a violent first person shooter video game. They overlaid the measurements of neural functions onto the video game itself to track specific instances of activity. One of the main findings of the study “suggests parallel neural patterns between highly immersive virtual environments and real experiences”. However, as the researchers themselves point out, there is very little to link the increase in brain activity to an increase in actual physical aggression. The disconnect between neural measurement and actual effects only shows how the term aggression is sometimes taken out of context to fit the specific needs of individuals and organizations. A second, related issue is with the conclusions being drawn from some of the scientific studies, much like the previous study. This problem has to do with the ideas of correlation and causation. In the field psychology, it is well known that correlation does not imply causation. If a variable, like physical aggression, increases with, and correlates with a second variable, like playing time of a violent video game, it is not possible to definitively state that the video game was the cause of the physical aggression. There may be other factors at work that produced this result.

Another study Congressman Baca cited as scientific evidence, which was also very widely sited in popular news media outlets, was a longitudinal correlation study conducted in both Japan and the United States and published in November, 2008. Per CNN, it looked at how “children and teen’s video game habits at one time point related to their behavior three to six months later.” The study used self-reports of the children, as well as behavioral reports from outside sources, to determine the correlation between violent video games and actual behavioral aggression. While CNN states that in every group, “children who were exposed to more video game violence did become more aggressive over time than their peers who had less exposure,” a closer inspection of the results leads to less conclusive evidence, with a high potential for confounding variables, or variables which could skew the overall data. John Timmer from Ars Technica addresses some of these problems when he noted that there might be procedural issues, such as the fact that “the three surveys targeted different age groups with essentially no overlap, used different measures of violent game content, different measures of physical aggression and performed the follow-up surveys at different time periods.” He adds, “the authors attempt to treat the data as a single unified body when they perform a pathway analysis in an attempt to demonstrate a degree of causality…their decision to do so doesn’t appear to be well justified.” Furthermore, the experimenters noted that the overall weighted correlation rate was only r = 0.28, which by their own words, gives “pretty good evidence,” but not conclusive or statistically significant evidence linking the two together.

Both of the aforementioned studies fail to fully address the problem of correlation and causation, as well as the relationship between neural activity and actual physical behavior. One of the more difficult questions which need to be answered is are we overlooking individual differences in relation to video games and aggression? Do aggressive children actively seek out violent video games, or do violent video games produce aggression in children or adolescents? There is a lot of evidence currently circulating academia which seems to lend itself to providing a link between video games and aggression, either neural or physiological. However, there needs to be more work done in terms of clearly defining terms and not drawing conclusions from facts which do not clearly exist, as Congressman Baca may have done. Furthermore, Cognitive Daily writer Greta Munger proposed that most adolescents can handle one or two risk factors for aggressive behavior, like developmental issues surrounding adolescence and hormones, and environmental issues, but that these risk factors need to be examined in the context of video games to determine the true extent of the influence of violent video games on aggression. Finally, as USC Professor Karen Sternheimer noted in an article from USA Today concerning the blame of video games on aggressive and homicidal youth, “It was a tragic and, very fortunately, rare event and it was discouraging to see that the conversation often started and stopped at video games.” If violent video games are being intensely scrutinized, perhaps other modes of mass entertainment, like television or movies, need to be examined as well.


Bridging the Gap: Applying Psychological Theory to Personal Experience

The field of psychology currently faces major problems. Though findings in psychology are applicable to a wide range of individuals, there is a gap between the current psychological theories and its application to the general public in meaningful ways. This theory-application disconnect could be caused by a number of factors, including difficult-to-understand terminology or an advanced statistical analysis in a research paper. An opposing problem is caused by the increasing prevalence of folk psychology, or common sense psychology, which has been propagated through mass media and the internet due to its easy-to-swallow packaging. However, folk psychology is often oversimplified for public consumption and may exist in opposition to established theories. Uncommon Knowledge was born as a response to these problems. As my first foray into the blogosphere, I hope use this blog to bridge the theory-application gap in psychology for the general public by examining and explaining current events or cultural phenomenon in relation to psychological theory. Furthermore, I will address and debunk popular folk psychology beliefs. I began this blog by compiling the most credible websites to serve as a wide base of knowledge in my writing. A sampling of these websites can be found in the linkroll on the right hand side of this blog. These websites were selected after clearing either the Webby Awards or the IMSA criteria for websites or blogs, respectively. The Webby Awards examines websites based upon six different criteria: Content, structure and navigation, visual design, functionality, interactivity, and overall experience. The first website I included was a comprehensive glossary of psychology terms to demystify and define difficult concepts. Next, I used search engines and online directories, such as the Librarian’s Internet Index, to help find credible psychology news websites and influential associations, like the American Psychological Association. These websites tended to be well designed, easy to use, and extremely informative. The research-intensive nature of psychology led me to search for directories of refereed online journals, such as PSYCLINE: Journal Locator, which could be used for reference or further learning. Finally, I used blog search engines like Technorati and Blogscholar to find the very best psychology blogs and blog indexes. The IMSA judges blogs based on credibility of authorship, depth of content of the blog, and the influence of the blog, along with other criteria. Each of the selected blogs, like Cognitive Daily, maintains a high credibility of authorship and is updated regularly. By including each of these websites, I hope to provide a diverse base from which to learn and incorporate multiple, new points of view for the journey of bridging the gap.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.