The study by Vincent Cicchirillo and Rebecca M. Chory-Assad (2005) entitled Effects of Affective Orientation and Video Game Play on Aggressive Thoughts and Behavior investigates the effect of violent video game on aggressive thoughts and behavior and the mediating role of affective orientation on this relationship. This study is prompted by the scarcity of research examining the role played by an individual’s personality in the processing of media effects.
The underlying concept which frames the study is that of priming which is the idea that a certain stimulus will activate similar stimulus present in the mind of an individual, thus enabling a reproduction of the outside or presentation stimulus to occur (Cicchirillo & Chory-Assad, 2005). Media effect is based on this concept. It also supported by the neoassociatve perspective on cognition. In the neoassociative model, the mind is a network of nodes that corresponds to certain emotions, behaviors and thoughts. These nodes are connected by pathways that are strengthened by frequency of use and relatedness.
When a particular node is activated, related nodes will be activated as well through the networks, resulting to production of other emotions, behaviors or thoughts which were not directly stimulated. Researches found that media such as video game can activate cognitive nodes (Cicchirillo & Chory-Assad, 2005). According to Cicchirillo and Chory-Assad (2005), personality traits such as affective orientation play a part in the processing of media effects. They define affective orientation as the tendency of an individual to utilize his emotions as a guide for behavior and decision-making (Cicchirillo & Chory-Assad, 2005).
A person with a high affective orientation will respond to emotional cues and act accordingly, while one with a low affective orientation will act based on factual variables. The independent variable in the study is the administration of video game varying in content. The first video involved violence and the other involved non-violence. A second independent variable is the level of affective orientation of the participants. The dependent variables in the study are aggressive thoughts and aggressive behavior. Each dependent variable is measured with an appropriate scale to determine its interaction with the independent variables.
Cicchirillo and Chory-Assad (2005) make two hypotheses in the study. First, participants who played violent video games will exhibit more aggressive thoughts and behavior than those who played non-violent games. This hypothesis is based on the gathered research supporting it and the concept of priming (Cicchirillo & Chory-Assad, 2005). Second, participants with high affective orientation who played violent video games will exhibit more aggressive thoughts and behavior than participants with low affective orientation who played the similar game and participants who played non-violent games (Cicchirillo & Chory-Assad, 2005).
This hypothesis is based on the assumption that affective orientation mediates on the effect of violent video games on thought and behavior. To test the hypothesis, the researcher randomly asked 80 communication students at the beginning of the semester to answer questionnaires measuring their affective orientation. This was the first phase of the methodology. Thereafter, the second phase which is a laboratory test was initiated. The students who participated in the first phase were called back to participate in the second phase which involves the actual playing of video games.
The students were divided randomly into two groups. One group was assigned to play a violent video game; the other group assigned to play a non-violent game. After playing for ten minutes, the students were asked to take a word completion test for three minutes to measure aggressive thoughts. Upon completion of the test, the students were told to evaluate the researcher on the pretext that this evaluation will be the basis for a research grant which the researcher was applying for. The evaluation form asked the students to assess the researcher’s courtesy, competence and deservedness of a financial support.
The test was designed to measure the students’ aggressive behavior after playing the video game. A debriefing about the whole research was conducted after the students completed the evaluation. The results show that violent video games do not directly prime aggressive thought but it does prime aggressive behavior. They further conclude that some other process other than aggressive thoughts mediates the relationship between violent video games and aggressive behavior (Cicchirillo & Chory-Assad, 2005).
In addition, the study also shows that affective orientation does not mediate between video games and affective behavior, but between affective behavior and aggressive affect (Cicchirillo & Chory-Assad, 2005). In other words, video games stimulate the aggressive affect which may increase aggressive behavior depending on the level of affective orientation. A participant with a high affective orientation is more likely to exhibit aggressive though and behavior after playing violent video games than one who is otherwise. The methodology designed by the researchers is experimental to test both hypotheses.
In the first hypotheses, they measured relationship between the independent variable (violent video game play) and dependent variable (aggressive cognition and aggressive behavior). In the second hypotheses, they measured the correlation between affective orientation and video game play in predicting the level of aggressive cognition and behavior. In measuring affective orientation, student participants were asked to answer Booth-Butterfield Affective Orientation 15 scale which was used in previous studies about the influence of affective orientation in behavior(Cicchirillo & Chory-Assad, 2005).
To measure aggressive cognition, mean scores from the word completion task were analyzed, while scores obtained from the evaluation of the researchers were used to measure aggressive behavior. The researchers decided to separate the scores obtained from three items in the evaluation of aggressive behavior because the correlation is low and the alpha reliability is unacceptable (Cicchirillo & Chory-Assad, 2005). The psychometric tools used by the researchers in measuring the variables of the study were culled from previous investigations of similar nature to ensure reliability and validity (Cicchirillo & Chory-Assad, 2005).
