Skepchick Quickies 9.25

According to Wikipedia, on September 25, 1906, “In the presence of the king and before a great crowd, Leonardo Torres Quevedo successfully demonstrates the invention of the Telekino in the port of Bilbao, guiding a boat from the shore, in what is considered the birth of the remote control.” Wow, I had no idea that the origin story behind remote controls was so epic. The featured image is the Zenith “Space Commander 600,” also appropriately epic.

BONUS: Has anyone read Dr. Sleep yet? I’m debating whether or not I should read it (I’m a huge King fan).


Mary Brock works as an Immunology scientist by day and takes care of a pink-loving princess child by night. She likes cloudy days, crafting, cooking, and Fall weather in New England.

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  1. Re GTA, I note that they tested them immediately after playing. It’s probably like going to a heavy metal gig – you might find an increase in aggression for a short while after, but it fades quickly and could even leave people less aggressive the rest of the time.

  2. [quote]
    […] Londoner bought one of the first available copies of the highly anticipated, just-released Grand Theft Auto V—and was mugged on his way home. While the K word (hint: It rhymes with “pharma”) immediately comes to mind […]

    You call video games aggressive? Not compared to claiming a mugging victim deserved it!

  3. That GTA article was problematic. It begins “Early Tuesday morning, a Londoner bought one of the first available copies of the highly anticipated, just-released Grand Theft Auto V—and was mugged on his way home. While the K word (hint: It rhymes with “pharma”) immediately comes to mind…”

    So a man is mugged after buying a piece of entertainment, and the author considers this Karma? WTF? If a person was killed and mutilated after buying a horror novel, would the author also consider this a karmic consequence? Jeez, talk about being desensitized to violence…

  4. Remote control – 1898 Nikola Tesla, US patent 613809, public demonstration in 1898 at Madison Square Gardens. Leonardo Torres Quevedo may have done more with it, but the birth of rc? Not quite….

  5. The article costs $35 to read. I don’t take any notice of articles that have rip off pricing. If the research is performed with public dollars, the results and all the source data should be public.

    The design of the experiment is to interview the subjects while they are still in the in-game frame of mind. That is bullshit. Like 95% of all academic psychology studies, the results are worthless because they test what they can test, not the issue that is in question which in this case is whether playing violent video games increases or decreases aggressive behavior overall.

    I suspect the ‘result’ would disappear if the subjects were tested 24 hours after the game.

    What I would credit however is that I think it likely that some of the spree shooters brought to us by the NRA are choosing to act out game scenarios. But the problem there is the guns, the guns and only the guns. Tens of millions of people in the UK enjoyed GTA4 with zero spree shootings as guns are banned completely (except for shotguns).

    Gun nuts don’t have more right to their hobby than video gamers. A gun is a tool to do murder.

  6. I read the youTube article and it made mention of using a google+ account. So my question is this just another ploy to use social media to advertise, in this case, youTube. And after briefly looking down in the comments, it took no time for those comments to fall apart too.

  7. It’s called priming. Pretending this phenomenon is unique to video games is very dishonest and intentionally deceptive. Is this the same study or have people been doing this study over and over again since the 90s?

  8. Guys, I promise I didn’t intend to write the wall of text below, it just kind of happened by accident. I read the primary research article from the “You call that aggressive?” piece, “Intense acts of violence during video game play make daily life aggression appear innocuous: A new mechanism why violent video games increase aggression,” by Tobias Greitemeyer. I actually think the paper does have fatal flaws, and in the end I don’t really buy the conclusion, but I also feel like some of the criticism against it in the thread so far is a bit unfair. This is definitely NOT my field, so take my interpretation with a grain of salt.

    First, the author of the study is not trying to prove that video games cause aggressive behavior. According to literature which he cites (including previous research he’s conducted), the majority view among social psychologists is that violent video games do, in fact, increase aggressive behavior. Now, it may be that the author has failed to accurately survey the literature, or it may be that there is some problem in the way social psychology has tended to approach this topic causing the bulk of the evidence to be wrong. But the author is working from this generally accepted view as a starting point. The real purpose of the study is that given that the author already believes that violent video games increase aggression, by what mechanism does it do so?

