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Catharsis and Video Games; The Good & The Bad Anna DiNoto (M.A. & Psy.D. Clinical Psychology Graduate Student) My email: email@example.com December 9, 2009 at 1:15pm (Cascadia Community College)
Catharsis Theory- Posits that acting outwardly (e.g., playing a video game) affords opportunities to purge natural impulses, such as aggression or frustration. Essentially, our built up emotions, anger, and frustrations can be discharged by expressing them through alternative means, like playing a violent video game to vent aggressive feelings.
Aristotle, Poetics, Book 6 (B.C.)- Believed “letting off steam” is better than bottling up hostility
Dollard et al. (1939) & Freud (1950)- Suggested that catharsis reduces subsequent aggression. That is, once people act aggressively and release their anger, he or she will be less inclined to engage in future acts of aggression
Manning & Taylor (1975)- Argued that children and adolescents who played aggressive video games would be presented with the opportunity to release any build up stress or aggression they may have, in a non-destructive way
Geen & Quanty (1977)– Suggested that aggressive acts directed against the source of anger reduces physiological arousal; this study measured angry feelings immediately after participants’ aggressive acts
Sparks, & Spark (2002)- Suggested that through catharsis, a child or adolescent is provided the opportunity to release his or her aggression while playing a video game, which in turn facilitates a decrease in his or her need to carry out those actions in a real life situation
Calvert, & Tan (1994)- stated neither aggressive ideation nor hostile feelings decreased from baseline to treatment for adults who played an aggressive virtual reality game
Anderson, & Dill (2000)- Results suggested that real-life violent video game play was positively related to aggressive behavior and delinquency (HIGHER FOR MEN) and also found results that suggested exposure to graphically violent video games increased aggressive thoughts and behavior (HIGHER IN MEN, again)
Bushman (2002)- Results suggested that doing nothing at all was more effective at reducing aggressive feelings than did “blowing off steam”
Ramirez et al. (2005)- Suggested that retaliation MAY, in the short run, reduce tension and even produce please, HOWEVER, in the long run, catharsis fuels more negative feelings. Thus, even when people who have been provoked to act out aggressively, even when they believe it will be cathartic, the effect is contrary to what they may think—Ramirez posited that this behavior actually leads them to exhibit more cruelty.
Persky, & Blascovich (2008)- Through the use of immersive virtual environment technology, which allows the user to engage in context relevant behavior that can produce intense user experiences for purposes such as entertainment (i.e., video games), results suggested playing violent video games using an IVET platform leads to an increase presence and aggressive feelings & behaviors
Important Notions (in my opinion) to Keep in Mind (My own ‘two cents’ and theories of related concepts to include when considering video games and cathartic release)…
Social Learning Theory- Learning that occurs within a social context. This theory takes into consideration learning from one another, including observational learning (learning by way of video games), imitation [of acts viewed video game play], and modeling (seeing others in a video game perform an act). Essentially, we learn by viewing and observing others act.
Aggression- Monkey see, monkey do. You know that to be able to progress and continue on in the game, you must defeat the boss, which is, well, an aggressive act you must watch and complete.
IMPORTANT: Aversive experiences such as frustrated expectations and personal attacks, predispose (affect) hostile aggressions. SO, it is wise to refrain from planting false, unreachable expectations in people’s minds (e.g., playing a video game WILL release anger). Anticipated rewards and costs, influence instrumental aggression (e.g., I will be rewarded by taking my anger out on this person, because I have learned this through video games). This suggests that we should reward cooperative, nonaggressive behaviors .
Modeling- Do you look up to those in the game, such as characters, and people in general, like in the case of being the leader of your guild, etc? Here, be mindful that we learn by watching and doing.
