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Archive for March, 2012

Do Television, games and other forms of media really have an effect on our behaviour?

Hi there all.  Last blog of academic year from me! So, I thought I’d go for a topic that really interests me.  Please please be warned that the first example I’m going to use is a pretty nasty one, so I would warn you not to read on if you’re easily upset.

We’ve all heard the theories that games such as Grand Theft Auto can have an effect on a person’s behaviour. Ie. GTA might make a person more violent in real life.

The reason that this subject is on my mind is because I was recently listening to a call in show that airs on Radio City in Liverpool in which a caller was discussing James Bulger and his killers.  I don’t know if everyone will be familiar with the story, but I know anyone from the Merseyside area will know it well and keep it close to their heart, as I know I do.  I really won’t go into the story in much detail because it is absolutely heartbreaking, but in short, 2 very nasty 10 year old boys (keeping my language clean here) took a 2 year old boy away from his mother in a crowded shopping mall and did very horrible things to him before murdering him.  I wouldn’t bring this heartbreaking story up usually, but it is relevant to my topic.
Firstly, if anyone is not familiar with the James Bulger story, and wants to know about it,  everything about what happened, the trial, the release, the re-arrest of one of the boys 2 years ago etc. is here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_James_Bulger

But please please be warned, I’ve just read through it (keeping in mind that I already knew it all) and I’m in tears and feel a little sick…so please be sure that you want to read it before you do, because it is utterly heartbreaking and sickening.

Anyway, moving on to how this is relevant.  The killing has been indirectly linked to the film Child’s Play 3 many times.  It is a film that one of the boy’s father had rented the week before and has been speculated that the boys watched as James’ death was similar to the death in the film. The judge on the case even mentioned film violence.  The subject got the nation talking about whether violent films could have influenced the two 10 year old boys to murder a young boy.  In reality, one boy had been sexually abused by his father and beaten by his brothers while the other had always been a difficult child (http://karisable.com/mbulg.htm), and surely this is what was to blame for their behaviour.

Having said this, the film certainly seems to have given the boys the idea of how to kill, maybe it gave them the initial idea of killing at all.

There have been many studies proving that there is a correlation between real-life violence and time spent watching violent films/playing violent games.  However, correlation does not prove causation.  So, it doesn’t prove that the violent media causes the violent behaviour, but perhaps that already violent people gravitate towards violent media.   However, there has been a study done that has shown that people who spend a lot of time playing violent games become desensitised to real-life violence. (http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn8449-violent-video-games-alter-brains-response-to-violence.html).
But, again, does desensitisation to real-life violence mean that a person is likely to commit that violence themselves, or that it simply wouldn’t phase them seeing a murder, for example.

When thinking about this subject, I always think to myself  ‘well, I watched scary films and played Grand Theft Auto when I was around 13ish…and I’m not a violent person. I’ve never had the urge to murder anyone.  I’m sure this is the case for a huge percentage of the population.  So, how can it work one way for some people and another for others?  If violent media alone is to blame for violent behaviour, surely everyone who participates in violent media would behave the same.  But they don’t…so there must be other factors affecting the violent behaviour.

I do believe that violent media has a bad effect on children who may have a bad temper or bad home environment, but I do not believe it is the primary cause of violent behaviour.

At the end of the day, the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) put age restrictions on games and films for a reason. Because children under that age may not be mature enough to understand that the violence is fake and unacceptable.  Having said that, most violence does come from adults..so is some media just too violent to be put out to the public?

I, personally, think that it stops with the parents.  Of course, my parents knew me better than anyone and thought it safe for me to play Grand Theft Auto or watch the occasional film that I was too young to watch, because they knew me, knew that I knew right from wrong, and could keep a close eye on me.  Parents should know whether their child is mature enough to handle such media.

But then, again, what about adults who may be influenced by the media? Their parents can’t tell them what to watch and what not to watch.

