The problem of false positives and false negatives in violent video game experiments

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International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, ISSN: 0160-2527, Vol: 56, Page: 35-43

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Christopher J. Ferguson
Elsevier BV
Medicine, Social Sciences
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The problem of false positives and negatives has received considerable attention in behavioral research in recent years. The current paper uses video game violence research as an example of how such issues may develop in a field. Despite decades of research, evidence on whether violent video games (VVGs) contribute to aggression in players has remained mixed. Concerns have been raised in recent years that experiments regarding VVGs may suffer from both “false positives” and “false negatives.” The current paper examines this issue in three sets of video game experiments, two sets of video game experiments on aggression and prosocial behaviors identified in meta-analysis, and a third group of recent null studies. Results indicated that studies of VVGs and aggression appear to be particularly prone to false positive results. Studies of VVGs and prosocial behavior, by contrast are heterogeneous and did not demonstrate any indication of false positive results. However, their heterogeneous nature made it difficult to base solid conclusions on them. By contrast, evidence for false negatives in null studies was limited, and little evidence emerged that null studies lacked power in comparison those highlighted in past meta-analyses as evidence for effects. These results are considered in light of issues related to false positives and negatives in behavioral science more broadly.

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