INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
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The Creative Artist, Mental Disturbance, and Mental HealthElliot Benjamin is a philosopher, mathematician, musician, counselor, writer, with Ph.Ds in mathematics and psychology and the author of over a hundred published articles in the fields of humanistic and transpersonal psychology, pure mathematics, mathematics education, spirituality & the awareness of cult dangers, art & mental disturbance, and progressive politics. He's currently the director of the Transpersonal Psychology Program at Akamai University. He has also written a number of self-published books, including Numberama: Recreational Number Theory In The School System, Modern Religions: An Experiential Analysis And Exposé, and The Creative Artist, Mental Disturbance, and Mental Health. Elliot enjoys playing the piano, tennis, and ballroom dancing, and can be contacted at ben496@prexar.com. See also: www.benjamin-philosopher.com.

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Media Violence and Mental Disturbance

A Case for Concern and More Research Needed

Response to Bryan O'Doherty

Elliot Benjamin

"Violent video games are like peanut butter.... They are harmless for the vast majority of kids but are harmful to a small minority with pre-existing personality or mental health problems."
— Chris Ferguson

Although I appreciate Bryan O'Doherty taking the time to respond to my essay Killing Sprees and Media Violence [1] with his recent critique [2], I have a number of concerns about his understanding of what my article was all about. In my previous Integral World articles I have been very careful to always be clear to describe that my use of the term "integrated" was not meant to be synonymous with Ken Wilber's Integral theory, but rather was an intentionally simplified description of looking at things from various perspectives. In particular, I have previously described what I mean by "integrated" as follows:

An approach that unifies diverse perspectives, which is consistent with the basic framework of "integral," but without utilizing the particulars of Wilber's theory of four quadrants, eight perspectives, levels and lines, traits and types, etc. [3]

However, I made the error of not including this description in my Killing Sprees and Media Violence essay, and I fully take responsibility for this omission, as apparently Bryan has construed my use of the term "integrated" to mean my lack of knowledge of Wilber's use of the term "integral." Much to the contrary, I am extremely familiar with Wilber's Integral Theory [4] as well as Beck & Cowan's Spiral Dynamics theory and color schemes [5] that Bryan is obviously very taken with, as he uses the Spiral Dynamics color scheme quite extensively in his analysis of gun violence (cf. [2]). But I generally do not make use of these theories in my Integral World essays, as my focus is on a combination of my own experiences along with an analysis of what the relevant research studies have come up with. In my essay that Bryan responded to, I described some of my own experiences in the mental health field with at-risk adolescents, and although I reported a number of serious concerns that researchers have found in regard to possible negative effects on adolescents of media violence, and in particular violent video games, I was also very careful to include the other side of the research--whose findings can be summarized by saying that these researchers have not found there to be detrimental effects on adolescents from engaging in these activities. In particular what I said was as follows:

However, there is also research that suggests the opposite conclusion: which is that violent video games do not lead to increases in aggression and violence....One argument that researchers have used to discount the connection between video game violence and real life violence can be seen from crime statistics which demonstrate that from 1996 to 2006, youth violence was declining while video games sales were increasing, and that in this same time period there has been no statistically significant increase in mass murders or school shootings....Some of the possible "beneficial" effects of playing violent games given by researchers who have concluded that violent video games do not have any significant effect on real world violence are certainly interesting and should be explored further. These include a vehicle to safely express hostility in a "virtual" environment, keeping adolescents off the streets and out of danger for long periods of time while they are immersed in their video games, and enhancement of concentration and visual and manual dexterity skills....It is indeed a strong argument--and one that needs to be explained, that youth violence has actually been decreasing while video games sales has been increasing. (cf. [1])

When I read Bryan's criticism of my essay with his explanation of his own benefits of safely acting out his violent impulses through playing these video games, it astonished me how he could have read my essay and ignored everything I have just quoted. Yes I happen to have two Ph.Ds and I like to be called either Elliot or Dr. Benjamin. But I absolutely do not focus on anyone's academic credentials when listening to a person's ideas or critique of anything I write. However, I do insist that someone at least read and think about what I am saying in its entirety before writing a response. I don't think this is unreasonable to expect, and I must say that I am quite disappointed that Bryan O'Doherty chose to ignore what I think was my very balanced portrayal of what the research thus far has given us in regard to whether or not adolescents are at-risk from playing violent video games.

