TAMIU Student, Professor Publish Research
Posted: 1/17/13

TAMIU Student, Professor Research
on Media Violence Published

Exposure to violent television shows has no influence on actual empathy toward victims of real-life violence reveals a new study by Texas A&M International University senior psychology student, Raul Ramos, and TAMIU College of Arts and Sciences department of psychology and communication and associate professor of psychology, Dr. Christopher J. Ferguson.

The study, “Comfortably Numb or Just Yet Another Movie? Media Violence Exposure Does Not Reduce Viewer Empathy for Victims of Real Violence Among Primarily Hispanic Viewers,” was published in the American Psychological Association’s journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture.

“The study explored whether exposure to violent television programs resulted in decreased empathy among viewers for victims of real-life violence,” said Dr. Ferguson.

He explained that empathy refers to our ability to take the perspective of another and to feel compassion for them if they are hurt or suffering.

In the study, led by Ramos, 238 mostly Hispanic, young adults were randomized to watch either a violent or nonviolent TV show. Participants also watched clips of either fictional victims of violence (i.e., movie clips) or clips of actual people being injured or killed. Participants were significantly more empathic of victims’ suffering when they knew they were watching real violence rather than fictional violence. Empathy was not influenced, however, by whether they had viewed a violent or non-violent show prior to the clips.

“I wasn’t too surprised by the results because I had already looked into the background literature while I was waiting on the results. Previous studies led me to believe that the subject’s empathy would not be effected,” said Ramos.

These results suggest that, at least among a primarily Hispanic audience, viewers’ processing of media depends upon whether they understand it to be real or fictional, and media violence does not necessarily reduce empathy to real-life violence.

“Feeling empathy is an important component of helping or civic behavior and empathy is also associated with decreased likelihood of aggression toward others,” Ferguson said.

This was the second time Ramos worked on a study with Ferguson, but it was the first time where he had primary authorship. It was also his senior thesis.

“I ran all the experimental sessions we had going for well over a semester. Once the experimental sessions were done and all our surveys accounted for, I entered all the data—roughly 238 surveys,” Ramos said.

“After that, I wrote up the study and Dr. Ferguson helped with the results and helped me edit and tailor the paper. I put a lot of effort into the study, but as my senior thesis, it was a symbol of everything I learned in my four years here. The experience gave me a chance to grow and learn as a person and researcher,” Ramos added.

“It’s not common for undergraduates to have their research published, which speaks to the quality of Raul’s work. Having his work published in this way will certainly make him more attractive to Ph.D. or M.D. programs he may consider applying to in the future,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson took part in the meeting between Vice President Joe Biden and video game industry executives held last week.

“Biden appeared to be interested in having an idea of what the research said from the researchers present and to examine ways in which the video game industry might be able to improve its public image. The researchers present stated that the current research could not support claims that video games were linked to societal violence. However, all agreed further research is certainly welcome,” he said.

Ferguson has written numerous articles on the effects of video games that have debunked studies claiming video games are harmful.

For more information, contact Ferguson at cferguson@tamiu.edu, 326.2636 or visit office in Dr. F. M. Canseco Hall, room 302C.

University office hours are 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., Monday – Friday.

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