Selective Search for and Evaluation of Research: The Violent Video Games Debate

Saturday, 15 February 2014
Regency A (Hyatt Regency Chicago)
Mario Gollwitzer , Philipps University Marburg, Marburg, Germany
Laypersons' distrust in science might be due to a lack of understanding, but distrust can also be motivated in the sense that research programs and findings challenge people's "sacred" value systems or their social identity. One area in which motivated biases among laypersons can be fruitfully investigated is research on the (harmful) effects of playing violent video games. In three studies, we found that people who strongly identify with the group of "gamers" devalue research findings (and the respective researchers) if these findings suggest that playing violent video games does have harmful effects. Such research implies a threat to the social identity of highly identified gamers; thus, devaluing it can be understood as a coping response ("collective action") to a social identity threat. Two further studies show that people who consider nonviolence to be a sacred value (i.e., "deontological pacifists") selectively search for research findings that confirm harmful effects of violent video games if their moral value system is threatened. Taken together, these findings suggest that simply teaching laypersons how science works may not be sufficient for building their trust in science. Rather, sincere attempts to (re)build trust in science should take social and moral identity concerns of the general public, and the motivated biases that follow from these concerns, into account.