How media can encourage our better side

July 21, 2011

(Medical Xpress) -- Violent media -- films, TV, videogames -- can encourage aggression, and lots of research says so. But psychologists haven't spent as much time looking at the ways media with more socially positive content help suppress meanness and prod us toward cooperation, empathy, and helpfulness. When and why might a game or a movie mobilize our better angels and squelch our devils?

A review of the literature, including his own work, by psychologist Tobias Greitemeyer at the University of Innsbruck in Austria sorts out those questions and proposes a model to explain the underlying their answers. The article will be published in the August issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for .

Greitemeyer’s own studies—many of them conducted with Silvia Osswald of Ludwig Maximilians University, in Germany—have affirmed that prosocial media content abets friendlier, more forgiving attitudes and behavior. In one experiment, for instance, some participants played a videogame called “Lemmings,” in which players guide little creatures through dangers to safety, while others played the morally and emotionally neutral game Tetris. Afterwards, the first group’s members were more likely to intervene in a simulated scene in which a man bullied and hurt his “ex-girlfriend.” The prosocial game group also more quickly identified socially positive words over neutral words (i.e., help versus run) amid nonsense words on a screen. Those who played a neutral game showed no difference in the time it took to select the words. This, says Greitemeyer, is evidence that the experience of playing the nicer game makes benevolent thoughts more accessible in the mind.

Prosocial game playing also suppresses aggressive thoughts and feelings. In another study, participants also played either a helpful, cooperative game or a neutral one. Asked to complete stories—in one, a friend arrives late to a movie date and doesn’t apologize—the former were less likely to evince angry, mean, or vengeful emotions. A story of Paris Hilton’s jailing after racing her car through Hollywood’s streets elicited more and less schadenfreude, or pleasure at another’s misfortune, from those who’d played the friendlier game. Songs with loving or peaceful lyrics also have been shown to instigate charitable giving and more generous tipping.

To explain these phenomena, Greitemeyer calls on the General Learning Model, which posits that personal traits, such as sex or education, either act independently or interact with situational conditions to affect thoughts, feelings, and arousal. Introduce media of varying contents, and either negative or positive cognition and emotion can be encouraged or discouraged, leading to different behaviors.

Noting the high prevalence of violence in all media, including those for children, as well as the voluminous research on it, Greitemeyer writes: “It is my hope that researchers will also address to what extent acts of benevolence in everyday life are precipitated by exposure to prosocial media.” Evidence of such salutary effects can only give science’s imprimatur to a kinder, gentler world.

Explore further: What's the psychological effect of violent video games on children?

Related Stories

What's the psychological effect of violent video games on children?

June 29, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- This week, the United States Supreme Court overturned a California law banning the sale or rental of violent video games to minors. But can a child’s behavior be directly influenced by playing a violent ...

Ostracism hurts -- but how? Shedding light on a silent, invisible abuse

April 28, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Humans need to belong. Yet they also commonly leave others out. Animals abandon the weakest to ensure the survival of the fittest. So do kindergartners and ’tweens, softball players and office workers.

Kinder, gentler video games may actually be good for players

June 6, 2011
While violent video games may lead to more aggression and anger in players, a new study shows that the opposite is also true: relaxing video games can make people happier and more kind.

Recommended for you

New study rebuts the claim that antidepressants do not work

August 18, 2017
A theory that has gained considerable attention in international media, including Newsweek and the CBS broadcast 60 minutes, suggests that antidepressant drugs such as the SSRIs do not exert any actual antidepressant effect. ...

Should I stay or should I leave? Untangling what goes on when a relationship is being questioned

August 17, 2017
Knowing whether to stay in or leave a romantic relationship is often an agonizing experience and that ambivalence can have negative consequences for health and well-being.

Kids learn moral lessons more effectively from stories with humans than human-like animals

August 17, 2017
A study by researchers at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto found that four to six-year-olds shared more after listening to books with human characters than books with anthropomorphic ...

History of stress increases miscarriage risk, says new review

August 17, 2017
A history of exposure to psychological stress can increase the risk of miscarriage by upto 42 per cent, according to a new review.

Study finds children pay close attention to potentially threatening information, avoid eye contact when anxious

August 17, 2017
We spend a lot of time looking at the eyes of others for social cues – it helps us understand a person's emotions, and make decisions about how to respond to them. We also know that adults avoid eye contact when anxious. ...

Communicating in a foreign language takes emotion out of decision making

August 16, 2017
If you could save the lives of five people by pushing another bystander in front of a train to his death, would you do it? And should it make any difference if that choice is presented in a language you speak, but isn't your ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (1) Jul 21, 2011
i see the joseph mengele social engineering in totalitarian thinking is alive and well..

may i ask who is going to force a free market to make propaganda a la pravda (which didnt work) to make us better people?

you realize that the best they are offering here is to contrive the existence of others to induce better behavior as they see it, in a real world, where the contrivance is gone, and the behavior is no longer forced by punitive means.

may i ask this researcher how do they propose that such things be implemented in a free society without using the states monopoly of force as in nazi germany or soviet russia to force compliance?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.