Opinion Change – Judgement and Decision Making


Another Boat Arrived: Should We Let Boat People into Australia?
November 2, 2010, 5:18 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

With so much controversy in the media surrounding asylum seekers, refugees and boat people, an inquiry into whether or not we should let boat people into the country seemed appropriate. The point of this inquiry is not to debate the merits of the government systems put into place to deal with asylum seekers, but to talk about the prevalence of boat people in the media and dispel some of the myths surrounding the issue.  When looking at the issue, it is important to understand the distinction between asylum seekers, refugees and boat people.

An asylum seeker is someone who says that he or she is a refugee but whose claim has not yet been assessed. A refugee is someone who has been assessed by a national government or an international agency (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2008). A “boat person” can be defined as a person arriving to Australia by means of irregular maritime travel.

A person meets the criterion for refugee if he or she is outside their own country and cannot return due to a well-founded fear of persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 1967).

There are, as of the Twenty Seventh of August 2010, 4,670 asylum seekers, 4,430 of which are irregular maritime arrivals or boat people, in detention facilities. Compare this to the planned level of immigration to Australia (Department of Immigration and Citizenship, 2010) which is currently at 168,700 immigrants with a further 13,750 places allocated for the humanitarian program. In contrast to a total immigration program intake of 182,450, the 4,430 boat people will make up below 3% of our total immigration intake, assuming of course that all claims are found to be genuine. You have to be left wondering why there is such a high prevalence of boat people in the media when the figures comparatively speaking are very small.

One such explanation for this is the sensationalised presentation of boat people through the media. With claims such as we are being inundated by boat people, claims that are completely unfounded and statistically unsubstantiated (Department of Immigration and Citizenship, 2010), one could rationalise that there is, on mass, hot cognitive processing taking place. People are forming opinions of boat people using hot cognitive processing which is not always conducive to form a sound base to form ration opinions. Instead of forming opinions based on facts and statistics, people are falling prey to the sensationalised media reports of swarms of boat people looking to take over the country.

This sensational presentation of the issue by the media is a clear example of playing on judgement heuristics. Due to the sensationally small amount of immigrants that come to Australia by irregular maritime travel, the general public simply does not gain exposure to boat people but from media reports. So with the constant over reporting by the media of boat arrivals, available heuristics dictates that people will compare this current arrival to the previous and start to believe that there really is a migration crisis. What isn’t reported is the other 178,020 people that are arriving to Australia by other means which could have a significant bearing on how people would view this issue.

Further to this notion of the media distorting judgement heuristics is the suggestion that boat people are illegals or cue jumpers. The constant bombardment that boat people are illegals or cue jumpers by the media, could have led to people believe that all asylum seekers arriving by boat are illegals, jumping official mediums to arrive in the country legally. This irrational and over reported representative heuristic is in no way indicative of the truth of the matter; they are well within International and Australian legal rights to come to seek asylum by irregular maritime means (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 1967). A more accurate representative heuristic would portray people fleeing from worn torn, politically and socially corrupt countries seeking refuge by any means.

Then there is the notion of boarder protection and the threat, as Wilson Tuckey (2009) describes as terrorist on boats. There is a strong tendency, epitomised in Tuckey’s views on boat people, that if we let in people who come seeking asylum via boat without official documents and without proper immigration papers, we are increasing the risk of allowing terrorist to gain access to Australia by the same means. This is a clear example of hot cognitive processing because if you look at it rationally, without the terrorist sensationalisation, you’ll notice that boat people undergo rigorous interview processing, some taking up to months to complete (Department of Immigration and Citizenship, 2010). There has not been a single documented case of a terrorist being smuggled in on a boat, any alleged terror suspects were born in Australia or came via plane with official visa (Edmund Rice Centre, 2010).  But to assert, as Tuckey does, that there are high levels of terrorist being admitted via boats (Farr, 2009) doesn’t really make sense; the people who are fleeing a terrorist regime in fear of being killed are in fact members of that regime simply because they are coming from that area; highly absurd. Gilovitch (1993) in this instance would say that in order to understand the situation, people are seeing patterns that simply aren’t there.