In a similar context, Bryan spent much of his response essay in defending the use of guns, as he reacted against one statement I made about gun control. However, I purposefully said very little about the whole political issue of gun control, basically because I actually feel a sense of conflict about this issue. Yes I did mention I would like to see as much gun control as possible, but I am actually undecided about the issue of having more policemen in the schools. I wish that Bryan would have written his own essay about gun control without making assumptions about what I believe or do not believe about this whole issue when my own essay was not at all focused on the use of guns.

Similarly, I have no idea why Bryan would make the assumption that I am ignoring internal psychological mental disturbance factors, such as "psychosis of the individual and his subsequent premeditated action" (cf [2]). Once again, my essay was not focused on the mental health issue but on media violence and violent video games. I choose not to play the red-blue-green-orange-integral Spiral Dynamics color game, but I can assure Bryan that I fully understand the complexity of the mental health issues involved, and I am exceedingly interested in both the external community as well as the internal dynamic issues involved, as I have described in some of my writings about mental health [6]. Once again, I wish Bryan would have written his own essay about the mental health issues related to violent crimes, instead of making assumptions of what I think about this when the mental health issues per se were not the focus of my essay.

However, given that Bryan has stimulated me to write a bit more about this whole horrific situation of gun violence, I will add a few things that I have learned about the mental health related to violence issue since I have written my last essay, in which I included the following passage:

I believe that what is most critical here are the possible effects of excessively playing violent video games on individuals who are mentally disturbed to begin with. There does not appear to be much research along these lines, but one preliminary research study that examined this to some extent is reported in 2010 with the following brief conclusion...."Previous research has shown us that personality traits like psychoticism and aggressiveness intensify the negative effects of violent video games." (cf. [1])

The 2010 study that I was referring to was done by Patrick Markey and Charlotte Markey, and is based upon the well respected Five Factor theory of personality, which includes the dimensions of neuroticism, extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness [7]. From an analysis of past studies of individuals playing violent games based upon the Five Factor theory of personality, the researchers found that individuals who scored high on aggressiveness--which involved "having the propensity to engage in verbal and physical aggression, and hostile in their cognitive patterns," and psychoticism--which was described as "tend to be cold, lacking in sympathy, unfriendly, untrustworthy, odd, unemotional, unhelpful, antisocial, and paranoid" (cf. [7]), were more likely to have scored higher on measures of hostility and aggression.

However, as I mentioned in my previous article (cf. [1]), there has not been a lot of research done on studying the effects of media violence specifically on individuals who are at-risk for mental disturbance. Nevertheless, the study I have described above comes very highly recommended, by none other than one of the leading researchers who promotes the theory that violent video games do not "in general" have detrimental effects on individuals. I am referring to Dr. Chris Ferguson, who with his colleagues has authored over 40 published peer-reviewed research articles promoting his views about the non-harmful effects of media violence--and in particular violent video games [8]. But in regard to children who are at-risk for mental disturbance, Chris Ferguson said the following in 2010:

Violent video games are like peanut butter....They are harmless for the vast majority of kids but are harmful to a small minority with pre-existing personality or mental health problems [9].

I was curious to know if Chris Ferguson had the same opinion two years later, and he graciously returned my e-mail query with the following comments, in which he at first commends the above 2010 study by Patrick Markey and Charlotte Markey, which he himself actually accepted for publication while he was the guest editor of the journal in which it appeared. Dr. Ferguson then described a few additional relevant recent studies that have been done--including one of his own, and he concluded his e-mail by saying that overall the results were mixed, but that he still advises caution on the part of parents [10].

This is a very important question. I'm of course aware of Patrick Markey's work (I actually accepted it for publication as guest editor of that journal) and respect it very much....Unsworth, Devilly and Ward, found rather variable effects...some kids with preexisting problems saw worsening behavior after exposure to violent video games, but others actually improved (most evidenced no change whatsoever). So...the answer is...it's complex and needs more research..... That having been said I still think it's a hypothesis worth exploring. So far we haven't really had the kind of study we'd like to see looking at this issue with severely mentally ill children...I think what you could probably say is "Research indicates that video game violence has little negative impact on most kids, however we still don't know much about the impact of violent games on kids with preexisting mental health problems. Parents are cautioned to avoid these games until we know more" or something like that.

