Sunday, December 28, 2014

Adam and Eve and The First Language: The Bible Got It Wrong

This is going to be a pretty short post since there's not much to say on the topic. I just thought it'd be fun to cover this because of how simple it seems. That said, don't read this if you're easily offended on religious grounds. This won't be a soul-crushing debunking, but it'll definitely give room for suspicion in other areas.

"Sorry we fucked up your names," said Jesus, brow furrowed.
So, the first man and woman according to most creationists in America were named "Adam" and Eve." Adam was given his name because his name in Hebrew (אָדָם) means "man," and therefore Adam was the origin of man, or man himself. It is not until Adam directly called Eve by name (חַוָּה) that we learn her name; elsewhere, she is just referred to as Woman. She was granted the name Eve because she was the mother of all living. She was originally referred to as Woman because she was taken from Man.

Many people know this much, since it doesn't take much to Google what the names "Adam" and "Eve" mean, or even look up a biblical resource for the meanings of their names in Genesis. It makes sense too given the etymology... Except one thing.

It doesn't.

It doesn't make any sense whatsoever that they were called Adam and Eve, and this is one of the many reasons why I think creationists (mainly Christians) need to seriously and critically analyze the contents of their holy books in the modern age of inquiry and skepticism. Perhaps this would fly for Hebrew-speaking populations during the time of the Bible's writing, since they were surely very ethnocentric, but it doesn't work that way anymore. Why? Because the Bible is written in Hebrew, specifically the liturgical form Biblical Hebrew.

Okay, who cares? Why does that matter? Well because in Genesis, the Bible is referring to the creation of all living things; and for Adam to have been named Adam, they would have had to have been speaking/writing in Hebrew. The reason for this is since we know why Adam was named Adam (because he was Man), then the name "Adam" has to occur as a Hebrew term, otherwise "Adam" would not mean "Man" as it does in the Biblical text. In other words, Genesis presupposes that the first man and woman were speaking or writing in Hebrew. This isn't surprising since I doubt the individuals who wrote the Bible had the historical and linguistic self-awareness to realize that their language wouldn't have been the language written/spoken by the first man and woman. But why wouldn't it have been?

According to the linked article, all humans spoke one language until the rise of The Tower of Babel in (as it estimates) ~4000 BCE. It was at this time that the Sumerians arrived speaking a different language. This places Biblical Hebrew, according to the Bible, as an older language than Sumerian.

We know this is wrong. Sumerian was first attested in 2600-2500 BCE from cuneiform texts from Shuruppak and Abu Salabikh. Hebrew, specifically Biblical Hebrew, was not attested until ~1500 years later in the 10th century BCE. The fact that the Bible specifies that the Sumerians were the first ones to speak a different language than the language of Adam and Eve, Hebrew, is just factually incorrect. On that note, there are multiple languages written before Biblical Hebrew, including Egyptian and Greek. It simply couldn't have been that Hebrew was the first language as the Bible implies; therefore, we know that Adam and Eve simply couldn't have been the names of the first humans.

But wait, says the separate opinion, why couldn't it have just been taken from the real first language? Well the reason for this is that, for example, "Adam" does not mean "Man" in Egyptian or Sumerian. The closest thing in Egyptian is Atum (or Atem) which derives from the word meaning "complete" or "to finish." The closest thing in Sumerian/Akkadian is adammu, meaning red. "Adam" simply does not mean the same thing in older languages as it does in Hebrew; therefore, it wouldn't have made any sense for Adam to be called Adam if they were speaking an older language such as Sumerian.

But wait again that same opinion voices, what if the original names were not Adam and Eve, but were (for example) the Sumerian words for "man" and "mother of all living?" What if they were then translated into Hebrew for the Bible?

Well then, you'd be conceding two things:

1: The first language was not Hebrew, as the Bible claims.
2: The first humans were not named Adam and Eve.

Thanks for playing! See you next time!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Zelda Wii U 2015: Hopes And Suggestions

UPDATE (12/22/2014): I emailed this article to the Nintendo of America PR desk. I received a response within an hour of sending it. You can read about it here!

A quick note that was requested of me: if you are a Zelda fan who would like to see Link and Zelda (or the other primary female character, if there is one) in the next Zelda game kiss, please sign my friend's petition here. It can hardly be expected that Nintendo could include that before the game's release, if they haven't already by now, but it's still helpful and interesting to know how many fans out there agree and support it.

Warning, this article may contain spoilers.

In my inner circle, there has been a resurgence in interest in the last console game in the Legend of Zelda series: Skyward Sword. We've all had a lot of fun talking about it, but something interesting has happened in that, for some reason, this game from 2011 has somehow become as hyped up as a game that hasn't even come out yet would be. I see this as happening for many reasons, but the big three are the following: (1) the visual appeal; (2) the gameplay; and, most importantly to me, (3) the emotional connection between Link and Zelda. I ship them so hard, and I would love nothing more than to see the petition above come true. The story in Skyward Sword made me cry -- something that no other Zelda game has been able to do for me. In fact, it made me cry seven times. It's hard to top that.

On that note, I (and pretty much everyone else, but perhaps for different reasons) have high expectations for the next console installment for the franchise for the Wii U (expected to come out in 2015). With how incredible the last console game was, it's going to be hard to sell it for me with the new one, and again, I feel many others would agree. Having said that, the game developers have offered us some information to go on for the next game, allowing us to get an idea of what they have in mind. Still, there are a few concerns and desires in my heart.

Originally, this was going to be an article of my hopes and suggestions for the upcoming game; however, I decided that would be uninformative in the grand scheme of things. So instead, I've been conducting polls in the two Legend of Zelda communities on Google+ to get an idea of what everyone else wants, and everything I've said up to this point will just be a confession of my biases. My results aren't representative (sadly), and my polls have their methodological flaws, but they still provide some evidence that the opinions I'm expressing in this article are not exclusively my own. Below I'm going to share and summarize the results of my findings (not in order), and explain what this means for the upcoming Zelda game for the Wii U. There were 5 polls, and each one was asked twice. I'll link to the original polls at the end of the article.

I have no idea who's going to read this, but I hope it ends up meaning something in the end. I'd love nothing more than for this collection of data to have some impact on what kinds of things are included in the final game. I'm not getting my hopes up, though, since the game is coming out in a year. Even so, I'd love for Zelda fans to express their views in the comments. With that, let's begin!

Question: What would you like Nintendo to focus on the most in the upcoming Zelda game for the Wii U?
This is actually the second question I asked, but things will make sense in the order I present the data in. For this question, I provided five possible choices: story, graphics, gameplay, dungeons/adventuring, and Wii U controls; I then provided explanations as to what each of these mean, since (for example) dungeons and adventuring can overlap gameplay. A few individuals suggested that there be an "all of the above" option; unfortunately, I could only include 5 options, and I couldn't change the options after people voted. Still, I allowed those to express their write-in votes, and so there is an unwritten sixth "all of the above" option.

Between the two communities, there was a total of 161 votes for this question (including the write-ins). The results were as follows:

- 59.63% of the participants (96 of 161) selected "Story."
- 3.73% of the participants (6 of 161) selected "Graphics."
- 18.63% of the participants (30 of 161) selected "Gameplay."
- 14.29% of the participants (23 of 161) selected "Dungeons/Adventuring."
- 2.48% of the participants (4 of 161) selected "Wii U Controls."
- 1.24% of the participants (2 of 161) selected "All of the above."

Eiji Aonuma, in all his glory.
It is possible that some voters were stuck on the difference between Gameplay and Dungeons/Adventuring, and so prioritized the former option which was all-encompassing. Accounting for this, if the two options had been counted together, it would total 32.92%. It is also possible that the results would have been different if the "all of the above" option were not a write-in; thus these results should be interpreted as priorities if the respondents were forced to pick one aspect in particular.