Further to this idea of pattern seeking tendencies, there is the notion that a weakening in boarder policies, such as the dismissal of hard line policies the pacific solution, which aimed at intercepting vessels and processing asylum applications offshore and temporary protection visa, visa which diminished the rights of the person holding it and only lasted 3 years, has led to the increase of boat people. Again Gilovitch (1993) would argue that, in order to understand the situation, people are seeing patterns that simply aren’t there. If you look at trends rates of asylum seekers over the past 20 years you’ll notice that asylum seekers increase and decrease in accordance with escalating and cessation of violence within war torn parts of the word (Edmund Rice Centre, 2010). That is not to say that there is only one reason for increases and decreases in the level of asylum seekers to say that would be wrong, as Gilovitch (1993) tries to point out, there are many different variables impacting any other one variable at any given time.

Another thing to take into consideration here is base rates, since World War two and the establishment of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in 1951, there has always been a need to regulate displaced people. That is that there have always been refugees, as such Gilovitch (1993) would suggest to look at base rates. People tend to attribute increases and decrease to causal factor, failing to take into consideration regression to the mean. Perhaps the level of boat people is higher this year than other years, but is it isn’t necessarily significantly so. Gilovitch (1993) would argue that people often infer causality, when in reality the likelihood of, for this instance, the increased number of boat people, could well be within the parameters of chance.

When you start looking at the numbers and trying to understand this issue from a cold cognitive perspective, it suddenly becomes very clear. Currently the Department of Immigration and Citizenship say there are 4,430 people who have arrived by boat to Australia seeking asylum and are in detention centres from this year. If you were to take this notion of increased violence as a predictor for increased asylum seekers, which, isn’t too much of a stretch, then you can look at previous statistical data and see if current trends map on. In 2001 there were 5,516 boats that came to Australia (Department of Immigration and Citizenship, 2010) during a period of fierce fighting in the Afghan region. This is similar to the current situation with fierce fighting occurring once again in the Afghan region. When looking at the data you can see, of the 4,670 asylum seekers in detention, 1,886 of them are Afghan refugees.

Similarly, as previously mentioned, when you take into consideration that of the predicted 182,450 migrants to the country, the 4,430 boat people will make up below 3% of our total immigration intake, assuming of course that all claims are found to be genuine, you really need to start to question the merits of the debate at all.

This issue is such an emotionally charged issue, to say ignore hot cognition when making an opinion on it would be folly; but to base your opinion solely on hot cognition would be the ultimate folly. You have to really sit and ask yourself, what is it that I really believe about boat people anyway? Is it that they are illegal terrorists, trying to circumvent the system for their own benefit to wage war on Australia? Or perhaps they are humans that undergo vast atrocities to their rights of freedom and are just looking for somewhere to be safe, making up the vast minority of migration to the country of Australia.

How well based is my opinion on boat people anyway? Do I have all the facts, or is my opinion based on hot cognition alone? How good are the data I have on boat people? Have I checked into the statistics on migration and the percentages of boat people compared to the rest of other immigrants or have I relied solely on media reports on the issue? Do the current data really contradict what I really believe about boat people? Are they really surging to Australia at rates which will allow them to inundate the country, or are they a small percentage of the people who do migrate to Australia?

If the current evidence is not sufficient to change your mind on boat people, what evidence would be enough? If rigorous security and identity checks on a person were not enough to set your mind at ease about whether or not they were a terrorist, what would suffice? If below 3% wasn’t small enough for you, what would be small enough? Can you think of anything that would change your mind on the issue?

Is it worth finding out about this Boat People in Australia, does it really affect you? Perhaps you need only look at your neighbour and see if it affects you. Perhaps after you find out about the torture and persecution they suffered just to arrive in a place where they wouldn’t be persecuted for being pro-democracy in military ruled junta you might realise why they are so happy all the time. Or perhaps Gilovitch (1993) put it best when he says try to look at things from all the differing perspectives. Just imagine for a moment that you were in a situation where you had to flee your home for fear or torture or death. The only means of escape was to be smuggled on some dirty, stinky barge that you had to stay on for weeks on end, with too many other people to maintain a decent level of sanitation. You finally reach a place where you can apply for asylum and try to escape this terrible fate, would you want to be denied, simply because you arrived on a boat?

Reference List

Australian Human Rights Commission. (2008). Face the Facts. Australasia: Paragon Printers.