Let me be clear that my own personal opinion is markedly different from what Chris Ferguson believes (and Bryan O'Doherty as well) about the innocuous nature of violent video games on kids "in general." But as I said at the outset of this response essay, I go by a combination of my own experiences and the relevant research. My own experiences, based upon my three years of work with adolescents in community mental health and my gut-level feelings, tells me that there may very well be concrete detrimental effects from media violence, and in particular from playing violent video games, on children and adolescents who are at-risk for mental disturbance. However, there is by no means enough research to establish this one way or the other, and I appreciate Chris Ferguson's open-minded statement of recommended caution to parents who have children that are at-risk for mental disturbance, to avoid violent video games. I certainly agree with Dr. Ferguson about this, and I think it is very important that substantial research be undertaken to gain more understanding of what is truly going on here [11]. And lastly, the kind of research I think needs to be done is multi-faceted (dare I say "integrated"?), meaning a combination of rigorous survey and statistical studies, often referred to as "nomothetic" approaches, along with experiential and narrative studies, often referred to as "idiographic" approaches. As Mark Freeman described in a 2012 American Psychological Conference symposium entitled Understanding and Predicting Violent Behavior: A Variety of Pathways [12]:

One principle central to narrative psychology--the qualitative study of individual lives through both "small stories" (those emerging in everyday encounters) and "big stories" (those emerging through in-depth interviews and other such methodological tools geared toward exploring lives over longer spans of time) is that understanding any given bit of significant behavior requires seeing that behavior in the context of the life in question, and, in turn, the socio-cultural world within which that life has taken place....Understanding violent behavior entails (1) understanding the lives in which this behavior emerges, both in small story and big story context (e.g., through ethnographic observation and in-depth interviews, respectively); 2) understanding the socio-cultural backdrop of these lives, focusing especially on those "real life" factors that may have served to contribute to the behavior at hand; and 3) crafting a suitably comprehensive model of the dynamic interrelationship of the two, such that some measure of generality may be established....Idiographic methodological approaches, as they are found both in narrative psychology and in qualitative inquiry more generally, can productively work in tandem with nomothetic approaches in generating valid and valuable knowledge of human behavior and experience.

Thus I conclude with how I began--I advocate for "integrated" approaches, but I choose not to align my intentionally simple use of the term "integrated" with Wilber's use of the term "integral," and certainly not with Spiral Dynamic color schemes. I enjoy intellectual discussions and I am very open to critiques of my articles, but I think it is only fair to ask that one reads what a writer is actually saying, and not what one is personally reading into it, before publicly responding to an article. As I said, I take personal responsibility for not continuing to clarify what I meant by the term "integrated" in my most recent article. But the misrepresentation and ignoring of all that I researched and reported upon to give both sides of the research findings on the question of possible detrimental effects of violent video games on children and adolescents is something that I find very disappointing. I can only hope that if Bryan O'Doherty chooses to continue responding to my essays in the public domain, that he will exhibit much more carefulness and intellectual responsibility in describing what I have written.

Notes

1) See Elliot Benjamin (2012). Killing Sprees and Media Violence: A Primary Culprit in an Integrated Perspective? www.integralworld.net

2) See Bryan O'Doherty (2012). Response to Elliot Benjamin. www.integralworld.net

3) See for example, Elliot Benjamin (2012). The Alleged Phenomenon of Life after Death: 1st Person/2nd Person and 3rd Person Integrated Perspectives. www.integralworld.net

4) See for example, Elliot Benjamin (2006). Integral Mathematics: A Four Quadrants Approach. www.integralworld.net

5) See Don Beck and Chris Cowan (1996). Spiral Dynamics: Managing Values, Leadership, and Change. London: Blackwell.

6) See for example, Elliot Benjamin (2011). Humanistic Psychology and the Mental Health Worker. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 51(1), 82-111.

7) See Patrick Markey and Charlotte Markey (2010). Vulnerability to Violent Video Games: A Review and Integration of Personality Research. Review of General Psychology, 14(2), 82-91.

8) See Chris Ferguson's Publications at http://www.tamiu.edu/~cferguson/pubs.html

9) See http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2010/06/violent-video-games.aspx

10) Chris Ferguson, Personal Communication, 12/29/12.

11) See Elliot Benjamin (2013). Killing Sprees, Media Violence, and Humanistic Psychology. La Voz de Esperanza (too appear in the February issue).

12) See Mark Freeman (2012).Violent Behavior and Violent Lives: Narrating the Connection. SCORE Newsletter, XXXV(1).




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