Thus we can see that the majority of respondents expressed that their top priority is the story, while the runner-up is gameplay. The fewest number of respondents prioritized Wii U controls. One respondent who selected "gameplay" as their choice further specified that they enjoyed fishing. Another respondent offered these sentiments (some content removed for the time being for clarity):
"I like music. Listening to the music is always the first thing I do with Zelda games. I really like it that they make the places like houses and dungeon have different set kinds of music, but not all Zelda games are like that. Like Phantom Hourglass...
Anyways back on the topic, I would like the story to be focused on. [...] As long as they have new good stories, I'm good."
I would have to agree. Music is usually so beautifully composed in Zelda games, and it's a huge priority of my own; and while I have hesitance since Koji Kondo is not composing the music for this game, I have no doubt I'll be impressed (especially since he's still supervising). For this poll, I also chose the story, and it's probably obvious why given all I said at the beginning of this article.

Question: The majority of you stated that your largest priority for Zelda Wii U was the story. I'd like to ask for a bit more detail on that particular notion. Please tell me which of the options best represents your #1 concern with the story of Zelda Wii U.
As stated, since the majority of voters selected the "Story" option, I decided to ask for further details. I wanted to know particularly what part of the story people are most concerned about, or simply prioritize higher than any other. There were 123 participants in this poll total. The results are as follows:

- 6.5% of the participants (8 of 123) selected "Character Development."
- 6.5% of the participants (8 of 123) selected "How It Fits Into Zelda Lore/Timeline."
- 6.5% of the participants (8 of 123) selected "Game Plot."
- 2.44% of the participants (3 of 123) selected "The Antagonist/Villain."
- 78.05% of the participants (96 of 123) selected "All of the above."

Again, sometimes the categories could overlap; however, it's very clear that the majority view was that all of the listed factors were the priority for the story. Overall I'd have to agree, but of the options my two biggest concerns were character development and game plot; though I selected character development as my #1 priority. The results are pretty self-explanatory, but some respondents who did not select the "All of the above" option explained why they did so:
"Being a theorist, I guess my answer (excluding the "All of the above" choice) is "How it Fits into Zelda Lore/Timeline."
It's important to consider things such as this because depending on which fans you go to, you find different priorities based exclusively from their fan-based priorities. Theorists will give different answers from general enthusiasts, though this could also relate directly to the individuals' interests like in any other situation. Still, one who has particular investment in one area of Zelda fandom may select the option which would affect that investment the most. Another respondent shared their views:
"I voted character dev. I'm curious about timeline placement, but it's not a concern for me since the timeline will be revised in the future anyway.

Story/plot... Not necessarily important for a Zelda game I feel. I was actually just listening to an interview on the radio about how, with stories, a less-detailed story can do very well if the characters are given proper depth and growth.

My main desire for wanting focus on char dev is because I feel like it's the one area Nintendo constantly neglects. They need to improve in this area. I do not want Link developed more, just the supporting cast."
Again, I couldn't help but agree with everything said here, but we will get into more detail with that in the next question. In summation, while there are some specifics that people would like to focus on, it seems that the distribution is even around all of the specific options, and the large majority of people are concerned with all of them.

Emotional Connection
Question: (1) Yes/No, was the emotional connection in Skyward Sword a good thing?
(2) Yes/No, would a similar connection in Zelda Wii U be a good thing?
I'm going to pay the most attention to this question, since people had the most to say about it. This was a two-part question. I wanted to know what people thought of the emotional connection between Link and Zelda in Skyward Sword, and whether or not such a connection would be a good thing in Zelda Wii U. This is of personal interest to me, since everyone knows which option I'd pick. Sadly, this question had some pretty glaring flaws in it.

Firstly, I didn't specify that it was the emotional connection between Link and Zelda. People could have interpreted this as the emotional connection with anybody; although, in both polls, I used pictures of Link and Zelda during a more "romantic" moment in the game. Still, this could have been interpreted in a number of ways, such as the emotional connection with Link exclusively, or the emotional connection between Link and the story.
Innit cute?

Secondly, the question assumes that the players felt an emotional connection in the first place. Some individuals didn't find Skyward Sword to be such an emotionally investing game, and thus my own bias spoke through the question in more ways than one.

Third, and lastly, I didn't include a neutral option; however, I do think that for these types of polls, not including such options is a good thing. As I explained to one respondent, I use it as a probing method to force people to select one option that best represents their views, even if it's only a slight leaning.

The number of respondents for this question was 134. With all of these factors in mind, here are the results:

- 81.34% of the participants (109 of 134) selected "Yes" for Skyward Sword, "Yes" for Zelda Wii U.
- 8.21% of the participants (11 of 134) selected "Yes" for Skyward Sword, "No" for Zelda Wii U.
- 5.22% of the participants (7 of 134) selected "No" for Skyward Sword, "No" for Zelda Wii U.
- 5.22% of the participants (7 of 134) selected "No" for Skyward Sword, "Yes" for Zelda Wii U.

Aggregated into other terms:

- 89.55% of the participants (120 of 134) said the emotional connection in Skyward Sword was good, while 10.44% (14 of 134) said it was not.
- 86.57% of the participants (116 of 134) said an emotional connection would be good in Zelda Wii U, while 13.43% (18 of 134) said it would not.

So the overwhelming majority (a near consensus) of participants said that the emotional connection in Skyward Sword was good and that something similar would be good in Zelda Wii U. This thrills me beyond all measure, and I completely agree. Of course, these results would be pretty uninformative in the nuance without some statements by the respondents. The same respondent expressed approval for character development in the last question also gave their opinion in this question, which provides some context:
"I liked that Link had a best friend (as usual). Marin, Saria, and Ilia all served as great best-friend characters, all of which had a crush on Link. Zelda was different because she had a much larger role than just 'best friend', but.... I think that personal connection was lost.

I know this is a long post, but it's something that really bothered me. I think a close relationship for Link (with ANYONE) is necessary from a story-telling point of view. For a character without much detail (due to being the avatar), a lot of his personality is shown through his relationships with others.

With Zelda, it's always gameplay before story, as it should be. But stories have become very important parts of games, and in the case of Zelda, I feel like this relationship should be much more detailed. It doesn't need screentime, just something to make us feel..... look how little screentime Saria got, and she's incredibly loved by all.

Whether it's Zelda or anybody else, that best-friend (and possible love interest in some cases) connection is pretty important."
This was a very thorough, insightful response. I completely agree that Link's character is reflected through his relationships with the supporting characters, which is why the supporting characters need development, not Link. In the general scheme of things, I also agree that gameplay is more important than story; however, there has been a lot of anxiety built up in the last few games concerning story and emotional connections. It would be neglectful, in my view, to abandon this for Zelda Wii U.

One respondent explained why they said that the connection in Skyward Sword was not good, but something similar would be good in Zelda Wii U:
"I always thought the way they presented the long-time connection between Link and Zelda in Skyward Sword was trying too hard to please the fans who support the two as a couple, or even as close friends. I like the idea, but the way it was done in Skyward Sword was too upfront to me. If it were to be elaborated on, and maybe a little less explicit in the next game, that would be great."
Of course, I support a love connection between Link and Zelda hands down any day no matter what, but I had to consider what this respondent said and ultimately, I think they're right. The connection was so built up in the beginning, and then it dwindled down; which of course, as one respondent expressed, is to be expected. However, it could have been done much better. Instead of shrinking, it should grow.

Another respondent gave a very well thought-out explanation as to why they didn't feel connected in Skyward Sword, but felt a strong connection in Twilight Princess, thus giving the same response as the last participant:
The resistance from Twilight Princess.
"In TP, there was an emphasis on Link's quest to help the children of his village. I'm sure that all of us can remember a few scenes in which they were simply waiting and giving hope into the prospect that Link would come to there rescue, even though reason would tell them that their destruction was nigh. The fact that they didn't know Link was there at the time really gets me, too.

Then, we have the moments with Ilia. We have her memory loss, which turns into (at least for me) one of the best story arcs and missions in the game -- the Hidden Village. It was there that we learn that she was being helped by an old lady... The same old lady that is the last Sheikah in the village and gives you the Sky Book. 

