A new study of more than 13,000 adolescents in France finds a significant link between video game exposure and sexism.
The research is published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.
“Many different aspects of life can influence sexist attitudes,” said co-author Dr. Douglas Gentile, a professor of psychology at Iowa State University. “It was surprising to find a small but significant link between game play and sexism. Video games are not intended to teach sexist views, but most people don’t realize how attitudes can shift with practice.”
“Nonetheless, much of our learning is not conscious and we pick up on subtle cues without realizing it.”
Researchers did not look solely at video games, as they also measured the influence of television and religion. Interestingly, the relationship between religion and sexism was three times higher than video games.
However, Gentile was not surprised to find this relationship as many religions have historically taken a traditional view of gender roles, he said. Moreover, TV was unrelated to sexism after controlling for religion.
Gentile says this may be evidence of the growing number and variety of female character roles on TV compared to 20 years ago.
At the same time, researchers noted, “the usual critiques aimed at cross-sectional surveys fully apply here, particularly the limitations in terms of assessing causality. It may be that individuals with sexist orientations spend more time playing video games.”
Prior research has found that repeated exposure to media influences how we perceive and understand social realities. Gentile suggests that influence increases with repeated exposure.
The 13,520 adolescents, ages 11 to 19, surveyed for the study, spent approximately three hours a day watching TV and nearly two hours playing video games, on average.
Gentile and a team of French researchers did not measure the level of sexist content in the games played.
However, in the paper they cite previous studies that found more than 80 percent of female characters in video game magazines are portrayed as sexualized, scantily clad or a vision of beauty. More than a quarter of the characters fit all three categories.
To measure sexism, researchers asked participants if they agreed or disagreed with the following statement: “A woman is made mainly for making and raising children.” Participants who spent more time playing video games were more likely to agree.
In the study, researchers controlled for gender and socioeconomics. However, when analyzing the factors separately, sexism was higher among men with a lower socioeconomic status.
Participants attended schools in Lyon and Grenoble, France, two cities in the second largest and wealthiest region of France.
Although cultural differences often influence our attitudes, Gentile says the results are applicable across cultures because this study is focused on learned behaviors, not general cultural beliefs.
How we learn and detect cues is the same regardless of culture, he said.
That is, it’s important to understand that there are many things — religion, family, education, socioeconomic status — that influence sexist views.
In fact, Gentile says video games are not the most important factor, and it is interesting that they are related to sexism at all.
Source: Iowa State University