Reinforcement- Is playing rewarding? Do you find cathartic relief- probably immediately? However, when you shut if off, the anger will likely surface later…
Hydraulic Model- Suggests frustration leads to anger and that anger in turn, builds up inside the individual, similar to hydraulic pressure inside a closed environment, until it is released elsewhere. Thus, if people keep in their anger, they will eventually explode. Catharsis is seen as a way of relieving the pressure that the anger creates inside the psyche. THE CORE IDEA HERE IS… it is better to let the anger out here and there in little bits as opposed to keeping it inside as it builds up to the point at which more dangerous explosions result
Cognitive Neoassociation Theory- Aversive events (e.g., frustrations) produce negative affect (affect is feeling or emotion that is expressed or observable). Negative affect, in turn, automatically stimulates thoughts, memories, expressive motor reactions, and physiological responses associated with both fight and flight tendencies (e.g., should I punch him or not?). The fight associations give rise to rudimentary feelings of anger, whereas the flight associations give rise to rudimentary feelings of fear. This theory posits that aggressive thoughts are linked together in memory, thereby forming an ASSOCIATIVE network. SO, once an aggressive thought is processed or stimulated, activation spreads out along the network links and primes or activates associated thoughts as well. THUS, the activations of aggressive thoughts can engender a complex of associations consisting of aggressive ides, emotions related to violence and the impetus for aggressive actions.
HERE, this theory posits that venting (catharsis) should increase rather than decrease angry feelings and aggressive behaviors. Furthermore, venting is thought to keep angry feelings activated in memory and also increase the likelihood of future aggression.
Rumination- some devices for venting anger make it easy for people to ruminate (continually think about) their provocateur (a person who provokes trouble). THUS, when ruminating, a person may direct attention inwardly on the self and particularly on one’s negative mood. This in turn may increase aggressive and anger.
Distraction- Thinking playing will “distract” unwanted feelings is incorrect, in my opinion. In the short run it may help, but later, it will surface and may worsen if not confronted. If someone is induced to think about something else (e.g., think about their feelings, such as in mindfulness, fully assess each situation from a neutral standpoint--- HEALTHY TO DO THIS) the anger will dissipate in time
Disinhibition (lack of physical restraint, NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH desensitization, where you are emotionally unreactive and insensitive to something)- Initial aggression promotes further aggression, such as when initial aggression acts may produce disinhibition (the reduction of ordinary internal controls against socially disapproved behaviors; a temporary loss of inhibition caused by an outside stimulus).
THUS, playing a violent game may be hard at first, such as seeing all the blood and gore, but may become easier thereafter. SO, the catharsis that follows aggression and the pleasure of thwarting our tormentor (e.g., beating Bowser in SMB), in turn rewards aggression and rewarded behaviors are repeated MORE frequently.
Dopaminergic neurotransmission (Koepp, Gunn, Lawrence, Cunningham, Dagher, Jones et al., 1998)-
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter used in learning, reinforcement of behavior, attention and sensorimotor (sensory and motor aspects of bodily movements) integration.
This study suggested an increase in dopamine release in designated cortical areas while engaging in video game play. This may mean that when someone is playing, even while frustrated or for cathartic reasons, it may reinforce the behavior even more, as more dopamine is released (there is more dopaminergic neurotransmission).
Keeping in mind a tolerance is built up here, homeostasis is set off, and thus, further play is required--- addiction???
Always seek out original sources, never use someone else’s paraphrased version of results; you see this a lot, when statistics are thrown about without any of its original context to support it.
Correlation DOES NOT mean causation
Idiographic Approach- validates participants!!! A comprehensive approach to research whereby the researchers (AND CLINICIANS) take into account a persons individual views and perspectives, while playing video games. You want to be sure to meet people where they are at and help explore how they make sense of reality, what they do and how it makes them feel and any pervasive patterns they may have. Being sure to explore and process through their lens is key, with time you psychoeducate them on the deleterious effects of _______________ (fill in the blank)
Mirror Neurons (same neurons fire when we perform an action or observe another perform the same action)- Mirror neurons are neurons that fire BOTH when a person acts out a behavior and observes the same behavior performed by another person. The neuron “mirrors” the behavior of the other, as though the observer were itself acting (MIND BLOWING- In my opinion!). These neurons play a significant role in empathy and mimicry of behaviors. These neurons are an important concept for role taking and distancing ideas (distancing of emotions). SO, if someone plays a video game, the same neurons are firing when you kick a character (such as in the case of a virtual reality video games) that would fire if you were to actually kick someone in real life. So, just by watching someone do something, like in a video game, it is like practicing it yourself!!! An example is there was a study where surgeons played a video game before surgery and there was an increase in performance of usage of tools and decreased errors in those who played the game…
Self report vs. empirical (e.g., use of an fMRI)- fMRI’s are the future of empirical data. Perhaps we need to have more of these conducted in terms of fMRI’s & Catharsis
Assess all aspects of a person, as we are all individualistic and have various predispositions to behaviors and cognitions.