Going into Castle Town, we find the base of a small organization attempting to take matters into their own hands. The base is Telma's Bar, owned by a character involved in helping the Zora boy that turns out to be the new king of the Zoras (in training, albeit) and Ilia.

That organization is called the Resistance. Its members include Shad, Ashei, Auru, and Ordon's own Rusl, our hero's childhood hero and mentor.

Finally, we have this random spirit guy named the Hero's Shade. He becomes Link's trainer for becoming the hero. While the skills are incredible, so, too, is the man who teaches them. At least one of his quotes has become the basis of several fan art adaptations, in addition to his origin in general -- for he is none other than the ghost of the Hero of Time, my personal favorite Link throughout the series (though my opinion might not be shared with everybody)."
All of this gave me a new appreciation for Twilight Princess, as I didn't give enough recognition to how much detail was put into the story with all of the different characters. One respondent and I agreed, however, that the characters did not seem to have much depth to them in themselves. There were so many people, and it wasn't easy to feel an investment or a connection in all of them. Ultimately, it came down to our own personal experiences and how well we related to the characters based on what we had already experienced in our own lives. One can't find appreciation for a type of relationship they've never really experienced or liked themselves, and that's what's great about Legend of Zelda. You take away from it whatever you personally feel.

So overall, to summarize, most people want an emotional connection in the new Zelda game (one that is similar to the one in Skyward Sword), but there can be some definite improvements. For example, building up the relationship instead of dwindling it down. It would also behoove Nintendo to pay close attention to what types of relationships the players like.

This is where I have my own concerns. Zelda Informer reported rumours that, due to how well-received the romance in Skyward Sword was among western audiences, the developers of the new Zelda game are considering how to flesh that out. According to the article, they're looking into western romances such as Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey. If they use these stories as the basis for the romance in the new Zelda game, I will punch Nintendo in the collective mouth.

But, they have noted that the team working on this new game is the biggest, most creative and innovative teams they've ever had, and they're working on breaking the boundaries of what it means to play a Zelda game. On that note, while I'm a little anxious about these rumours; they are, after all, rumours, and I have faith in the game developers to give the players and fans what they want. All I can say is... I hope the rumours are mostly true.

Fighting Mechanics
Question: Which game do you think had the best fighting mechanics? (This also includes things like hidden skills, parrying, etc.)
Moving past the story (since we've spent enough time on that I think), the gameplay was the second biggest priority for the respondents. On this note, I asked a question about the fighting mechanics, since it seems like that's one of the things Nintendo has yet to show us regarding the new Zelda game. For this question, I didn't specifically ask which fighting mechanics people would like to see in Zelda Wii U, but I did ask which game from the list had the best; and presumably, if someone really likes the fighting mechanics in one game, they wouldn't want to trash them in the next.

The sample size for this question was 147 total. The options given were chosen with two prerequisites in mind: (1) they have to be a console game, as handheld game mechanics would not translate too well to console gaming; and, (2) they had to be unique; thus, for example, Majora's Mask was omitted because Ocarina of Time was still included. Here are the results:

- 7.48% of the participants (11 of 147) selected "Ocarina of Time."
- 10.88% of the participants (16 of 147) selected "Wind Waker."
- 51.02% of the participants (75 of 147) selected "Twilight Princess."
- 11.56% of the participants (17 of 147) selected "Skyward Sword."
- 19.05% of the participants (28 of 147) selected "All of the above."

Surprisingly, despite my prior predictions, people did not immediately gravitate towards the "all of the above" option. Twilight Princess prevailed with the majority of the votes; and had the last option not been included (and replaced with some other game), I believe it would have gotten an even higher percentage of the vote.

One respondent expressed why he enjoyed Twilight Princess the most:
"Honestly there's nothing more fun than the Jump Strike... except the ball and chain and bomb arrows!"
I did love both of those; however, the jump strike was technically in Wind Waker as well. I did enjoy all of the hidden skills in Twilight Princess though. Another respondent stated that he chose Ocarina of Time for its Z-targeting. A different respondent replied to him suggesting that the Z-targeting clashed too much with the game's adventurous style. I'm not sure I agree with that one.

A potential flaw in this question is when people answer "all of the above." One participant said he chose all of the above even though he hadn't played Twilight Princess. This could be problematic if several people chose that option even having not played some of the games in the list. I don't think this is overwhelmingly the case; however, based on the trend, I think that if they were forced to pick an option anyway, most of the votes would go to Twilight Princess anyway. When an "all of the above" option is given, and the majority of people still pick a specific option, I think the evidence is clear.

So what would we like to see in the next Zelda game? A diverse skill set, of course! Bring back some (if not all) of the hidden skills from Twilight Princess, and add a few new ones. It seems Nintendo is already doing that, though, given the announcement that in addition to still being able to use a sword/bow on Epona, we can also dismount her to make an aerial attack. Awesome!

Overall Attitude
Question: Based on what you have seen, heard or read, what is your overall opinion of the upcoming Legend of Zelda game for the Wii U?
This is the last question from the polling. Participants were asked a continuum of questions after this point; is Nintendo: on the right track, somewhat on the right track, neither on the right or wrong track, somewhat on the wrong track, or on the wrong track. This question attempted to gauge what people's general feelings were based on what they had seen or heard regarding Zelda Wii U. The total sample was 129. The results are as follows:

- 71.32% of the participants (92 of 129) selected "On the right track."
- 20.16% of the participants (26 of 129) selected "Somewhat on the right track."
- 4.65% of the participants (6 of 129) selected "Neither on the right or wrong track."
- 0.78% of the participants (1 of 129) selected "Somewhat on the wrong track."
- 3.1% of the participants (4 of 129) selected "On the wrong track."

So we can see that the consensus among the respondents was an overall positive attitude towards the new Zelda game (91.47% or 118 of 129). I unfortunately didn't get any written opinions from people who were on the right tail of the distribution, but I did receive plenty of feedback from people who voted either neutrally or positively. Those who voted that Nintendo is neither on the right nor the wrong track suggested that there wasn't enough information at present to make a judgment on how well they're doing. One individual expressed their disagreement, "With the little amount of information, it still sounds and looks amazing."

One participant explained what their views were overall, though I don't know if they voted:
"I have no idea about the story but from what I've seen the game play seems to be going really well. Graphics are awesome and overall it looks really great in the Wii U. From what I've read of what Aonuma and Miyamoto have also said then it seem to me that they're really going on the right track. And about history well a lot of changes are gonna be made and I like that the idea of a refreshed title of zelda. So yep I think they're going on the right track."
The feedback I received from this part of the poll was a bit disappointing, especially since the votes were so overwhelmingly positive. I wish I could've heard more about what people like about the new Zelda game. From what I've seen and read, however, I can pinpoint a few factors that people are largely approving of.

First, Epona doesn't automatically run into trees or obstacles if you direct her to. This seems like an insignificant detail to some people, since most people would try to do this anyway, but it's an element of realism that many fans appreciate. Likewise, the addition of wild horses has received quite a bit of support. Who knows if we'll be able to choose our own horse other than Epona?

Doing this right after jumping off a horse? Epic.
The open world aspect has received a lot of support as well, especially from me. But even bigger than that, apparently, the world will change according to your decisions and actions in the game. That sounds so incredible. I've always been cynical of games that have those "custom paths" where all of the changes are essentially superficial, and so I hope the developers give it their all with Zelda Wii U in this regard. Most importantly, creating real, large-effect changes from your actions will encourage you to play the game over and over again to see all of the ways things could have happened (and I hope one of these paths is a romance route... just saying).

While there's only a small amount of information to go on right now, I think that overall, people have a reason to be excited about this new game. I personally can't wait -- I wish I could have it by Christmas. Unfortunately, the estimated release date is some time in 2015; but this can be good too. Of course, it gives Nintendo time to read the things the fans want. It also gives them extra time to flesh things out and add more detail. This is such a huge project, I'm so anxious for its release, as well as the release of more information.

So concludes this article. Thank you to all who participated in the poll. In addition, thank you to both Zelda communities on Google+ who allowed me to conduct these polls; particular thanks to the former for allowing me to post my article there, and for being such a wonderful community to interact with! Special thanks to the individuals who gave me permission to use their comments in this article -- you're all such a great help!

