May 27, 2021

At the International Communication Association (ICA), May 27-31, Virtual Conference, Rene Weber and colleagues won the Mass Communication Division’s Innovation Award in Method for their article: Weber, R., Ritterfeld, U., & Mathiak, K. (2006). Does playing violent video games induce aggression? Empirical evidence of a functional magnetic resonance imaging study. Media Psychology, 8(1), 39-60. The award committee’s letter concluded with: “Weber’s fundamentally new methodological innovation (linking fMRI with content analysis) has increased our capacity to develop and test mass communication theory while also exporting mass communication theory and methods to other scientific disciplines.”
Abstract: This study aims to advance the media effects debate concerning violent video games. Meta-analytic reviews reveal a small but noticeable association between playing violent video games and aggressive reactions. However, evidence for causal associations is still rare. In a novel, event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study, 13 male subjects were observed playing a violent video game from the most recent generation. Each subject’s game play was recorded and content analyzed on a frame- by-frame basis. Onscreen activities were coded as either “passive/dead, no interactions”; “active/safe, no imminent danger/no violent interactions”; “active/potential danger occurs, violent interactions expected”; “active/under attack, some violent interactions”; and “active/fighting and killing, many violent interactions”. Previous studies in neuroscience on aggressive thoughts and behaviors suggested that virtual violence would suppress affective areas of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the amygdala subsequent to activity variations at cognitive areas of the ACC. Comparison of game play activities with and without virtual violence in 11 subjects confirmed the hypothesis. The rather large observed effects can be considered as caused by the virtual violence. We discuss the applicability of neuroscience methodology in media effects studies, with a special emphasis on the assumption of virtuality prevalent in video game play.