    Now, the popular press article’s description of the experiments was a bit vague, so hopefully to clarify that. Subjects played either a violent or a non-violent video game for 15 minutes. Immediately after playing, the subjects were asked to rank how aggressive various statements were, on a scale from 1 to 7. These statements either described their own actions, like “I shove others”, or the actions of “someone”, like “Someone shoves others”. Subjects who had just finished playing a violent video game ranked the statements describing their own hypothetical actions an average of one point less aggressive than those who had just played a non-violent video game, but not those of “someone”. In a second experiment, subjects did the same thing but were further told that they needed to select the amount of hot sauce that another (anonymous to them) person would have to consume as part of a taste test, and were explicitly told that this person did not like spicy food. (The subject was told a complicated cover story in which this made sense, though in reality, there was no other person and no hot sauce was consumed.) Subjects who had just played the violent video game chose to require the other person to consume a larger amount of hot sauce than those who had played the non-violent video game. Furthermore, the milder a person ranked statements about their own (hypothetical) aggression, the more hot sauce they tended to choose to assign others to consume. The author’s conclusion is that the reduction in a person’s estimation of their own aggressiveness has a causal link to increased aggressive behavior.

    Now, I don’t really think this conclusion is warranted from the evidence. Personally, I find the ranking of the “aggressiveness” of statements of the form “I shove others” to be a measurement of the perception of one’s own aggressiveness that is so indirect as to be useless. I also find the operationalization of “aggressive behavior” as “assigning someone to consume more hot sauce” to be oddly specific, and I’m not really prepared to accept that aggression is necessarily the only reason someone would choose to assign more hot sauce. (In particular, the framing story the experimenter used described this as helping out with another experiment — you could as easily interpret this as indicating that playing violent video games made subjects more cooperative with the experimenters.) And finally (I have more complaints but I’ll stop here), the violent video games were ones in which the player has to fight, while the non-violent video games were puzzle games. It may be the competitive nature of the violent video games, rather than their violence per se, that drove the effect.

    All that said, while I think the study is flawed, I don’t think it’s completely terrible. Trevor Prinn and Phillip Hallam-Baker both noted the possibility that the effect is short-lived, and maybe that explains the result. So did the author, in a paragraph on the limitations of the study: “Note also that short-term effects of video game play were examined. Immediately after participants stopped playing the video game, their perceptions of daily life aggression as well as their aggressive behavior were assessed. Hence, future research on the long-term effects of repeated violent video game play on perceptions of daily life aggression is clearly needed.” While “future research is needed” always sounds a bit weasely, that is an honest statement of an important limitation of the work, and isn’t the sort of thing that tends to make it into the popular reporting.

    victoriadashtwenty, Greitemeyer doesn’t seem to be claiming that anything is unique to video games. To the contrary, the article seems to treat video games just one of the things to which mechanisms like priming may apply. And he explicitly discusses priming in the paper, but actually describes it as an additional mechanism to the one he thinks he’s found, so he at least does not consider this particular mechanism to be priming.

    mrmisconception, you criticized a few other of Greitemeyer’s publications. Is your criticism based on their topics alone? They seem fine to me. The problem of retracted articles continuing to be believed (and cited) is definitely not “no shit,” this is a huge problem in science and I’m happy to see anyone boosting the signal there in every field. And simply selecting three of a psychologist’s publications can give a pretty biased view of their work. Here are three more papers Greitmeyer published recently, which I selected to give a different bias: “Changing the track in music and misogyny: Listening to music with pro-equality lyrics improves attitudes and behavior toward women,” “Beware of climate change skeptic films,” and “Playing video games cooperatively increases empathic concern.” (See http://www.uibk.ac.at/psychologie/mitarbeiter/greitemeyer/publikationen.html for a more complete list.) And I’m afraid I really don’t get how you labeled his work as “evo psych.” Greitemeyer seems like a pretty standard social psychologist, which is if anything almost the opposite of evolutionary psychology.

    Anyway, sorry again for the wall of text. I think mostly I was surprised to see mrmisconception characterize this kind of work as evo psych, and it got me wondering if people were really giving this a fair shake. I don’t think this work is especially good, but that doesn’t mean Greitmeyer is working in bad faith, or even necessarily a bad scientist (everyone produces duds sometimes). I think it’s important not to place too much significance on any single scientific study. In particular, I have the impression that most social psychologists tend to publish a LOT of small studies, and rely on an aggregate assessment of these to hone in on the truth. (This is in contrast to my field, neuroscience, where we tend to publish a much smaller number of much more in-depth studies, and rely much more on getting everything nailed down within each study.) I’ve never heard of Tobias Greitmeyer before, but from looking at his publication list, it seems like he as a strong interest in how popular media can influence individual’s attitudes and emotions, which seems like a worthy topic of study, and this is just one piece that he’s trying to fit into a larger puzzle. I will say that if this study is typical of his methods, then I’m pretty suspicious of his research program, but as I am not a social psychologist, it may be that his techniques are better validated than they seem.