And, most importantly, thank you all very much for reading.

Below are the original polls. I stopped accepting newer votes or changed votes at ~1:00 AM EST on 12/20/14; that is, after that time, any votes that were cast in the poll were not included in this article. If you see inconsistencies between the numbers provided in the article and those you see on the poll data, this is why. Google+ won't allow me to shut down the polls, and I don't want to delete them in case I need them for future reference. Also, as stated, these polls are not listed in order of their having been conducted. I would still encourage looking at the data as of recent, because it's still fairly consistent with the data in the post, just with higher sample sizes.

- Primary focus poll. (1) (2)
- Story poll. (1) (2)
- Emotional connection poll. (1) (2)
- Fighting mechanics poll. (1) (2)
- Overall attitude poll. (1) (2)

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Friday, December 19, 2014

The Ethology Of Attraction To Bad Science: A Response To Social Ethology And Dorian Furtună

Dorian Furtună is a Moldovan ethologist who runs a website called Social Ethology, which is a website dedicated to research thereof, labelling it "the biological and instinctive foundations of human behavior." As you can see, he also writes for Psychology Today, a website which I used to go to for tertiary readings for research in psychology, but now largely disregard as a forum for anyone and everyone to spout off whatever unchecked views they want (note this doesn't mean everything on Psychology Today is bad; far from it). This scenario is no different.

The asshole in question.
I've had exchanges with Dr. Furtună in the past. Instead of responding to criticism, he simply says "wait for more" and continues on with his evidently poor research. It's a wonder how someone can get a PhD and then learn to completely ignore all dissent or critique of their work. I'm not sure what causes this, but unlike Dr. Furtună, I'm not prepared to offer an ad hoc explanation via natural selection.

Recently, Dr. Furtună has published an article on his website entitled "The ethology of attraction to bad boys" (opening the link isn't imperative to understanding this post, but if you find yourself lost, you may want to consider it). It seeks to, of course, give an evolutionary explanation for why women like men who are more aggressive (or as he calls it, warlike) in nature. The arguments Dr. Furtună makes in his article are (perhaps unwittingly) bad, and normally I wouldn't give this kind of ridiculousness the time of day. However, upon visiting his feed, I realized that he spams his articles all over Google+, even when the discussion page he sends them to has nothing to do with what he's talking about, or is only relevant at a very superficial level. This includes the anthropology community I'm a part of, where my last discussion took place, as well as in the psychology community, which I am also a part of. The fact that he is so eager to share his article with as many people as possible shows that his primary concern is getting views, which outshines his ability to appropriately and honestly examine evidence.

Even with this alone, I still wouldn't care much about Dr. Furtună's work if it weren't for one key element that seals the deal -- never have I seen him even consider other potential explanations for the behavioural traits he discusses. In the article I'm responding to, he does not give any time to examine the evidence for hypotheses which are contradictory to his own position. This is just bad science writing, first of all. Second of all, it gives readers the impression that the debate over this material is definitively settled in favour of Dr. Furtună's position. It's not. Furthermore, much of the "evidence" he draws upon to support his position is so disgusting in nature, it's beyond comprehension.

Thus, I see it as much needed for someone to respond to his sophistry, and so I am about to take him to task. I also won't treat him with the same grace I may typically treat people I critique; he deserves no such respect. This will be good for both of us as well -- while I'll be giving a few individuals a lesson on how to respond to bad arguments in the field of anthropology and psychology, I'll also be consequently giving Dr. Furtună more traffic. It will also satisfy my readers, as the poll suggests that most prefer when I write about anthropology and psychology; as such, I am now writing about both.

This post will not only serve to provide rebuttals to Dr. Furtună's claims, but also give readers an overview of what to look for in scientific literature when taking a skeptical approach. You'll find that there are many such examples to look at in this particular case.

(For the record, it's going to be a pain in the ass to do this article by quoting him so many times. Go ahead, try copy/pasting something from his article. See what happens every time. Also for the record, I am not interested whatsoever in a prolonged discussion with Dr. Furtună over this topic. If he says something which warrants another rebuttal post, it will be my last, if I even write it.)

Without further ado, let us begin.
"It was not only the natural selection that favored warlike men, but also the sexual selection. In archaic times, the combative behavior implied not only chances of survival, but also a more significant reproductive success. Women’s preferences for combative individuals have evolved in parallel with men’s aggressiveness. Numerous studies have shown that women manifest a higher sexual attraction towards men with a warlike reputation, towards leaders and military men. In some societies, military men who are dressed up in their uniforms are being perceived as having a sex-appeal that is superior to those who wear simple clothes [Schreiber, Van Vugt, 2008]."
Dr. Furtună cites an unpublished manuscript as evidence for his claims. Unfortunately, it seems very few people actually have access to this manuscript. This is automatically suspect to me, but nonetheless I can't dismiss a claim exclusively for the source that is cited (in most cases, although I will have to do this frequently later on in the article). In scenarios where I cannot examine the source, I simply assume that the citation provides some evidence to what they say -- in this case, that women find a man in uniform more sexually appealing. In some societies. Some being the operative word here. There are numerous explanations other than an evolutionary one for why this might be the case, especially since (as Dr. Furtună concedes) this is a not a universal phenomenon. Socialization plays a remarkable role in societal standards of appeal and beauty. It is no different for men's sexual appeal.

Beyond this, he only cites his source for the latter-most claim. He does refer to an article of his on the natural selection of male aggressiveness, but rigorous peer-reviewed evidence is far from met in that article. The funny thing in this paragraph is that Dr. Furtună already offers a counter-hypothesis to his own: women will favour men of higher status (who were, historically, often warlords or men of military status) so as to better themselves. This is also completely consistent with the selfish gene hypothesis by Dawkins, which he cites in his other article; but it has nothing to do with aggression. Less aggressive men who were born into wealth or royalty would find equal reproductive benefits, particularly in chiefdoms. Do I necessarily agree with this stance? Perhaps, perhaps not, but it does show how quickly an alternative hypothesis can slip under Dr. Furtună's nose, even when he cites it himself. I will make reference to this hypothesis later on in the article.
"The women’s predilection for warriors and the military uniform’s sex-appeal represent a reminiscence of women’s ancestral preferences for men with high social status (resource owners); from times when the hierarchical position was directly associated with warlike abilities and aggressive behavior. From then, the symbol of the warlike man, who is in control and who has a combative and imposing behavior, is part of a strategy that favors men in their relationships with the opposite sex [Hardy, Van Vugt, 2006]. There are other consequences of the admiration of the masculine force, which marks the psychology of the sexual relationships of our times."
The Hadzabe -- most hunter-gatherer societies are egalitarian.
Here, Dr. Furtună once again acknowledges preference for social status, but does not consider that aggressive behaviour is not mutually inclusive with social status. One key part of this paragraph is what causes him to overlook this factor, and it's particularly ridiculous: where he talks about hierarchical positions in society. Social hierarchy is a very recent phenomenon in human history, and as mentioned, leaders are not necessarily granted their power through aggression and war. The legitimacy of power in many pre-state societies was through prosocial behaviour, modesty, and doing as much as possible for your community, and explicitly not yourself. This is readily seen among the !Kung and the Mehinacu, where they are set up with many social controls that prevent them from being too boastful or arrogant, and also demand of them that they preserve the fairly equal nature of their society, as well as resolving conflicts.

In addition to all of this, social hierarchy isn't even a necessity. Most hunter-gatherer societies, with the exception of settled ones, are egalitarian in nature, where power is distributed mostly equally among men and women, and there are no hierarchical positions of power -- any that exist are mostly superficial in nature, such as the status of "headmen" in examples like the !Kung.

