Rating Comic Book Violence: Contributions of Gender and Trait Hostility

Article excerpt

This study assessed the influence of gender and trait hostility on perceptions of extremelyviolent and mildly-violent comic books. Participants rated comic books on a variety of factors, including levels of violence and humor. Gender, but not trait hostility, was significantly related to the comic book ratings. The methodological and psychological implications of these findings are discussed.

Previous research has demonstrated that males and females prefer different types of media (Goldstein, 1999). For instance, Anderson and Dill (2000) found that adult males play more violent video games than do adult females. Similarly, Valkenburg and Janssen (1999) found that Ist through 4th grade Dutch and American boys, more than girls, preferred television shows with violence. Thus, cutting across age, culture, and presentation medium (e.g., television, video games) males, more than females, generally prefer media laden with violence. Additional research has shown that aggressive individuals prefer violent television shows more than do non-aggressive individuals (Goldstein, 1999).

Although previous studies indicate some personality and gender-based differences in preferences for watching media violence, little research has focused on whether gender and trait hostility are related to differential perceptions of extremely-violent and mildly-violent comic books. Recently, there has been a growing interest in the link between affect and cognition (Fiske & Taylor, 1991). One approach, the separate systems view, suggests that affective and cognitive processes operate independently, or in parallel paths, at least under some circumstances. Other approaches argue for the primacy of affect over cognition, or cognition over affect (Fiske & Taylor). Thus, it may be important to ultimately differentiate preferences from perceptions because, as past research has shown (e.g., Goldstein, 1999), although individuals prefer different types of media, these preferences may be independent of how they judge them. To address this issue, participants read either an extremely-violent or a mildly-violent comic book and then rated the comic book in terms of humor, violence, interest level and overall likeability.

METHOD

PARTICIPANTS

The participants were 246 introductory psychology students (69% female) at a mid-sized college in New York state.

PROCEDURE

Participants filled out the Buss-Durkee Hostility Inventory (BDHI; Buss & Durkee, 1957) to assess their trait level of hostility. Approximately 6-10 weeks later, participants were recruited to participate in the comic book study and were randomly assigned to read either a very violent or a mildly violent comic book. Finally, participants were asked a series of questions about their experience with comic books.

MATERIALS

Comic Books

The extremely-violent comic books shown to participants were Cremator, Curse of the Spawn, Dark Realm, Evil Ernie, Homicide, Purgatory, and Witchblade. Approximately 85% of the panels in the violent comic books contain violent acts and/or aggressive themes: examples include amputations, fighting, gore, killing, threatening words, property destruction, and forcible restraint. The mildly-violent comics shown to participants were Archie, Cherry Blossom, Dexter's Laboratory, Pocohontas, Rugrats, and Sabrina. Fewer than 10% of the panels in the mildly-violent comic books contain mildly violent acts and/or aggressive themes: examples include pushing, name calling, and tripping.

Comic Book History Form

Participants were asked to provide a list of the comic books which they had read in the last six months and to indicate how often they read comic books.

Comic Book Rating Form

Participants rated the violence, humor, interest level and overall likeability of their assigned comic book. All questions involved 7-point Likert-type scales.

Predispositional Anger

Participants' trait hostility was assessed using the BDHI, a 75-item instrument which, Geen (1998) states, is the most popular of all the personality measures that have been used in research on aggression. …