Department of Communication
University of Connecticut
850 Bolton Road, Unit 1085
Storrs, CT 06269-1085
The Causes and Consequences of
Presence: Considering the
Inﬂuence of Violent Video Games on Presence and Aggression
Wake Forest University
Winston-Salem, NC 27106
Kirstie M. Farrar
University of Connecticut
Storrs, CT 06269
The level of presence is likely to inﬂuence the effect of media violence. This project examines the causes and consequences of presence in the context of violent video game play. In a between subjects design, 227 participants were randomly assigned to play either a violent or a nonviolent video game. The results are consistent with what would be predicted by social learning theory and are consistent with previous presence research. Causal modeling analyses reveal two separate paths to presence: from individual differences and condition. The ﬁrst path reveals that individual differences (previous game use and gender) predict presence. Those who frequently play video games reported higher levels of presence than those who play video games less frequently. Males play more games but felt less presence than women. The second path is related to perceived violence: those who perceived the game to be more violent felt more presence than those who perceived less violence in the game. Both of these paths were inﬂuenced by frustration with the game, which reduced presence. Those who felt more presence felt more hostility and were more verbally aggressive than those who felt lower levels of presence. Higher levels of presence led to increased physically aggressive intentions. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.
Understanding the factors that inﬂuence the sense of presence and its potential inﬂuence on aggression may provide insight into the process of media effects generally. The sense of presence is generally deﬁned in terms of the sense of involvement with and engagement in media. Research has shown that presence inﬂuences how people respond to, and are affected by, mediated stimuli (Kim & Biocca, 1997; Lombard & Ditton, 1997; Steuer, 1992).
Therefore, understanding the causes and consequences of presence may help predict how and why people will respond to mediated stimuli, whether violent or not.
Both the exposure to mediated stimuli and the resulting levels of presence can inﬂuence viewers’ attitudes and behaviors. Both the level of presence with
Presence, Vol. 17, No. 3, June 2008, 256 –268
2008 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
*Correspondence to firstname.lastname@example.org.
256 PRESENCE: VOLUME 17, NUMBER 3
Nowak et al. 257
the media (Lombard, 1995; Reeves, Detenber, &
Steuer, 1993; Tamborini et al., 2004) and aggressive responses to mediated stimuli (Bushman, 1995, 1996) are inﬂuenced by individual differences (e.g., gender, media use), features of the medium (e.g., screen size, interactivity, vividness, agency), and context. These same factors inﬂuence media usage and perceptions of appropriate behavior through the social learning process.
While individual responses to media depictions may vary, there is little doubt that violent media inﬂuences everyone to some extent. After four decades of research, scholars have concluded that exposure to media depictions of violence can cause aggressive behavior including the imitation of violent acts (Donnerstein, 1994;
Krahe & Moller, 2004; Paik & Comstock, 1994; Wilson et al., 1997). There is also evidence of desensitization in that those who see more violence have a greater acceptance of, and tolerance for, violent behavior
(Funk, Baldacci, Pasold, & Baumgardner, 2004;
Thomas, Horton, Lippencott, & Drabman, 1977). As
Anderson (2004) argued, the “scientiﬁc debate over whether media violence has an effect is over” (p. 114).
Research using experimental, longitudinal, and cross sectional methods…