And even ignoring all of that, sometimes sexual selection has nothing to do with the man himself. Among the Nuer, sexual selection is based on the prestige and appeal of their cattle, not the man. These explanations are all entirely inconsistent with the evolutionary hypothesis; and yet, despite these being very well known examples in anthropology, Dr. Furtună neglects to consider any of these.
"It is well known that young men who behave modestly and seem agreeable, selfless and shy are disadvantaged as regarding sexual relationships. On the contrary, those who are manipulative, arrogant, cunning, overconfident, who play hypermasculine roles, enjoy a higher number of sexual experiences with more partners [1]. These effects are due not only to the gumption with which these men act, but also to the fact that women prefer this kind of men, with a more imposing behavior. Different studies have shown that the skillful men who have a dominant status and an assertive character are more attractive for women that those who are submissive and shy [Sadalla et al., 1987; Burger, Cosby, 1999]." 
His first citation is far from credible, and by no means does it go over a comprehensive review of the literature, but let's assume for a moment that the conclusions drawn are true: that women prefer dominant men for sex, but "nice guys" for relationships. Once again, this still shows that sexual selection would not exclusively favour "bad boys" -- there are different, but comparable pressures for men of both personality types. Men can be promiscuous and not settle down, or they can settle down and have many children. One can interpret this type of data in any way they want, but it doesn't solidly prove, as Dr. Furtună might suggest, that male dominance evolved via the processes of natural and sexual selection. As for having more sexual partners, did he ever once consider that this effect might be mitigated if the male in question considers the risk of pregnancy? Does he not realize that this is a risk many men consider? This completely destroys the idea that the actions which promote more sexual partners in men during modern times have evolved through sexual selection.

For his second claim, we can see that he cites two sources: Sadalla et al. (1987) and Burger & Crosby (1999). He suggests that these sources provide evidence to the hypothesis that dominant men of assertive character are more attractive to women than shy men. This is where Dr. Furtună's neglect starts to become most readily available.

[Short disclaimer: there is nothing terribly wrong with the sample sizes in the studies mentioned throughout these articles. Their weight, however, should not be overestimated, as Dr. Furtună has done. They can be used as evidence for further research, but not for the aggressive claims Dr. Furtună is making.]

His first citation, Sadalla et al., was limited in many respects. Firstly, their largest sample size (Experiment 4) was 218 individuals; 114 women and 104 men. Their smallest sample size (Experiment 1) was 88; 46 women and 42 men. All samples were taken from students in an introductory psychology course at "a western state university." These are by far not representative samples of all populations; something which (unless I missed something) the study authors fail to even admit. Likewise, they commit the same fallacious insinuation about the evolution of male dominance that Dr. Furtună makes. The other shortcoming of this particular study is that it offers no predictions according to the sociocultural model they tacitly summarize -- it simply asserts at the end, in the General Discussion section, that the data does not support the sociocultural model. This is quite a leap in reasoning. This study is, also, limited by how old it is, and so cannot account for recent revisions of the sociocultural model, nor can it examine the data and predictions of post-2000 research.
But she's totally into him.

The other study is a bit more recent, having been conducted in 1999. It's still limited by sample size; in fact, it's smaller than the first study: Study 1 had 118 female undergraduate students, Study 2 had 50, and Study 3 had 50 as well. The funny thing about this study, however, is that it explicitly suggests that a dominance vs non-dominance model is not supported by their data, and that it may be reliant on the presence of other traits as well. When they provided the students with personality types of different men -- men with dominant personalities, and men without these traits -- they usually chose the latter. They also, when asked what traits they like in a potential partner, very rarely listed "dominant" as a characteristic. Instead, they said things like assertive, or confident. This study is definitely much better than the former, however, as it does not rule out either hypothesis: they still give time to the parental investment hypothesis, and say it may be supported by the data. The point being, however, is that a straightforward interpretation of the data does not support Dr. Furtună. He had to conflate assertiveness with dominance in a cleverly written sentence invoking the two to make it appear as though the data supports him, while leaving out the actual findings of the research he cited. Dishonest? I think so, but we'll see better evidence of that as we go on.
"At the same time, men get a higher prestige and are more attractive for women when they manifest their dominant character and their hostility towards the rivals (for example, towards the members of an opposing sport team) and not towards their colleagues or the persons who are nearby. As regarding a lasting romantic relationship or marriage, the interpersonal aggressiveness, unleashed by a man, could diminish the women’s interest (they being afraid of getting aggressively dominated) [Snyder et al., 2008]. Therefore, the assertive domination is favorable for conquests and courtship strategies for short periods of time, while the prestige (usually associated with social status and richness, but which can also include a prosocial behavior, empathy, intelligence, generosity) is going to have a long-lasting impact [2]."
Again, Dr. Furtună doesn't seem to understand that what he just wrote doesn't make sense given the context of his argument. Success in the short-term and success in the long-term can both lead to very high reproductive success depending on the socially normative number of children a family unit is accepted to have. Besides this, Dr. Furtună's citations are quite hilarious.

The first one he cites is Snyder et al. (2008) as supporting his statement that men get higher prestige and are more attractive to women when they are competitive in sports; yet, they don't get that some appreciation in the light of a long-term relationship. Before we examine that, however, I want to read the first paragraph of Snyder et al. Quote:
"Sadalla, Kenrick, and Vershure (1987) published evidence indicating that women prefer men who are in high dominance over men who are low in dominance as potential dates (i.e. potential short-term relationship partners) and rate them as more attractive. Since then, despite numerous studies pointing to limitations of this result, it seems that a simplistic version of their conclusion - that "women prefer dominant mates" - has become conventional wisdom in psychology and related fields."
Do you see what I see? Snyder et al. (2008) just criticized the conclusions drawn from Sadalla et al. 1987) -- the exact same conclusions that Dr. Furtună is drawing here. I'm sorry, but I find this to be beyond hysterical. The dishonesty doesn't end here, however. Continuing with Snyder et al., Dr. Furtună suggests that their findings state that men "get a higher prestige and are more attractive for women when they manifest their dominant character and their hostility towards other rivals."

But does the research actually say that? The answer is a flat out no. In Study 1, Synder et al. found that women preferred men of higher prestige than higher dominance. In Study 2, they examined the variables independently: higher prestige was favoured over lower prestige, while lower dominance was favoured over higher dominance. In Study 3, while higher dominance was preferred in the context of an athletic competition, lower dominance was preferred in any interpersonal situation, even in short-term desirability. They mention nothing about higher dominance conferring higher prestige; they examined these factors independently. Again, Dr. Furtună uses language to conflate everything in the study to support his views, reflecting that he has likely not read the study itself. That, or he has read it, and still included it as supporting the data, despite all of the evidence it brings contrary to his view. Notice, however, that the findings of Snyder et al. are actually consistent with my hypothesis earlier.

For the second part of that paragraph, Dr. Furtună uses The Art of Manliness website as evidence for his claim, but it's a continuity from his prior claim. The website actually reviews quite critically some of the sources Dr. Furtună cited, but the point being, he misrepresented the findings of the research. Dominance was not preferred even in short-term desirability. Prestige was more desirable than dominance, and dominance was undesirable in both short- and long-term relationships.
"However, overall, in the course of humans’ evolution, the dominant individuals have been favored within the reproductive competition, one being able to find even today large categories of women who prefer “alpha males”, with an assertive and sexist approach [3] [Hall, Canterberry, 2011]. Thus, many women who consider themselves attractive prefer men with a deeper, more masculine and dominant voice [Vukovic et al., 2008, 2010]. Also, the guys with more masculine faces are preferred, them being associated with a greater physical strength therefore, with better genes [Little et al., 2011]. And, the more difficult and unstable the living conditions are, the more emphasized are these preferences [DeBruine et al., 2011]; in regions were the epidemic situation is more dangerous, where the population is more vulnerable to diseases, men with masculine facial traits are more attractive to women than those with womanish faces, due to the fact that masculinity correlates with testosterone and with high resistance to infections [4]."
-has nothing to do with this.
There's so much to go over in this paragraph, so I'm going to try to make it as short as possible. I already addressed the claim in the first sentence earlier. For Vukovic et al. (2008), their sample size was 123, again all undergraduate women. They also used a computer to alter the voices to either higher-pitch (feminine) or lower-pitch (masculine). This just strikes me as odd since, as someone who has worked with voice software on literally hundreds of occasions in the past, I know how distorted a voice can be in either scenario, but most especially for increasing pitch. Increased pitch can sometimes also increase perceived speed, which could be a confounding variable. They also only used the recordings of four men and created sixteen pairs of voices, and used only 19 women to judge which was more masculine. There are just so many complaints I could come up with concerning how this study was conducted, but suffice it to say it's not very good. The author also neglects to mention the fact that perhaps the women who thought more highly of themselves were confident, and then perceived the "dominant voices" as also being confident, and thus it was a matter of matching personality traits.

