Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Reactions to Media Violence: It’s in the Brain of the Beholder

Media portraying violence is part of daily exposures. The extent to which violent media exposure impacts brain and behavior has been debated. Yet there is not enough experimental data to inform this debate. We hypothesize that reaction to violent media is critically dependent on personality/trait differences between viewers, where those with the propensity for physical assault will respond to the media differently than controls. The source of the variability, we further hypothesize, is reflected in autonomic response and brain functioning that differentiate those with aggression tendencies from others. To test this hypothesis we pre-selected a group of aggressive individuals and non-aggressive controls from the normal healthy population; we documented brain, blood-pressure, and behavioral responses during resting baseline and while the groups were watching media violence and emotional media that did not portray violence. Positron Emission Tomography was used with [18F]fluoro-deoxyglucose (FDG) to image brain metabolic activity, a marker of brain function, during rest and during film viewing while blood-pressure and mood ratings were intermittently collected. Results pointed to robust resting baseline differences between groups. Aggressive individuals had lower relative glucose metabolism in the medial orbitofrontal cortex correlating with poor self-control and greater glucose metabolism in other regions of the default-mode network (DMN) where precuneus correlated with negative emotionality. These brain results were similar while watching the violent media, during which aggressive viewers reported being more Inspired and Determined and less Upset and Nervous, and also showed a progressive decline in systolic blood-pressure compared to controls. Furthermore, the blood-pressure and brain activation in orbitofrontal cortex and precuneus were differentially coupled between the groups. These results demonstrate that individual differences in trait aggression strongly couple with brain, behavioral, and autonomic reactivity to media violence which should factor into debates about the impact of media violence on the public.
Source: PLOS One

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