ANN ARBOR—Playing violent video games about terrorism strengthens negative stereotypes about Arabs, even when Arabs are not portrayed in the games.
That is one of the findings of an innovative new study in the January issue of Psychology of Violence, a peer-reviewed journal published by the American Psychological Association.
"Our research suggests that parents, educators and others need to consider the harmful impact of stereotype-laden games on a group that has become a major target of prejudice within the United States," said University of Michigan researcher Muniba Saleem, co-author of the study with Iowa State University researcher Craig Anderson.
Saleem and Anderson recruited 204 participants, randomly assigning them to play one of three video games for 30 minutes. Two of the games were versions of "Counter-Strike," one with Arab terrorists and the other with Russian terrorists. The third game was a nonviolent golf game.
They gave participants paper and colored pencils, and asked them to draw four people: a "typical" Arab and Caucasian man and woman. Then raters coded the drawings based on the emotions depicted, stereotypical appearance and presence or absence of a weapon.
The standard tests showed that playing violent video games, even those featuring Russians as terrorists, increased anti-Arab attitudes. And the drawing test showed the same effect. Participants who played a terrorism-themed video game were more likely than those who played the golf game to draw Arabs with stereotypical traits and Arab men with weapons and angry expressions on their face.
"It's possible that the effects of video game stereotypes on anti-Arab attitudes are especially strong because of the overall lack of direct contact with Arabs among our participants," Saleem said.
In the absence of direct, personal contact, participants rely on media depictions of Arabs, which, Saleem points out, rarely show Arabs in a positive light.
"Clearly, additional work is needed on how video games might influence stereotypes and attitudes toward any outgroups that are depicted in these games, particular on the long-term effects," Saleem said.
"But it is vital to improve our understanding of this process, so we will be in a better position to reduce the harmful effects of negative beliefs about people, not only within a particular society, but between nations."
Established in 1949, the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research is the world's largest academic social science survey and research organization, and a world leader in developing and applying social science methodology, and in educating researchers and students from around the world. ISR conducts some of the most widely cited studies in the nation, including the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers, the American National Election Studies, the Monitoring the Future Study, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, the Health and Retirement Study, the Columbia County Longitudinal Study and the National Survey of Black Americans. ISR researchers also collaborate with social scientists in more than 60 nations on the World Values Surveys and other projects, and the institute has established formal ties with universities in Poland, China and South Africa. ISR is also home to the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research, the world's largest digital social science data archive. For more information, visit the ISR website at www.isr.umich.edu.