I've reviewed facial, "masculine" facial traits before in the article I cited earlier; but very quickly, "masculine" traits vary culture to culture, as do definitions of what it means to be masculine. "Masculine" just means "how a man should behave," and thus we can understand that the proposition being made is not meaningful. The thing about visually masculine traits, however, is that it has nothing to do with dominant behaviour. At the same time, it's important to note the following:

- Male-on-male aggression with men with masculine faces increases preference.
- This same effect emerges in neutral situations.
- Male-on-female aggression quashes this preference, due to women fearing this aggression will be directed at them.

This becomes important later on. For now, let's move to the next paragraph.
"The staggering case from a prison in Baltimore, where four female guards fell pregnant to same inmate, a gang leader named Tavon White, illustrated, even in anecdotal form, the phenomenon of woman attraction for dominant men [6]. But let’s remember how many convicted killers (like Charles Manson) capture the hearts of law-abiding women, being assaulted with love letters and other signs of adoration while sitting in prison [7]"
It's because he was just such a freaking bad boy.
Ugh... The first claim is just stupid. Tavon White was running drug smuggling and the guards were embedded in the whole thing. They had sex with him for money, prestige, and for the gifts he showered them with -- not for dominance. The article he cited said that very clearly and concisely. As for the link relating to Charles Manson, the girl said she liked him for being an environmentalist. Even funnier, she said that he doesn't tell people what to do. How Dr. Furtună could interpret this as being evidence for his claims is beyond me. He didn't even read the articles, most likely. Either way, again, this could relate to prestige, since Charles Manson is quite famous. I say this with a heavy sigh because of just how obvious this was.

He then goes on to talk about how women were sexually attracted to Osama Bin Laden, in some scenarios more than they were to their own husbands. Notice how the article he cites for this, a report from Sabotage Times, doesn't cite its own sources. Notice how a Google search of "Osamour syndrome" yields no results other than Sabotage Times and Dr. Furtună's own article. Notice how their poll has no mentioning of sample size either. Do you know why all of this is?

Because it's freaking satire.
"From an evolutionary point of view, we are dealing with an instinctive inclination that comes from archaic times when males inherited and, in turn, transmitted genes connected with aggressive and dominant behaviour, who provide a sexual success, and women properly, had inherited preference for such type of males. Masculine aggressive character has evolved in parallel with feminine attraction for such a character. Effects of that archaic sexual selection are still strong today."
No, from a logical point of view, we're dealing with a guy with a PhD who doesn't know how to interpret comedy in a fake news article with fake poll data. Just look at the comments. I have Asperger Syndrome and even I could tell the whole thing was a joke.
"In psychology, the term of Dark Triad is used to characterize the traits of a certain category of men who have the tendency to act violently and dominantly. The Dark Triad includes three sub-clinical traits: narcissism, machiavellianism and psychopathy. These men are complacent, selfish and overconfident; they manipulate and exploit others without any scruples; they are impulsive and lacking empathy; they are impudent and possessive in their sexual relationship; they have sadistic inclinations. In an apparently paradoxically way, many women adore such types of men [10] [Carter et al., 2014]. In fact, some women have fantasies about brutal sexual relationships, including rapes; these fantasies represent an unconscious expression of women to be sexually desirable, their wish to be possessed by men [11], [12]."
This is where Dr. Furtună becomes particularly disgusting. First of all, the article he cites by Psychology Today explicitly says not to call them rape fantasies, which Dr. Furtună does anyway. Second of all, there's too much here to look at, so I'm going to go to the best source, which is almost always the peer-reviewed one; in this case, Carter et al. (2014). Again, it's limited by sample size; but there is one fundamental flaw in Carter et al.'s study, and that is that it doesn't examine the behavioural traits in action. It simply takes shortened summaries of different traits these individuals exhibit and gave them to the respondents piecemeal for evaluation. Seeing these behaviours in action, however, might yield completely different results.

I want to withhold myself from completely attacking Dr. Furtună's comments until the end, so let's skip ahead and past the 50 Shades of Grey part, since it's hardly relevant.
"If we analyze the things through the prisms of human ethology and evolutionary psychology, we understand that the attraction to bad boys, who have the traits from the Dark Triad, is explained by the fact that they are being associated with warrior qualities. Those who have such personal traits are also favored in hierarchical struggles and they usually reach the top of the pyramid of power."
Yes, Dr. Furtună. All "bad boys" are narcissists, Machiavellians and psychopaths. All of them could be given psychological examinations and come back with these results. All of them. That's why Carter et al. drew a dichotomy between the typical "bad boy" (low DT character) and the actual Dark Triad (high DT character). You're absolutely correct. Spot on. Bravo.
"Therefore we understand that the natural selection has favored the formation of some masculine warlike traits that favored, in each generation, the ones who were more combative and who had an assertive character, because those were able to acquire more women, but it also has favored the women who preferred the warlike men, because they were able to gain access to more resources. A mutual strengthening of the respective strategies took place on a genetic level and they became typical for the human ethology. Maybe it is the instinctual predilection for tough and combative men that makes women not to leave their violent husbands and that explains their fantasies with forced sex [14]."
Ignoring all of the claims we've already debunked, really? Did he really just suggest that women don't leave their violent husbands because they're sexually attracted to their domineering behaviour? How about fear, you nitwit? How about low self-esteem? How about self-victimization? There are infinitely better explanations for that type of behaviour than "they like their man being assertive."
"There are testimonies of rape’s victims in which the victims affirm that they had orgasm during the imposed sexual acts (different sources indicate a different rate that varies between 5%-10% and 50% of women who admitted having had orgasmic states) [15]. A study of 611 hospitalized women, which was made in Toronto, Canada, showed that almost 43% of them have been abused both physically and especially verbally at home in the last year, but more than half of them (54%) have declared that they would stay with their abusing husbands. The invoked motive is the feeling of safety that these women have when they are near their husbands [Panchanadeswaran et al., 2010]. All these considerations should make us look more profound at phenomenon of violence in general." 
I want to throw up. I'm going to take the most time addressing this paragraph because, if nothing else, I want the good doctor to see how disgustingly wrong this final segment is. If he ignores everything else, I want him to fully understand how much of an idiot he is here.

Let's start with the first statement. In the very source he cites for his statistics on how many women have reported orgasms during rape, the author rejects the idea that the women liked it. She explains that this is a result of fear, not arousal. This is an example of excitation-transfer theory, where the residual excitation of one stimulus can amplify the excitatory response to another stimulus. She gives the example of tickling, where it can either be a pleasureful experience or a very bad one, but both produce the same response: laughing. Just because the person is laughing, though, does not mean they unconsciously enjoy being tickled. This is a stupid position to take. So is the position that women having orgasms speaks to their unconscious desire to have violent, dominant sexual intercourse. Again, it's the fear. This is yet another example of Dr. Furtună cherry picking his data.

"Enjoy" -- said only the biggest idiots ever.
But even ignoring all of this, however, remember the study I cited earlier that I said would be important? Well, this is why. If we were to concede that masculine facial features has anything to deal with dominant behaviour in men, then the association is still eliminated by perception of the woman's fear that the man will act aggressively against them. Thus, the idea that these women who have orgasms during rape are somehow still sexually attracted to their aggressor is, again, total nonsense.

