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Does Media Content Affect Pro- and Antisocial Behavior?

Applicant Thöni Christian
Number 120743
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Schweizerisches Institut für Empirische Wirtschaftsforschung (SEW-HSG)
Institution of higher education University of St.Gallen - SG
Main discipline Economics
Start/End 01.04.2008 - 31.03.2012
Approved amount 87'800.00
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All Disciplines (2)

Discipline
Economics
Communication sciences

Keywords (4)

Media violence; Social preferences; Video games; Experiments

Lay Summary (English)

Lead
Lay summary
A significant fraction of today's entertainment media contains violent acts. In modern socie-ties leisure time is to a large extent allocated to media consumption through television, inter-net, DVD's or video games. Behavioral effects of violent media are consequently of great concern for policy makers. Psychological studies in the lab and field suggest - though not without controversies - that media violence is indeed positively correlated with aggression and causes an augmented aggressive potential among youths. More generally, the increase in aggression may lead to weaker adherence to social norms, influencing pro- and antisocial behavior. However, causal evidence demonstrating the impact of media violence on human prosociality is still lacking.This project aims to fill that gap. We plan to investigate the causal impact of violent and pro-social media content on social preferences using approved experimental measurement tech-niques. Our study seeks to combine methods from experimental economics with the psycho-logical literature on media violence. An experimental economics approach to media violence is promising for several reasons. First, random assignment to either violent, non-violent or prosocial media content allows for a straightforward causal interpretation of treatment differ-ences. Second, using a variant of the dictator game - allowing for both proand antisocial be-havior - we apply a well defined and easily replicable outcome measure. Third, as a meth-odological contribution, we give subjects the option to choose between violent, non-violent and prosocial media content in an additional treatment. We are therefore able to compare a world where people are completely free in their choice of media content with a world where media violence is banned. Despite it's relevance for public policy such a comparison has never been done in past experiments on media violence. In addition, our design allows us to uncover potentially important effect heterogeneities between subjects who prefer to avoid violent media and subjects who choose to consume violent content. Fourth, in contrast to most existing experiments we use a video game which is speciffcally tailored for our research project, allowing ceteris paribus variations in mediated content. Fifth, we analyze the largely unexplored effect of prosocial media content on social preferences. Finally, in contrast to psychological experiments, all actions subjects undertake will have monetary consequences. Hence, economic theory offers us clear predictions, which can be contrasted with the sub-jects' actual behavior. To the best of our knowledge this research project constitutes the first attempt to combine the experimental economics approach to social preferences with the psy-chological literature on media violence. We thus provide a contribution to the growing eco-nomic literature on the impact of media on economic and social outcomes.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Abstract

A significant fraction of today's entertainment media contains violent acts. In modern societies leisure time is to a large extent allocated to media consumption through television, internet, DVD's or video games. Behavioral effects of violent media are consequently of great concern for policy makers. Psy-chological studies in the lab and field suggest - though not without controversies - that media violence is indeed positively correlated with aggression and causes an augmented aggressive potential among youths. More generally, the increase in aggression may lead to weaker adherence to social norms, influencing pro- and antisocial behavior. However, causal evidence demonstrating the impact of me-dia violence on human prosociality is still lacking.This project aims to fill that gap. We plan to investigate the causal impact of violent and prosocial media content on social preferences using approved experimental measurement techniques. Our study seeks to combine methods from experimental economics with the psychological literature on media violence.An experimental economics approach to media violence is promising for several reasons. First, ran-dom assignment to either violent, non-violent or prosocial media content allows for a straightforward causal interpretation of treatment differences. Second, using a variant of the dictator game - allowing for both pro- and antisocial behavior - we apply a well defined and easily replicable outcome measure. Third, as a methodological contribution, we give subjects the option to choose between violent, non-violent and prosocial media content in an additional treatment. We are therefore able to compare a world where people are completely free in their choice of media content with a world where media violence is banned. Despite it's relevance for public policy such a comparison has never been done in past experiments on media violence. In addition, our design allows us to uncover potentially impor-tant effect heterogeneities between subjects who prefer to avoid violent media and subjects who choose to consume violent content. Fourth, in contrast to most existing experiments we use a video game which is specifically tailored for our research project, allowing ceteris paribus variations in me-diated content. Fifth, we analyze the largely unexplored effect of prosocial media content on social preferences. Finally, in contrast to psychological experiments, all actions subjects undertake will have monetary consequences. Hence, economic theory offers us clear predictions, which can be contrasted with the subjects' actual behavior.To the best of our knowledge this research project constitutes thefirst attempt to combine the experimental economics approach to social preferences with the psycho-logical literature on media violence. We thus provide a contribution to the growing economic litera-ture on the impact of media on economic and social outcomes.
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