Community and Detention Services Division. (2010). Immigration Detention Statistics Summary. Canberra: Australian Capital Territory.

Department of Immigration and Citizenship. (2010). Fact Sheet 2- Key Facts in Immigration. Retrieved October 7, 2010, from http://www.immi.gov.au/media/fact-sheets/02key.htm

Department of Immigration and Citizenship. (2009). Fact Sheet 16- Immigration Research. Retrieved October 7, 2010, from http://www.immi.gov.au/media/fact-sheets/16research.htm

Department of Immigration and Citizenship. (2010). Fact Sheet 20- Migration Program Planning Levels. Retrieved October 7, 2010, http://www.immi.gov.au/media/fact-sheets/20planning.htm

Department of Immigration and Citizenship. (2009). Fact Sheet 60-Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program. Retrieved October 7, 2010, http://www.immi.gov.au/media/fact-sheets/60refugee.htm

Department of Immigration and Citizenship. (2010). Fact Sheet 81- Immigration Detention. Retrieved October 7, 2010 http://www.immi.gov.au/media/fact-sheets/82detention.htm

Edmund Rice Centre. (2010). Debunking the Myths about Asylum Seekers in 2010. Just Comment, 12(5).

Farr, M. (2009, October 23). The Opposition attack on the Government’s handling of boat people has been sidetracked by claims that terrorists are hiding among the asylum seekers. The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/terrorists-hiding-with-boat-people/story-e6freuy9-1225790211002

Gilovitch, T. (1993). How we know what isn’t so: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life. New York: Free Press.

 

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Geert Wilders – Dangerous Populist or the Voice of Discontent?
November 2, 2010, 5:16 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Geert Wilders. A name which brings about a mixed bag of opinions depending on your religion, where you live and how much you know about current events. Wilders is a Dutch politician with an extremely controversial opinion. His views have brought such a forceful response that he is now the most threatened politician in the Netherlands (Hayes, 2010) requiring 24-hour protection (Attard, 2009). The controversy arises from his strong, offensive and much vocalised views of the Islamic religion. Wilders advocates for strict immigration laws to prevent Muslims from immigrating to the Netherlands, leading to what could be called a ‘pure Dutch’ Netherlands and voices his views worldwide. Most recently, he visited New York to demonstrate against the rebuilding of a mosque at Ground Zero (Wilders Steunt Demonstranten Tegen ‘Moskee’ Ground Zero, 2010). He has likened the Qur’an to Hitler’s Mein Kampf and has described the Islamic religion as ‘retarded’ and ‘fascist’ (Hayes, 2010). His controversial, 17 minute movie, ‘Fativa’ (Traufetter, 2008) displays exerts from the Qur’an alongside images of terrorism and has resulted in hundreds of death threats from Muslims world-wide as well as general international shock and anger. His actions have caused him to be temporarily banned from the UK and he is currently under trial for hate-speech in the Netherlands (Houlton, 2010).

Upon learning about Geert Wilders, one may also feel emotions of shock or anger and immediately judge him to be a racist, extreme, right-wing politician who should not be allowed in a position of power. It is very reasonable to make such a decision based on personal social, moral and societal values. However, these opinions are also biased on a hot cognition process as well as a number of other judgement and decision making prejudices such as the false consensus effect, availability heuristics, incorrect intuition and the media.

My initial thought was that nobody could possibly be supporting Wilders’ policies however the facts show that his popularity is growing both at a national and international level. Not only is Wilders the third most popular party in the Netherlands (De Telegraaf, 2010), he has also been receiving much support from like-minded people world-wide including countries such as Germany and America (Boyes, 2010; Davis, 2010). Does Wilders have some well-based justification for his actions and views? Is he simply the voice of people’s unspoken concerns? Or are these people also falling prey to their own decision making fallacies? Take a moment to consider this matter and, based on what you know, determine what your opinion is on this issue. This essay will discuss the aforementioned biases people have concerning Geert Wilders and his views, which can also be applied to other politically controversial issues. Holding a well-based opinion and an understanding of judgement and decision making limitations is important, particularly when these issues have a universal impact on society with potentially severe consequences.