He, again, cites a study about women who would stay with their abusive husband; but this time, he cites a study giving the alleged motive for why they stay with their partners. What Dr. Furtună failed to mention was that Panchanadeswaran et al. (2010) used a sample of urban low-income minority women -- in other words, women who are most likely to be in need of financial assistance; which, I don't know, could be a massive confounding variable in the results.

The thing is, the study doesn't even say that the women only stayed with their husbands because they felt safe. More than half of the respondents said that their husbands were highly dependable, which would serve to mitigate their decision to leave an abusive husband. They aren't inclusive factors. Their abusive, dominant nature isn't what caused them to stay with their husbands. It was their dependability.

Furthermore, this isn't even the worst part about this. Recall something Dr. Furtună said earlier in his article:
"As regarding a lasting romantic relationship or marriage, the interpersonal aggressiveness, unleashed by a man, could diminish the women’s interest (they being afraid of getting aggressively dominated) [Snyder et al., 2008]."
And again, given the context of the data I warned would be important: how does any of this make any sense? These women would be significantly opposed to staying with their abusive husbands. So again, do you see what I see? Dr. Furtună makes a completely ridiculous claim which is (1) not true; (2) at odds with the data; (3) not evidenced by the source he cited; and, (4) contradictory to his own statements earlier in the article. All of Dr. Furtună's speculations about why women don't leave their violent, abusive husbands is completely inconsistent with his own sources; and not only that, it's inconsistent with his own damn claims.

I don't need much of a closer for this one, but let me say this: to any science enthusiast who also happens to be a skeptic, do not falter just because you see a statement being made by someone who is supposedly qualified in their field. One person alone is not enough to settle the science; and, as we can see, individuals are capable of some particularly egregious errors and lies. I would speculate on my own that perhaps the reason Dr. Furtună paid so much attention to this alleged ethological approach to women liking "bad boys" is because he perceives himself as having many of the traits that he believes attract women. Maybe it's justification for his own sexist views.

Whatever the case may be, I'm tired of seeing Dr. Furtună spam his articles all over Google+ and in communities that I am a participant in. I'm calling him out here. I dare him to respond.

Thank you all very much for reading.

EDIT (12/21/14): It seems Dr. Furtună has seen this article and edited his own to remove his embarrassing use of a satire as evidence for his claims. I'll continue reading through it to see if he changes more, but you can download the original article in .txt here. The dishonesty never ends!

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Friday, December 12, 2014

Guns And Controllers: Do Violent Video Games Cause Aggressive Behaviour? A Review Of Meta-Analytic Research

Let me be upfront concerning my views about this topic. Until now, when I decided to research the evidence and examine its credibility, I never gave much credence to the idea of violent video games causing aggressive behaviour. To me, it just seemed counter-intuitive: now more than ever, children of all demographics and backgrounds are playing video games, and many of the most favoured are clearly violent in nature. Meanwhile, the violent crime rate is decreasing to levels we haven't seen in decades. How could both of these facts be true at the same time if violent video games have significant impacts on behaviour?

The answer is simple: plenty of factors play into crime. While the overall trend may be a decrease in violent crime, there still may be underlying factors which are keeping the rate of its decline lower than may be attainable. Does that mean I think that video games are a terribly important factor for consideration in this sense? Not really. I think that video games have the potential to affect behaviour, but that the real-world implications of this fact are minimal, manifesting in maybe only a handful of cases each year. I do think it has important societal implications in terms of our attitudes towards others, but one could consider these to be superficial concerns.

How likely is this? Would we be willing to accept it?
The implications of the research are not my concern. At present, the evidence for such claims as those above is unclear, and the evidence for behavioural effects from playing violent video games is up for scrutiny in itself. Here, I would like to present the best evidence we presently have available, and review how the academic community sees this issue. Again, I will not be going over what policies should be implemented, if any, in response to the literature; I will only be examining the question itself: do violent video games cause aggressive behaviour?

The short answer is, probably. The long answer is that with the evidence we have, we can confidently state that violent video games have at least a minimal effect, but probably a fairly substantial effect on various behavioural and cognitive traits. Most researchers in this field do not deny the small correlations and causal evidence, but how significant these are depends on who you go to, as stated. The primary debate can be seen among meta-analytic reviews of the data from some prominent researchers of this topic.

The first is Craig Anderson, who has been one of the most significant contributors to the scientific literature in this area. Anderson has conducted two meta-analyses to date of the literature: one in 2001, the other in 2010. The first one, entitled "Effects of Violent Video Games on Aggressive Behavior, Aggressive Cognition, Aggressive Affect, Physiological Arousal, And Prosocial Behavior: A Meta-Analytic Review of the Scientific Literature," was published in the Psychological Science. Here, Anderson and Bushman -- another lead researcher in this field -- reviewed 35 research reports with a total of 4,262 participants, 46% of whom were under the age of 18. In 33 independent tests of 3,033 individuals, they found that video game violence was associated with heightened aggression. They note that the association is as strong as the effect of condom use on risk of HIV infection. They found that this association remained significant across gender, age, and experimental versus non-experimental design, thus showing that violent video games do result in real-world heightened aggression. In addition to this, in 8 independent tests of 676 participants, playing violent video games was negatively correlated with prosocial behaviour in both experimental and nonexperimental designs. In 20 studies of 1,495 participants, there was a causal link between violent video games and aggressive cognition. In 17 tests of 1,151 participants, playing violent video games resulted in aggressive affect. Finally, in 7 tests of 395 participants, violent video games were associated with physiological arousal.

Their second meta-analysis was much more robust, as much research had been conducted since their first analysis with improved methodologies as well. In "Violent Video Games Effects on Aggression, Empathy, and Prosocial Behavior in Eastern and Western Countries: A Meta-Analytic Review," published in Psychological Bulletin, Anderson et al. reviewed 130 research reports of over 130,000 participants. In 70 independent effects of 18,000 participants, violent video games were causally linked to both short-term and long-term aggressive behaviour. In 50 independent effects of over 12,000 participants, violent video games were causally linked to aggressive cognition. In 62 studies of over 17,000 participants, playing violent video games had a causal effect on aggressive affect. In 23 studies of 9,645 participants, violent video games had a negative effect on prosocial behaviour. Again, violent video games also had a causal effect on physiological arousal. Finally, presented as a new outcome variable in 32 studies of 8,528 participants, playing violent video games was causally linked to a decline in empathy and an increase in desensitization to violence. All of these effects existed regardless of country, culture, age, sex, or study design.

Craig Anderson, a.k.a. "The Target"
The latter of these two studies is considered to be paramount in this debate, as it seems to have the most superior study design. Some have criticized the methodology, although the arguments are not very strong. The first argument is that the study authors had to decide which methodologies were superior to others, and so the effect sizes increased to which studies they favoured, suggesting effect bias. This isn't an argument anyone familiar with meta-analytic research would make. If there is any question of whether or not the effect sizes granted to different studies was flawed, one can always read the methodology report. In this case, Anderson et al. excluded studies which included pilot testing of nonviolent video games and as well as studies which tested, for example, the physiological arousal of participants who played nonviolent video games as well as violent video games. If you wish to read their methodology, it's available, but there is nothing to suggest that it's unsound.

The other argument presented in the article was that Anderson et al. included unpublished studies as well as published studies. Intuitively, this may seem like a valid point: if a study wasn't good enough to get published, then why should it be given considerable weight in comparison to published studies? The fact is, however, that this is also not a reasonable argument in terms of meta-analytic analysis. While differences exist between meta-analytic researchers and editors of journals which publish these meta-analyses, the overall attitude is that the use of unpublished studies in meta-analytic reviews is preferable to account for publication biases.

In fact, this was a major flaw in one of the competing meta-analytic reviews of the literature in this field. The lead study author for these studies was Christopher Ferguson, who can be viewed as the antithesis of Anderson. One of his own criticisms of Anderson's meta-analyses was that half of the studies he cites are conducted by himself. Again, this seems suspect at a visceral level, but is not faulty methodology as far as I know. Ferguson actually published two meta-analytic reviews of the scientific literature, but I can only seem to find access to the more recent one from 2009. Both had the flaw of not including unpublished studies, but we will review Ferguson's research as it's still important.