Finally, unfortunately, the children who probably shouldn’t be watching such films, are perhaps those who don’t have a good home environment. Who perhaps have abusive parents or unloving parents which may result in the child being angry, violent or desperate for attention.  These children probably aren’t mature enough to handle the violent media and are the types of people who would get bad ideas and pick up violent behaviour.  Unfortunately, their parents probably aren’t paying enough attention, or don’t care enough to stop them participating in such media in the first place. It’s a vicious cirlce.

Anyway, I do not believe that Child’s play 3 was to blame for James’ death. I think maybe it gave those horrible boys some ideas, but they had a horrible environment to start with.  Seeing that film alone would not have caused such horrific acts, I don’t think.

Right, I seem to have let my thoughts run away with me. It’s such a huge topic area.  Please let me know your opinions.

I appologise for the heavy topic, but I think it’s an important one to think about in Psychology.

Have a great Easter everyone.

Please, spare a thought and a prayer for James Bulger and his family. The gorgeous little angel who had his life tragically taken away from him.  Never ever forgotten or unloved. RIP.

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Comments due 14.3.12

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Does the theory of an attentional ‘spotlight’ really explain how people direct their attention?

Hello all 🙂
Hope your exams went well.  Today, I’ve actually decided to take my idea from the essay I wrote in my Cognitive exam. I have, of course, not just copied it word for word, but I’m going to try and discuss it and make it more accessible and (for lack of a better word) bloggy.

I thought it would be a good idea to share my ideas from this question, and hopefully get feedback from other people who did the same essay, or even those who didn’t and just want to share.

So, first of all, I’m going to explain a little about the theory of attentional ‘spotlight’.  With all the things that are going on in our environment around us, it would be impossible to try and process all of it, and this is where the idea of an attention spotlight came from.

It was first suggested by Posner, Snyder and Davidson in 1980.  Posner theorised that our attention was like a spotlight which can be moved around and focused on a single target.

Cueing experiments were used to get evidence to support the theory.  In cueing experiments, participants are asked to respond as quickly as they can to a stimulus, which may be a light coming on, for example.  The light would be to the right or left of a central fixation point and might be preceded by a cue.  So, an arrow might come on screen telling the participant which way they should direct their attention.

The results showed that, as you would expect, people responded faster if they’d been told before hand which way to direct their attention.  Participants responded slowest if they’d been tricked into directing their attention the wrong way.  Ie. if the arrow pointed to the left, but light actually showed up on the right.

In 1990, Posner and Peterson built on this idea and proposed that focusing attention occurs in 3 stages:

  1. Attention would be disengaged, or taken away, from where it was currently focused.
  2. Attention would physically shift from one location to another.
  3. Attention would be engaged onto the new thing.
A criticism of this, though, is that it suggests that eyes must be constantly moving overtly in order for attention to be shifted.  Surely attention can be moved from one thing to another covertly while the eyes remain still?
Think about when someone is driving.  Their eyes remain on the road, but they might be shifting their attention a lot, from what to have for dinner to what they need to do tomorrow.
In 1986, Eriksen and St. James elaborated on the spotlight theory and proposed that attention is more like a ‘zoom lens’.  That instead of it being a single beam of light in which attention is limited to a set size or spatial focus, that people could increase or decrease their attentional focus.  Ie. zoom in or out.
However, further research has questioned several aspects of these theories.  Most importantly, several studies have shown that attention can be split between more than one location.  This doesn’t fit with the idea of a single attentional beam or lens.
In my opinion, even though there have been criticims of the spotlight theory, and it doesn’t seem to fully explain how people direct their attention, it was still a very important theory in that it provided a useful insight into how our attention can move independently of our eyes.  Also, further research that has been done has provided the basis for more theoretical explanations of attention and has shed light on how complex the cognitive processes involved in attention are.
So, that’s me done for the time being.  Please share the other ideas you may have had from doing this essay or may just have because you’re very clever people 🙂
Thanks for reading.

http://www.simplypsychology.org/visual-attention.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attentional_shift#Three_stages_of_attention_orienting

http://www.psychologypracticals.com/html/details.asp?id=21

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