Before claiming your opinion should be the only opinion, it is important to look at how well based that opinion actually is. Are you possibly falling to a bias or heuristic? Firstly, people feel ‘safety with numbers’ particularly with such topics that have been linked to violence. This issue in the Netherlands lead to the assassination of two important figures – Pim Fortuyn, a well-liked Dutch politican in 2002, and Theo van Gogh, a film-maker in 2004 (Attard, 2009), both popular, more diplomatic, strong advocates against Islam. Due to this ‘safety in numbers’ feeling, people are often prone to the bias of a false consensus. This occurs when people wrongly over-estimate the number of people whom support their belief due to the wish to have their own belief supported (Gilovich, 1991). This decision to be pro- or anti-Wilders has lead to a great divide between people (what pro-Islamic person wants to hang out with an Islamic-hater?) and thus peoples’ social circles and environments are more likely to be comprised of like-minded people, thus encouraging your belief. This however, lessens your interactions with people who disagree with you and gives you a false sense of how ‘right’ you think your opinion is. A look at the votes by municipality from the recent June 2010 elections shows that those in support of The Party for Freedom (Wilders’ party) are located in the south of the country, the majority of them in Wilders’ home province, Limburg (De Telegraaf, 2010). It is also in these areas that the number of foreigners is substantially less than in other areas. It would not be unreasonable to suggest that those residing in the south are finding their opinions confirmed by like-minded people, and having less exposure to foreigners also contributes to their bias of a false consensus, strengthening their belief further.

Another bias people often are influenced by is the confirmation bias, whereby information confirming one’s preconceptions is selectively searched for and favoured regardless of the accuracy or truth of the information (Remmerswaal, Muris, Mayer & Smeets, 2010). This holds especially true for emotionally significant issues where any disconfirmation would cause you to become defensive. This bias can also be related to issues with hot cognition decision making and ambiguous information. A decision made using hot cognition involves emotions as they are motivated by a positive effect on general wellbeing where as cold cognition is based on facts and evidence (Magridal, 2008). People tend to manipulate ambiguous information in such a way that it satisfies the emotional motivations for their beliefs and thus confirms their belief despite the possible neutrality, or ambiguous interpretations of the information (Gilovich, 1991). Those against Wilders will find no problem in gathering a plethora of information painting him in a bad light.

Statements made by him such as “Islam is a retarded religion” (Hayles, 2010), his wish to impose a tax on the burka (Davis, 2010) and the amount of protests and threats against him worldwide only confirm this opinion. He seems to come across as an uneducated, extreme man with very little knowledge of the Islamic culture and people. One only has to dig a little deeper to discover some facts which may make you think twice. For instance, Wilders actually spent several years living and working in Israel and the surrounding Arabic countries before returning to the Netherlands (Hayes, 2010) and makes regular visits back to these regions. His views do not come solely from a close-minded perspective, rather, a somewhat educated view of the people and the religion itself. He also makes a distinction between the Muslim people and the Islamic religion, claiming “I don’t hate Muslims, I hate Islam” (Hayes, 2010) with a basis from his experiences in Islamic countries. It is very easy to overlook such information if your opinion against Wilders is based on an emotional motivation as such information could slightly undermine your belief.

The availability heuristic is another common phenomenon which results in errors in decision making. People fall subject to an availability heuristic when information that supports their belief is more readily available and accessible in their minds, thus strengthening support for their belief (Riddle, 2010). Citizens living in Dutch cities such as Rotterdam which have a large, Islamic demographic located in closed, high-crime suburbs (AD.nl, 2009) may also find data readily available to support their anti-Muslim opinions. This works both ways with the same heuristic affecting those whom are anti-Wilders, also possibly influenced by their social circle, media coverage and the desire to have their belief supported.