Ferguson's meta-analysis was entitled "The Public Health Risks of Media Violence: A Meta-Analytic Review," and was published in The Journal of Pediatrics. As stated, unlike Anderson's meta-analyses, Ferguson excluded unpublished papers, but claimed that this is standard meta-analytic procedure, and that they did this because they included an analysis on publication bias. They also excluded papers from before 1998, as they alleged the outdated methodologies may "pollute" the results. Ferguson and Kilburn examined 27 studies of an unspecified number of participants, though only 15 of the studies dealt with video games. The results show that the studies display a minimal correlation between playing video games and aggressive behaviour, and that the effect size (as well as the strength of the correlation) highly depend on the methodology. They discuss multiple criticisms of Anderson & Bushman's meta-analysis in 2001, but Anderson et al. addressed most of these criticisms in their 2010 study. In addition, Rowell Huesmann published a response to critiques of Anderson's 2010 meta-analysis.

And in this corner... Christopher Ferguson
As we can see, Ferguson's study is limited by sample size compared to the two meta-analyses led by Anderson. It should not be discounted, however, simply for its limitations -- it should only be noted that the weight of Ferguson's study may not be comparable to Anderson's studies. I'll admit, there is quite a heated battle between these two individuals, and so it would be beneficial to briefly defer to other reviews of the literature, namely two that have gotten the most attention.

The first one, entitled "Violent Video Games and Aggression: Why Can't We Find Effects?" was published by John Sherry in 2007. His goal was to challenge multiple theories of media impacts on violence and see if the evidence was consistent with them. He concluded that there was a minimal effect on behaviour by violent video games, and suggested that perhaps previous findings were amplified by methodologies. One example he gave was for exposure time: studies which had longer exposure times had smaller effect sizes, suggesting that the effects decrease over time. This isn't terribly inconsistent with prior findings, but Anderson et al. (2010) divided their results by study design and found that the effect persists even in longitudinal studies.

The other meta-analysis has a lot more to discuss. Published by Greitemeyer and Mügge, the study was entitled "Video Games Do Affect Social Outcomes: A Meta-Analytic Review of the Effects of Violent and Prosocial Video Game Play" and was published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin this year, making it the most recent meta-analysis to date. The authors reviewed 98 independent studies of 36,965 participants to test both positive and negative social outcomes. Separate meta-analyses were conducted for violent and prosocial video game exposure. They note that the effects for both outcomes were reliable across experimental, correlational and longitudinal studies. Consistent with Sherry (2007), they found that studies with longitudinal designs had the lowest effect sizes, while experimental designs had the highest. In 43 independent studies of 21,215 participants, violent video games significantly effected violent behaviour. At the same time, in 6 independent studies of 693 participants, prosocial video games inspired prosocial behaviour, meaning that video games can play an effect on social outcomes regardless of what that outcome is. It could be argued (and I would agree) that a balance should be struck: violent video games should perhaps look into ways to incorporate prosocial behaviour while maintaining their violent nature for players who are interested in that type of game. Some studies have actually suggested this, but the overall effect is clear based on the data that violent video games cause a significant effect on social outcomes.

There are a lot of recent studies examining the relationship further, many of them conducted by Ferguson or Anderson, but I think I've covered enough ground here. Some individuals are not convinced by the literature, especially those (such as myself) who don't want to admit that some of their favourite video games have negative effects on social outcomes and may play a role, in some cases, in violent actions. In these cases where emotion clouds reason (again, such as in my own case), it's always informative to look at what the academic consensus is by looking to relevant scientific organizations and their public statements on the issue.

Without fail, the American Psychological Association (APA) released such a policy statement in 2005. The statement reads that violent media across all mediums has a significant effect on aggressive behaviour, but there exists some nuance. For example, in the 16% of media depictions where violent behaviour is punished either physically or financially, it can actually inhibit aggressive or violent behaviour. Overall, however, the literature suggests that media does play a role in individual behaviour, psychology and social outcome.

This statement did not go without criticism. In response, Ferguson led an international group of 228 media scholars, psychologists and criminologists to suggest that the APA revise their statement to address recent literature and possible methodological flaws in past studies. The statement is now up for review, a task force has been appointed to review the literature, and a revised statement is expected to be published some time this year; although, since it's December, I don't know how feasible that is. I will post the results at the bottom of this article if and when it comes up.

So, if we want to individually look at the scientific literature, it seems that there is substantial evidence that violent video games do cause aggressive behaviour and other psychological effects, but that there may be some flaws in methodology, some overlooked studies, biases, etc. which may exaggerate how great the effect is. If we want to go by the consensus, it seems that there may not be one; however, as of 2005, the APA stance was in support of this interpretation of the literature. In addition, APA Executive Director of Science Steven J. Breckler expressed support of their prior conclusions, noting: "since then, the literature has evolved and, if anything, adds more support to that position. Nevertheless, this is an area of ongoing research, and other perspectives are emerging." To offer support to the opposing side, the author of that article suggests that there is disagreement among researchers. Of course I would agree with this conclusion; however, how broad that disagreement is, and whether or not it is a representation of the literature is up for interpretation.

As much as I don't want it to be true, if one goes by the evidence or the APA's stance on the issue, it seems the only justifiable conclusion is that violent video games probably do cause aggressive behaviour and violent outcomes. How this effect manifests in different individuals, however, is up for debate and individual examination. I personally think that it is most likely to manifest in already desensitized individuals or those who are prone to such behaviours or outcomes, but the data seems to suggest that it goes beyond that. The concern now should be on settling the debate and further researching just how great these effects are, and what the implications are for real-world practices. Even if one doesn't like the findings of the research, it's important to not let our biases get in the way of objectivity and truth. Things can't always be what we want them to be.

I wish that other researchers would look more deeply into dissent and find the reasons for it, and give more credence to the opposing views. At the end, the author of that article states that violent video games without a doubt cause aggressive behaviour, and "don't believe anyone who tells you otherwise." This attitude seems unwarranted; while the research does lend more credence to her position, researchers shouldn't poison the well and act like the debate is absolutely settled and that anyone who doesn't think so is dishonest. That stance is dishonest, since the data is still under review. In the end, the only solution for the debate is time.

Thank you all very much for reading.

[EDIT (12/30/15): I have written an article in regards to the APA's new resolution and report on this topic. You can read it here.]

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ResearchBlogging.orgAnderson, CA & Bushman, BJ (2001). "Effects of Violent Video Games on Aggressive Behavior, Aggressive Cognition, Aggressive Affect, Physiological Arousal, And Prosocial Behavior: A Meta-Analytic Review of the Scientific Literature." Psychological Science DOI: 10.1037/e315012004-001

Anderson CA, Shibuya A, Ihori N, Swing EL, Bushman BJ, Sakamoto A, Rothstein HR, & Saleem M (2010). "Violent video game effects on aggression, empathy, and prosocial behavior in eastern and western countries: a meta-analytic review." Psychological bulletin, 136 (2), 151-73 PMID: 20192553

Ferguson, C., & Kilburn, J. (2009). "The Public Health Risks of Media Violence: A Meta-Analytic Review." The Journal of Pediatrics, 154 (5), 759-763 DOI: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2008.11.033

Greitemeyer, T., & Mugge, D. (2014). "Video Games Do Affect Social Outcomes: A Meta-Analytic Review of the Effects of Violent and Prosocial Video Game Play." Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40 (5), 578-589 DOI: 10.1177/0146167213520459

Huesmann, L. (2010). "Nailing the coffin shut on doubts that violent video games stimulate aggression: Comment on Anderson et al. (2010)." Psychological Bulletin, 136 (2), 179-181 DOI: 10.1037/a0018567

Sherry (2007) was omitted from the sources since I couldn't find the DOI. This source is problematic for several reasons, including its lack of accessibility. I may consider omitting it from the article in the future depending on whether or not it becomes problematic.

*Additional studies have been mentioned in the comments section. I would suggest giving them a look to get a full review of the literature, as the above article is not comprehensive.*