sealPurdue Lifestyles Briefs

June 1999

Expert: Video game violence minimally affects kids

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. --A professor sits at his office computer, zapping aliens as he manipulates a character through the levels of a spaceship. But this isn't play, it's work.

The worker is John Sherry, Purdue University assistant professor of communication. He's designing a research study to test his theory that kids are attracted to video games not so much by the violence, but because the games present puzzles or problems to solve.

That's obviously the attraction for Sherry, an expert on media and children. As he maneuvers through the maze-like structure of the "Marathon" game, he seems to regard the shooting of aliens as a nuisance that interferes with his goal of finding a way out.

"Video games teach logic, hypothesis testing and problem solving," he says. "Granted, as a teen-ager I can recall some fascination with violent images, but that may not be the major attraction of these games for most kids."

He developed his theory after he a reviewed and studied all the research conducted on violent video games as a doctoral student in 1997. The studies dated back to the mid-1980s and included such games as "Pacman."

"There hasn't been much research on video games, but the overall effect of these games on aggressiveness in children doesn't appear great," Sherry says. "However, the effect does seem larger with the newer, more violent games."

Of the 27 studies he found, the outcomes were mixed. In some instances there was no effect on aggressiveness, while other studies showed moderate effects. "There was a trend for the more violent games to have bigger effects, but none of the effects would be called dramatic," he says.

Negative effects or not, Sherry says he won't let his young daughters play violent video games. "It's not because of the violence, but because research shows a definite problem with fear reactions from seeing violent images," he says. "Graphic violence can frighten children and lead to nightmares."

He also says parents should not find it surprising or alarming when children imitate the aggressive acts they see in games. Sherry says correcting bad behavior will bring it to an end. "The media cannot override good parenting," he says.

He adds that parents also must realize that television and video games are different media, and research findings about television do not carry over to the games. Some of the differences:

  • Video games are active; TV is passive.
  • Video games require focused attention; TV does not.
  • Video games represent fantasy; TV more closely imitates real life.

Sherry says that just as there are good and bad books and television shows, there are also plenty of good video games for children. "For example, the popular game 'Myst' teaches problem-solving skills without the violence," he says.

CONTACT: Sherry, (765) 494-0195;

Expert: Be more concerned about food safety than Y2K

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- You may have more to fear from home canning by novices than from Y2K computer crashes, says a Purdue University specialist.

Concerns about social and economic disruptions that might occur if computers crash at midnight on the last day of this year have prompted some people of both prudent and radical philosophies to investigate canning their own food. But Purdue Cooperative Extension Service foods and nutrition specialist Bill Evers says food preserved at home by inexperienced canners may be the more potent threat.

"Some people want to preserve their own food because they think that all of the supply and food delivery systems will fail at 12:01 a.m. on New Year's Day. We feel that the chance of food poisoning from home-preserved food is greater than the very, very unlikely chance of a collapse of the food delivery system," Evers says.

"In low-acid foods, essentially all non-fruits, the botulinum organism can grow and have a great time if it is not eliminated in the canning process. Canning requires pressure cooking with the proper canner at 10 pounds pressure to kill the organism and make food safe."

Evers points out that in addition to the danger of botulism, any food that is improperly handled is subject to growth of other food poisoning bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria, all of which can cause serious sickness or death.

For those who are concerned abut Y2K, he recommends common-sense planning such as laying in a few days supply of some dried foods. "If a person wants to, he or she could keep some dried milk, cereal, bread and a few containers of water."

CFS-119, "Keeping Food Safe During Emergencies," and similar publications on canning and food safety are available from Purdue Extension county offices, via the Internet or toll-free at (888) EXT-INFO (398-4636).

CONTACT: Evers, (765) 494-8546;

Expert: Films may carry a hidden pitch in the plot

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Moviegoers this summer may leave the theater with something more than a few smiles and a plot line to rehash.

A Purdue University consumer behavior expert says advertising by product placement on the big screen is hotter than ever and can influence consumers without them even realizing it.

"When we watch a movie or something on television, our defenses are down and we become more receptive to the messages that are coming at us," says Richard Heslin, a professor of psychology. "So this type of product placement is both a very effective 'niche' advertising tool and a bit unnerving at the same time."

Heslin says product placement in movies and television programs is particularly effective at increasing the overall awareness of a product, particularly within the audience targeted by the filmmakers. He says advertisers agree to pay big bucks because they know it's a great way to "soft sell."

"Certain brands of food or clothing used in major motion pictures, or power tools used on 'how-to' television shows, are integrated so carefully that the audience is unaware that their presence is a form of advertising," he says.

Another reason that product placement can be effective on television is that consumers tend to 'tune out' or take a break during commercials, says Jonathan Bohlmann, marketing professor in the Krannert School of Management at Purdue. Having the product sandwiched into the entertainment programming can lead to greater audience attention.

"Of course, a lot depends on the quality and quantity of the products' exposure. As an advertising medium, product placement is still a gamble," he says, "but one that can probably pay off if managed correctly."

CONTACTS: Heslin, (765) 494-6891;; Bohlmann, (765) 494-4466;

Compiled by Beth Forbes, (765) 494-9723;

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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