Another important bias which is extremely relevant to this topic is the issue of intuitive statistics. It is intuitive for many of us to make moral-based decisions. We have learnt that racial prosecution is not something to be applauded and social conditioning has lead us to suppress or modify rude and offensive behaviour. We have come a long way from the days of the White Australia Policy, American black and white segregation and much effort is put into an internationally integrative community. However, it is still important to question those intuitions, despite our morals and social conditioning in order to ensure we are not missing something significant. For example, Wilders’ has repeated in many interviews that he believes Islam is a “retarded religion” (Attard, 2009; Davis, 2010; Hayes, 2010). Our first instinct is to react with shock and disbelief and condemn these very offensive words. However, after listening to his interview, he attempts to define what he means by ‘retarded’ and uses it in such a way that the Oxford Dictionary (Retard, 2010) intended – he believes Islam to be a religion that holds back development or progress. Although his statements are offensive and rude, listening to his views and reasons in their entirety is important to ensure we do not fall subject to incorrect intuitions and condemn him for the wrong reasons. From an international perspective, it is easy to overlook the reasons for his opinions as we do not live in the Netherlands and thus do not have easy accessibility to the country’s situation. However, in order to ensure we do not fall subject to incorrect intuitions, it is important to have an open mind to full information. The Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek (2010), (the Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics) shows that Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague hold the highest number of Islamic immigrants from countries such as Turkey and Morocco. Islamic communities are located in particular suburbs and are associated with higher levels of crime and lower income (AD.nl, 2009).    The number of crimes such as breaking and entering, vehicle theft or damage, vandalism and street assaults in these cities are among the higher end of the scale (AD.nl, 2009). Although there are obviously several factors involved, reports from a small, informal self-survey of young, university educated adults living in Rotterdam also report the link between crime and this particular group and this is further confirmed by reports by Pakes (2006). I am not attempting to persuade readers into believing Wilders’ actions are correct, I am simply trying to remind readers of the potential negative effect of intuitive statistics. Allowing one’s intuitions to guide their decision making will not always provide a well rounded foundation thus a combination of facts and awareness of our decision making limitations are required when forming an opinion, regardless of what opinion that is.

Finally, an obvious although essential bias which must be discussed is the source by which the majority of people receive their information – the media. So how good are the data? As we know, the media can be highly biased by the way in which they report the news and significantly impact our judgement and decision making abilities. Surprisingly, I have found written news articles to be fairly neutral with sentences simply stating the events and comments made by Wilders and other relevant people. These articles also state Wilders’ explanation for his outrageous comments thus allowing for some justification to be read by the public, rather than allowing the public to form their own interpretations based on one- sided information. Although the high controversy of this topic reasonably warrants against written articles providing strong views, this neutrality is somewhat ambiguous, thus people are able to twist or omit information to suit their beliefs.    The actual Dutch situation is also not well-covered by the media in international news thus non-Dutch people are not sufficiently knowledgeable on this topic and may dismiss Wilders’ claims and views without sufficient facts and thus, for the sake of efficiency, fall subject to their own biases and
heuristics. Having insufficient knowledge due to less-than-perfect sources can also lead you to question whether or not the data actually contradicts what you believe. For instance, during my survey, I discovered several of the non-Islamic Dutch participants, whom are directly affected by another set of Wilders’ policies, were insufficiently knowledgeable about these policies and had fallen subject to their own confirmation bias by focusing only on what the media had stated and ignoring the details. For those particular participants, the details of the policies were not actually relevant to them. The initial news had caused them to use hot cognitive process when forming their opinions thus biasing their opinions.

By analysing the effect of a false consensus, confirmation bias, availability heuristic, intuitive statistic and the quality of information sources, it can be seen that forming an opinion about particularly controversial issues need to made carefully. An awareness of these phenomena and a complete, reliable information base is important when deciding on your position. Although your opinion may remain the same after reducing your subjection to these biases, knowing that it is based on objective, cold cognitive processes with a fair account of consideration for both sides will only strengthen your opinion further.

References

AD.NL. (2009). AD Misdaadmeter [Crime Meter]. Retrieved from http://www.ad.nl/ad/nl/1401/home/integration/nmc/frameset/nieuws/misdaadmete r.dhtml

Attard, M. (Interview) (2009, June 19). Dutch MP Geert Wilders – dangerous populist or the voice of discontent? [Radio interview].Sydney, Australia: 702 ABC. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2009/06/18/2601990.htm

Boyes, R. (2010, October 5). Geert Wilders Rallies Berlin Before Trial. The Australian. Retrieved from http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/world/geert-wilders-rallies- berlin-before-trial/story-e6frg6so-1225934019866
Centraal Bureau Voor de Statistiek. (2010). Population and Population Dynamics. Retrieved from http://www.cbs.nl

