The effect of violent video game exposure on emotion modulation of startle and aggression
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Video games are quickly becoming the most widely accessible, and used, form of entertainment, with those that contain violence have consistently been the most popular. Building on previous research examining other forms of media, a growing body of literature suggests a connection between violent video game exposure and increased aggression. The General Aggression Model (GAM), has been developed to help explain this relationship, which combines decades of aggression research into a single model. While the GAM describes several routes to increased aggression there are only two cognitive routes. These cognitive routes are desensitization (diminished natural negative response) and priming (pre-activation of neural circuitry related to aggression), and the current study competitively tests these two routes in relation to violent video game exposure (VVGE) using Emotion Modulated Startle (EMS). The objective psychophysiological measure EMS assesses emotional state through either potentiation, or inhibition of the startle response. The startle response is a negative-defensive response, a negative emotional state enhances the startle response through priming, while a positive emotional state diminishes the startle response. In the context of VVGE, if priming is the primary route to increased aggression, EMS would predict a primed startle response while viewing violent-negative images, and therefore a larger startle response post exposure. If desensitization is the primary route EMS would predict a diminished startle response reflecting less negative priming by the emotional state elicited by VVGE. In the present study EMS was used to assess the effects of both chronic and acute violent video game exposure by comparing baseline and pre-post gameplay (violent, nonviolent) EMS for participants with high and low violent video game exposure. A modified Taylor Competitive Reaction Time Task (TCRTT) was used after completing the post-gameplay EMS session to assess aggression. The results of this study suggest that desensitization is the primary cognitive route to increased aggression with decreased EMS responses to violent negative images associated with chronic and acute VVGE. The relationship between desensitization and laboratory aggression was also examined, finding an increased level of aggression exhibited after acute violent video game exposure, but only for those with high chronic VVGE.
Table of Contents
Introduction -- Review of the literature -- Methods -- Analyses and results -- Discussion