Research designs in applied social psychology
In 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold launched an assault on Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, murdering thirteen people and wounding twenty-three before killing themselves. Similar school shootings have occurred in other communities, such as Paducah, Kentucky, Jonesboro, Arkansas, Blacksburg, Virginia, and more recently at Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut. Although the exact causes for these attacks may never be known, one characteristic these events share is that all the shooters were young adults who habitually played violent video games. In light of this fact, many American politicians, including Senator Joe Lieberman and Vice President Joe Biden, responded to the recent Sandy Hook shooting by calling for a reassessment of the video game industry.
Since their introduction in the 1980s, video games have become increasingly popular. At the time, American children played video games an average of 4 hours per week (Harris and Williams, 1985). Now they play an average of 13 hours a week, with young boys averaging 16–18 hours (Martin and Oppenheim, 2007). Unfortunately, as video games increased in popularity, they also increased in violence. It is estimated that over 90 per cent of video games rated by the industry as ‘appropriate for everyone’ (E10+) contains violent content (Gentile, 2008). Despite the prevalence of violent video game content, little is known about the consequences of such exposure. A recent online poll suggests that only 13 per cent of people think video games play a role in school shootings (Goad, 2013), but just because people believe video games are harmless does not necessarily mean they are. Luckily, researcher Craig Anderson has devoted his career to this important social issue by designing a programme of research that investigates the relation between violent video game use and aggression. In our opinion, this line of research represents an ideal for the applied social scientist. This is because Anderson and his colleagues created a research programme that uses multiple studies with multiple designs in order to investigate a socially relevant topic. Our chapter will use this work as a springboard for discussing research design in applied social psychology.