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SURF Researcher Norman Valley Shows Video Games Don't Make You Violent

SURF researcher Norman Valley
SURF researcher Norman Valley

Everybody knows it: Playing violent video games makes you more aggressive and violent, right? Well, not really, according to Norman Valley, a junior and psychology/sociology double major who spent last summer studying that very idea thanks to a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) grant.

Since he was a freshman, Valley has been interested in the subject of violence and video games, and he has been working ever since with Associate Professor of Sociology and Anthropology Brian Green, his advisor for the SURF project.

Actually, Valley took a contrary approach to the one most people hold. "My original hypothesis was that game playing made you happier," he said. "Why? I’ve been happy playing video games, and I consider it just another hobby. I expected that a person who is dedicated to a hobby would be happier than a person who didn’t have hobbies."

As subjects, Valley used students who ranged from dedicated video gamers to casual gamers, to those who rarely played. He asked each subject to rate themselves on the Satisfaction with Life Scale (SWL), a five-item self-administered survey with answer choices ranging from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree.” This scale assess as succinctly as possible a subject’s overall satisfaction with life. Higher scores on the scale indicate a healthy mental outlook and less likelihood of psychological disorders.

It’s not what you think.

Valley expected to find that playing video games made you more satisfied with life, but that’s not what the results showed. "Whether you like to play games socially or alone, whether you are a dedicated gamer or a more casual gamer, or a non-gamer, it just seems that, overall, there isn’t an effect," he explained. "Video games don’t increase or decrease your risk for any of the many psychological disorders that the SWL scale goes with."

"That is sad as a researcher to not find an effect," he continued, "but it’s also encouraging, because the stereotype of the lonely gamer—the kid who retreats into his parents’ basement and plays video games endlessly—as having this terrible life and being more likely to be violent and/or depressed just doesn’t hold true. "

But conducting the research was invaluable.

And he certainly gained valuable experience in conducting research. "I’ve had to take research methods twice, so I’m indebted to Dr. Nashla Feres, assistant professor of psychology, and Margaret Walsh professor of sociology and anthropology," Valley said. "Their instruction in organizing and structuring research was absolutely invaluable. And Dr. Green’s statistics class helped me get a handle on the math side of things."

Conducting the research was also an important learning experience. "The questions subjects asked me as they took the survey to the kinds of answers I got taught me a lot about how to structure questions," Valley explained. "I learned that people don’t always read as carefully as you might expect, so if a set of instructions is similar to, but not exactly the same as the one before it, people will frame their answers per the previous instructions."

Valley also had to teach himself some sophisticated data analysis. He realized that an approach called multiple-regression analysis would be the best way to assess his data, but he’d never studied that method.

And the research isn’t over. "I’m still looking at the data and finding ways to create personality types that we might be able to then look at again using other statistical methods," Valley said. "One requirement of the SURF program is that I present at at least two conferences—and I’m going to apply to others as well—so it will be far better if I have different material to present at each of the conferences."

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