Davis, M. (Video Journalist). (2010, August 20). Dateline. [Television Broadcast]. Sydney, Australia: SBSONE. Retrieved from http://www.sbs.com.au/dateline/story/watch/id/600717/n/Mr-Controversial

De Telegraaf. (2010). Tweede Kamer Verkiezingen 2010. Retrieved from http://www.telegraaf.nl/verkiezingen/tk2010/index.jsp?gem=li&xml=512&id=512

Gilovich, T. (1991). How We Know What Isn’t So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life. New York, NY: The Free Press

Hayes, L. (Television Presenter). (2010, May 23). Sixty Minutes. [Television Broadcast]. Sydney, Australia: Channel Nine.

Houlton, S. (2010, January 01). Islamic Critic Geert Wilders to go on Trial in the Netherlands. Deutsche Welle. Retrieved from http://www.dw- world.de/dw/article/0,,5146840,00.html

Magridal, R. 2008. Hot vs. Cold Cognitions and Consumers’ Reactions to Sporting Event Outcomes. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 18(4), 304-319, doi: doi:10.1016/j.jcps.2008.09.00

Pakes, F. (2006). The Ebb and Flow of Criminal Justice in the Netherlands. International JournaloftheSociologyofLaw,4,141-156. doi:10.1016/j.ijsl.2006.08.001
Retard. (2010) In Oxford University Press, Oxford Dictionaries Retrieved from http://www.oxforddictionaries.com

Riddle, K. (2010). Always on My Mind: Exploring How Frequent, Recent, and Vivid Television Portrayals Are Used in the Formation of Social Reality Judgments. Media Psychology, 13, 155-179. doi: 10.1080/15213261003800140

Traufetter, G. (2008, March 27). A Missionary With Dark Visions. Spiegel Online International. Retrieved from http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/0,1518,543627,00.html

Wilders Steunt Demonstranten Tegen ‘Moskee’ Ground Zero. (2010 September 11). NRC Handelsblad. Retrieved from
http://www.nrc.nl/buitenland/article2618436.ece/Wilders_steunt_demonstranten_tegen_m oskee_Ground_Zero



Allowing Performance-enhancing drugs in major sport to ‘level the playing field’
November 2, 2010, 5:10 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

For professional athletes, triumph in athletics can provide a high just as potent and addictive as any achieved using narcotics. In professional sports, the pursuit of this high (standing victorious over a defeated opponent) often consumes even the world’s fiercest competitors. Residual notions of fair play, espoused by youth league coaches and well-meaning parents during the athletes’ formative years, are replaced by the overriding pursuit of the fruits of victory. Professional sportsman and women are driven by the desire, the need, to win (Whitman, 2007).

Often times, this desire or need to win must come at some cost. This is where at times athletes feel pressured into using anything at their disposal to get them over the finishing line first. The use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) in the modern Olympics is on record as early as the games of the third Olympiad, when Thomas Hicks won a marathon after injecting himself with strychnine (An extremely poisonous white crystalline alkaloid, used as a poison for rodents and other pests and typically in medicine as a stimulant for the central nervous system) in the middle of the race. However the first official ban of stimulating substances by a sporting organisation was introduced until1928 by the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) (Savulescu, Foddy & Clayton, 2004).

Most people believe that the use of drugs to boost sport performance is definitely not new, but what some people may not comprehend is that these substances are becoming increasingly  more effective and readily available. In 1976, the East German swimming team won 11 out of a possible 13 Olympic events. The substances were so effective that at the time they could not be detected and did more than aid, but drove these athletes to the wall first. Yet despite the health risks, and despite the attempts by International Olympic Committees (IOC) to eliminate the PEDs from sport, their use is known to be widespread (Savulescu et al. 2004). It is to that extent that nowadays when an athlete does get pulled up for a banned substance it hardly raises an eyebrow (Savulescu et al., 2004). Extending on this, in 1992 Vicky Rabinowicz interviewed small groups of athletes. It was found that Olympic athletes, in general, believed that most of the successful athletes were using banned substances (Rabinowicz, cited in Savulescu et al., 2004). So what this demonstrates is that since the 1976 Olympics to when this study was conducted, not only the athletes but the world in general had become accustomed to performance-enhancing drugs in professional sports.

