BYU study shows people act unethically when exposed to violent media

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Andrew Van Wagenen
David Hoynacki, Jonathan Flint, Donald Scott, and Stacey Mawhinney play video games together. A recent study provides a correlation between unethical decision making and exposure to on-screen violence.       (Andrew Van Wagenen)

A study conducted by BYU professors links the increase of unethical decisions to exposure of human violence through different media outlets.

The study, published in the Journal of Business Ethics, goes into great detail on how exposure to violence can lead to unethical decisions and delayed reaction to helping people. Professors Joshua R. Gubler and David A. Wood conducted the research through various experiments.

Gubler, a political science professor at BYU, said he thinks the study provides more information than what people would think.

“Research shows that violent media increases aggressive behavior towards others, but what we’re showing here is that it goes beyond that,” Gubler said.

In the research, three separate experiments were conducted to evaluate ethical decision-making by the subjects. In the first experiment, participants were paid to review sentences and edit the mistakes. Half of the sentences had violent terms. Of those who had violent terms, 24 percent of the participants didn’t make the corrections.

Wood, an accounting professor at BYU, shared why he and Gubler started researching violence and ethical decision making.

“Josh and I are in the same ward and commute to work together. We started asking ourselves, ‘What else does violence cause?'” Wood said.

There have been several studies in the past few years addressing video game violence and other violent media channels. In the most recent study by Wood and Gubler, they looked at the ethical side of things. The abstract of the study states, “we study how exposure to human violence, especially through media, can cause individuals to make less ethical decisions.”

Recent news would suggest people are being more aggressive and insensitive to violence. Ethical decision making is the main subject of concern in the research. To combat it, Wood said he doesn’t let his children watch any violent shows whatsoever.

“Even a small amount of violence in a show can have an impact on somebody,” Wood said.

The question at hand is whether or not violence in society is increasing. Kevin Foutz, a junior studying information systems, said he thinks violence will be more prevalent in the future because people are becoming less sensitive to on-screen violence.

“We will because people who watch those things have unrealistic expectations of violence. The violence can be taken lightheartedly,” Foutz said.

Wood and Gubler started the research a little over two years ago and had the study published towards the end of October. Several national and local outlets have contacted them about their research.

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