INSTICT, Freud & Konrad Lorenz, famous for imprinting like the birds and mate, you learn during a specific phase!!!!… (if not discharged, aggressive energy will accumulate from within; biology, chemistry and the brain)
Frustration (given aggressive cues, anger may provoke aggression- this is how you psychologically “think”)
Social learning (aggression as a learned behavior; BANDURA and the BoBo Doll experiment)
So what’s my opinion on: Video Games are Cathartic: yea or nay?-
Short term vs. long term
Short term, yes, it appears as though the research points in the direction that catharsis leads to a decrease in negative feelings. However, in the long run, research appears to support the view that catharsis teaches a pervasive [reinforced] pattern of aggression
Cruel acts begets cruel attitudes
Bushman (2001)- “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice. How do you become a very angry person? The answer is the same. Practice, practice, practice.”
If observing aggressive models lowers inhibition (meaning, we are more likely to act on what we see) and elicits imitation (act out the model we previously observed), then we might also reduce brutal, dehumanizing portrayals in video games….
The wise words of my graduate professors: “It is your job to tease apart all the hypotheses and theories you research and read about, and find your place in the data and make it your own.”
Rationale: In my humble opinion, I believe in using mindfulness and alternative, adaptive, rewarding, and nonaggressive behaviors & thoughts to “relieve” maladaptive feelings. If you are feeling angry, talk it out instead of playing it out… But hey, I am going to school to be a psychologist, so can you blame me for my answer ;)?
References Anderson, C. A., & Dill, K. E. (2000). Video games and aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behavior in the laboratory and in life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 772–790. Retrieved November 29, 2009, from PsycINFO database. Aristotle, & Halliwell, S. (1998). Aristotle’s poetics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Bushman, B. J. (2001). Media violence and the American public: Scientific facts versus media misinformation. American Psychologist, 56, 477-489. Bushman, B. J. (2002). Does venting anger feed or extinguish the flame? Catharsis, rumination, distraction, anger, and aggressive responding. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28, 724-731. Calvert, S. L., & Tan, S-L. (1994). Impact of virtual reality on young adults' physiological arousal and aggressive thoughts: Interaction versus observation. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 15, 125-139. Dollard, J., Doob, J., Miller, N. Mowrer, O., & Sears, R. (1939). Frustration and aggression. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Freud, S. (1950). Why war? In J. Strachey (Ed.), Collected papers, (Vol. 5). London: Hogarth Press. Geen, R. G., & Quanty, M. G. (1977). The catharsis of aggression: An analysis of a hypothesis. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 10, pp. 1-37). New York: Academic Press. Koepp, M., Gunn, R., Lawrence, A., Cunningham, V., Dagher, A., Jones, T., et al. (1998). Evidence for striatal dopamine release during a video game. Nature, 393, 266-268. doi:10.1038/30498.
Manning, S., & Taylor, D. (1975). Affects of viewed violence and aggression: Stimulation and catharsis. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 31, 180-188. Retrieved November 28, 2009, from SocINDEX database. Persky, S., & Blascovich, J. (2008). Immersive virtual video game play and presence: Influences on aggressive feelings and behavior. Presence: Teleoperators & Virtual Environments, 17, 57-72. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete database. Ramirez, J. M., Bonniot-Cabanac, M-C., & Cabanac, M. (2005). Can aggression provide pleasure? European Psychologist, 10, 136-145. Sparks, G. G., & Sparks, C. W. (2002). Affects of media violence. In J. Bryant & D. Zillmann (Eds.), Media affects: Advances in theory and research (pp. 269-285). Mahwah,NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.