Thus, the tools can be considered appropriate for the variables present in the hypotheses. There is a concern though about the nature of video games used in the experiment. From what Cicchirillo & Chory-Assad (2005) related, it can be observed that the violent video game [Grand Theft Auto] is relatively more complex than the non-violent game [etris)] As such, the researchers took a longer time in explaining the mechanics of the violent video game which may have affected the students’ evaluation of the researchers in the last phase of the experiment (Cicchirillo & Chory-Assad, 2005).
The length of playing time and number of video games used may also have affected the correlative scores between variables. In previous studies, participants were allowed longer exposure to a number of media compared to the exposure used in this study (Anderson cited in Cicchirillo & Chory-Assad, 2005). A significant result may have arisen if this method was appropriated. In addition, the instrument used in measuring aggressive condition, a word completion task, may also have influenced, or more specifically, limited the responses of students.
According to the recommendations of the researchers, an alternative instrument, such as thought listing, may record accurate and significant results obtained during the actual playing of the game; a less constricted instrument may allow for a precise mapping of aggressive thoughts (Cicchirillo & Chory-Assad, 2005). Moreover, the method of word completion is a novel psychometric method in that only two studies have used it (Cicchirillo & Chory-Assad, 2005).
The researchers reported that during the period between the first and second phase of the test, some of the student participants who answered the affective orientation questionnaire did not show up during the lab test (Cicchirillo & Chory-Assad, 2005). The original sample of 80 students was cut down to 59 and an additional 5 students who were not present during the first phase participated in the lab test. This significantly affected the results of the study. According to Kazdin (2003), in terms of sample selection, attrition, or the difference in the number of participant drop-outs in the groups, has significant effect on the result.
He further suggested that to avoid attrition, researchers should select participants who are not likely to pull out of the experiment (2003). Considering that the experiment was done in a school setting, which is relatively easier to supervise than a broader setting such as a community, the researchers could have avoided the huge drop out of participants. The number of sample is crucial in arriving at a more definitive result as demonstrated in a similar study involving a sample of 65 participants (Anderson, C. ited in Cicchirillo & Chory-Assad, 2005). The partial validation of both hypotheses in the study may be different if the following changes are adapted in the study. As mentioned, an increase of sample size will yield to a significant relationship between aggressive thought and aggressive behavior. A close (but not intrusive) monitoring of participants may enable researchers to avoid the occurrence of attrition. In addition, utilizing a more naturalistic setting for the lab test may result to significant changes.
According to Kazdin (2003), one factor influencing the external validity of a research design is the level of a participant’s awareness that he or she is undertaking an experiment. The “reactivity to experimental arrangements” may be lowered if the researchers utilized non-artificial and informal setting. Another improvement applicable to the study is the distribution of sample. According to the researchers, there was a random uneven distribution of the participants in terms of gender and number, and this may have affected the results. Increasing the sample size and close monitoring of the participants will resolve this discrepancy.
The statistical analyses used to measure the relationship of the variable are appropriate for testing the hypotheses. The impact of violent video-game play to aggressive thought and behavior, which is the first hypothesis, was determined using a one-tailed t-test. This test determines the relationship of two groups—in the studies case, the players of violent video games and players of non-violent video games—to a single variable. Cicchirillo & Chorry-Assad (2005) reports that violent video-game play influences aggressive behavior, but not aggressive thought.
Since the second hypothesis involved a the relationship of two independent variables—that is, level of affective orientation and video-game play—the researchers appropriately used regression analyses to determine the closest fit in this relationship. The results show that high scores on affective orientation and playing violent video games influence some aggressive behavior, but, similar to the first hypothesis, not aggressive thoughts (Cicchirill & Chorry-Assad, 2005). Because of the numerous variables present in the study, an alternative method may present more disadvantage than otherwise.
However, to accommodate the use of a more naturalistic set-up, the study may require a longer methodology in terms of time. The researchers may involve a sample of much younger participants—for instance, high school students. To measure their affective orientation, school departments such as the guidance office may be utilized to administer tests at the beginning of the school year. Instead of a laboratory test for the second phase, a survey may be done to gather data on violent video game use of the specific sample chosen for the test.
Methods to measure aggressive thought and behavior may be similar to the Cicchirill & Chorry-Assad study, but may include observation of actual behavior of the participants in a natural school setting. The disadvantages of this method involve the constraints on time and money resources inherent in a longer experimentation, and the bigger probability of attrition also due to time element. The research may be extended by exploring cultural factors involved in determining affective orientation.
According to Zimbardo et al (2005), personality types, such as thinking versus feeling, are influenced by cultural affiliations. For instance, some cultures do not distinguish thought and emotions as much as Americans do (Zimbardo et al, 2005). Further research such as this may enlighten recent issues involving mass killings in US associated with violent behavior adapted by young people from media. It may also explore the role of gender differences in determining affective orientation, the results of which may establish empirical grounds for gender associated aggression.