February 24, 2007

From R. Eisenman: Video games as perceived by Hispanic students

Re: Video games may boost surgery skill, tests find (Feb. 19): Video games can be seen negatively: as inducing lazy withdrawal from society or preventing exercise, or they can be seen positively: as improving skills. The article about surgical skills is a case in point where video games seem to sharpen perceptual and motor skills. Also, the U. S. military has used video games to teach soldiers how to fire weapons. I report here some data from Hispanic college students about video games. At the end, I suggest possibilities for future research.

Students at the University of Texas-Pan American (UTPA), a Hispanic-serving university in Deep South Texas, near the Mexican border, participated in classroom discussions, regarding their playing and perceptions of video games. There were 200 students overall in this sample, in 5 sections of Introduction to Psychology, with about an equal number of males and females. UTPA has the largest number of Mexican-American college students of any university in the United States, and the second largest number of Hispanics, second only to Florida International University in Miami, Florida, which has many Cuban students, as well as many nonCuban Hispanics. While some commute from Mexico to attend UTPA, most come from the Rio Grande Valley section of Texas, which is about 88% Hispanic, the same percentage that UTPA has of Hispanic students. I tried not to count, for this study, any statements made by students who seemed to be clearly nonHispanic. While there may have been some nonHispanics students included, the overwhelming Hispanic nature of the classrooms, and my attempt not to include nonHispanic student comments makes it likely that most of the 200 students polled were Hispanic. The students were from five Introduction to Psychology classes, and participated in the discussions with their teacher, as part of the regular class activity. Introduction to Psychology contains a large cross-section of students at UTPA, since it is required for many different majors. As at most universities in the USA, most students in Introduction to Psychology are not psychology majors.

The teacher discussed video games with his class, and got a show of hands to obtain the percentages reported below. I was the teacher for all the classes. While this could induce a bias into the research, it also meant that I could make sure that the teacher, me, was doing the same thing in all five classes.

First, it was found that 50% of the students (100 students) initially admitted to playing video games. But when it was suggested that perhaps others had played although perhaps not on a regular basis, the percentage went up to 75%. Thus, 150 of the 200 students said they had played video games, with about 50% of all students playing on a fairly regular basis, according to discussions and show of hands.

Second, when asked if video games were often violent, initially only 40% (80 of the 200 students) initially said that they were often violent. They claimed that video games are nonviolent. But, after discussion, which included mention by several of violent games, the figure rose to 75% who felt that video games are often violent. This would seem to indicate rational thinking after others corrected the misperception about violence in video games, but since a public show of hands was used, it could also be interpreted as conformity to the majority vote. One way or the other, many thought of video games as nonviolent, but soon changed their minds after information was presented about violence in video games. Perhaps the initial denial of violence was at attempt to be socially acceptable. Or, perhaps the students truly failed to see the violence in some of the games they were playing.

Third, only 20% of the students, 40 students in all, thought that playing violent video games could lead to violence. Even after discussion, this increased only to 25%, or 50 students overall who said violent video games might lead to violence.

Future studies might employ different methodologies, such as having students answer anonymous questionnaires, or interviewing students individually, about video games. Also, it might be valuable to see if having the person in charge not be the students’ teacher changes the results.

The present results suggest that Hispanic college students underestimated violence in video games, but, when challenged, will recognize that video games are often violent. The present results also showed that 50% of Hispanic college students in this sample said they play video games on a regular basis (with regular not defined) while another 25% also play video games, although not as regularly. Thus, video games are an important part of the life of Hispanic college students. And, most do not perceive video games as leading to violence: only 20% did before discussion and 25% after discussion.

Other ethnic and racial groups could be studied, to see what their perceptions are about video games, and if video games have different levels of appeal to them. One could also look for sex differences, since certain kinds of games may appeal more to men than women, and vice versa. Sex difference in video games is an important topic that needs more study.

Russell Eisenman, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology
University of Texas-Pan American
Edinburg, TX


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