    1. Great job there, biogeo! I mean, I often read the primary article too, but usually try to compress my comments into a few lines. A lot is lost that way though, so you’ve saved about a thousand of us a lot of time by writing that comprehensive response.
      Much appreciated and thanks!

    2. When I wanted to evaluate the psychologist’s previous works the three articles that I listed came up, as they were behind a pay wall and I will not pay to simply research an internet comment, I based my assessments on his abstracts. That may have been a bit unfair as his conclusion might have been different.
      As for saying that the retracted article research was no shit, I was basing that on the skeptical community where it has been reported to death, again my bias and probably unfair.
      Evo psych was a bit of mislabeling on my part…

      You know what, I was rather pissed about the ridiculous conclusions of this extremely sloppy article and took it out on the research of the cited professional. Bad form all around on my part, it should have squarely rested on the “journalist” who decided (once again) that video games are “the” problem and used anything he could to prove it.

      I agree with what you have said here, the cited research simply doesn’t prove what the author claimed it proved. Color me shocked (and a little red in the cheeks).

      1. It’s definitely frustrating that so much of this kind of work is behind a paywall! I’m very privileged to be at a university where my library gives me free access to most major scientific journals. I actually originally wrote a paragraph for my previous comment discussing Phillip Hallam-Baker’s comment that $35 is too much to pay for access to these kinds of articles (which I completely agree with), but I cut it when I realized how ridiculously long my comment was getting. Suffice to say that unfortunately, most important research in many fields remains behind a paywall, and while this is changing slowly, many scientists recognize that we need a new publishing model in science, but no one is sure what it should be.

        There’s nothing wrong with trying to evaluate research based on popular reporting or abstracts, since these are the only things that are made freely available, but it’s definitely worth keeping in mind that they don’t tell the whole story. And I think certain fields (like psychology) tend to suffer from simplification more than others. Now, I definitely do think that some psychologists contribute to the problem themselves, by overselling very small, limited findings. But many (hopefully most?) psychologists are well aware of the limitations of their methods, and are just trying to do the best work they can with the tools they have available. (For example, the tendency for American psychologists to study mostly college undergraduates is definitely a problem, but depending on geography and budget, this may be the only population available to a given researcher.) That said, I definitely think it’s really good that people in this thread approached this study skeptically! There were definitely some alarm bells, both in the way the journalist wrote about it but also in the design of the study itself.

        1. The paywall problem is huge, and our library login helps with only a small proportion. Some journals manage to have their entire archives online, yet others charge ripoff prices. I wonder what the difference is? I suspect that part of the problem is that when private enterprise smells government money, it goes into a feeding frenzy.

          1. I think that’s part of it. I think a lot also depends on who the publisher is. I also have the impression that the smaller and more specialized the journal, the more likely it is that the prices will be high, which seems counter-intuitive. I wonder if it’s that fewer people are likely to be looking to access that content, and those who do probably really need to see that specific work? It’s still weird, though, because if I really needed to read a paper by a colleague who had published in a journal that I didn’t have free access to, I would just send an email to that colleague requesting a PDF, so I can’t imagine that the journals really make much money off of academics this way.

            At least in the U.S. now, all research funded by the NIH now must be made publicly available (after an embargo period during which the publishing journal has a monopoly) on PubMedCentral, which I think is a step in the right direction. I think other public funding agencies should follow suit. The PMC versions of the articles lose their slick formatting, but at least the information is out there.

  9. Lullabies for Misandrists:

    “Baa, baa, black sheep
    Have you any wool?
    Yes, sir; yes, sir;
    Kill all men”

    That is not funny.
    Change the last word to “women” or “jews” and you will see why.

    1. I dunno, I laughed, and I’m a man. I don’t think the joke is that killing all men would be funny, I think the joke is that no one* actually thinks that, despite what people who frequently make claims of “misandry” seem to think. Women and Jews are systematically targeted for violence because of those identities, but men aren’t. The joke is in the context, not the literal words, and changing “men” to “women” or “Jews” changes the context.

      * And by “no one” I don’t mean literally no single person; there’s no position so extreme that someone isn’t taking it.

      1. Maybe. I think I just have a short fuse at the moment after watching “The Conspiracy” the other night – Kenneth Branagh brilliantly playing Heidrich sent chills down my spine so that whenever I see that sort of language I react badly. I diid laugh at most of the other rhymes though, or at least saw the funny side. It was just that last line that sent chills.

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