Unfortunately, due to this acceptance of PEDs in sport, the desire to win has seen athletes are forcefully guided down a path of taking advantage of these substances to help them win, by the culture we live in. Today, elite athletes earn tens of millions of dollars every year in prize money alone, and millions more in sponsorships and endorsements. The lure of success is great. But the penalties for cheating are small (Savulescu et al., 2004). Adopting a cost vs. benefits schema we see there is a high prize for the winner/successful athlete (high benefit) vs. the insignificant low penalty if the athlete is caught cheating (minimal temporary ban). Combining the enormous rewards for the winner, the effectiveness of the drug and the low rate of testing all aid to create a cheating “game” (Savulescu et al., 2004). No wonder why many athletes adopt this view that if something can make them go faster, jump higher or run longer to get them on the podium in first why would they say no, if at the end of the day that is all the supporters want to see!

There have been numerous failed attempts to uncover ways in which to reduce substances like performance-enhancing drugs in professional sport. Scientists like Kjetil Haugen have found that unless the likelihood of athletes being caught doping was raised to unrealistically high levels, or the payoffs for winning were reduced to unrealistically low levels, athletes could all be predicted to cheat at some point in their career. This is a crucial finding that suggests that the environment that we live in is no longer necessarily breeding success, they are raising junior athletes who are coming through the ranks to see that these performance-enhancing drugs are the solution to realising their ultimate success. The moral of this story is that ultimately, performance-enhancing drugs in professional sport are negatively stigmatized as cheating by the public. The rest of this essay will be structured to give you reason to question your beliefs, regardless of whether you think they should or should not,  about why we must allow performance-enhancing drugs in professional sport to level the playing field.

So here the best way to start this would be to ask, ‘What do you really believe anyway?’ or ‘Would the inclusion of performance-enhancing drugs really be a bad option for sports, typically the Olympics?’ Generally an uninformed audience would jump all over this topic without actually deconstructing the current operations of the Olympics and what drugs- be it legal or illegal are already involved. After consulting with a senior Australian Olympic swimming team coach, a more broader understanding of the topic was uncovered. There are those who are quick to say PEDs in sport would defeat the purpose of the Olympics, but some say that it could allow for a more even playing field. Often in preparation for Olympics athletes embark in numerous strategies to improve their techniques and their anaerobic and aerobic abilities (Senior Aus. Swimming Coach). This often includes taking athletes to high altitude training locations for weeks on end at the high cost to the countries sporting organisations. The alternate to this is already being used under the table and has had some form of preventative measures put in place to stop its use. Known as Epogen (recombinant human EPO), the purpose of this drug is to create the similar effects athletes get when training in high altitude climates but at a much cheaper rate. To put it into comparison, sending athletes off to these locations costs tens of thousands of dollars to the countries (most of whom are developed countries, or those who can afford it for each athlete) whilst in general and at the time of writing this article, Epogen on a monthly basis would cost an athlete $135 Australian and should be taken cyclic for a 6month period to produce the same effects. Ultimately this means that it allows more if not all to actively engage in the same practises, i.e. levelling the playing field in the sport. So to reiterate if your answer to ‘What do you really believe anyway’ the fact that you based your answer on the availability heuristic that you held on ‘drugs in sport being bad’ demonstrates that your opinion may have been held at face value, therefore giving you some food for thought.

Continuing on perhaps a follow-up question could be, ‘How well based is the opinion that I already hold?’ If after initially reacting to the question like most others do and assuming that of course PEDs in sport are bad, why is this so? To generalise often times people hold opinions on things without ever knowing why they feel the way they do. In other words they base their opinions on personal experiences they had quite some time ago, when in reality they may no longer be as relevant as they first seemed. Perhaps talking about the Olympics example people believe that it will take away from the idolised ‘fairness in sporting competition’ motto that most people adopt. However, without actually realising it the opinion they hold can quite as easily by counter-argued.

The thought that the introduction of PEDs will not allow for a fairness in sporting competition is a topic of long discussion. In reality the introduction of PEDs WILL allow for a fairer playing field among competitors because as discussed in (Savulescu et al., 2004) sport is already a genetic lottery. As the saying goes ‘White men cannot jump’, this just illustrates how biased genetics are to sport. For example black African Americans do better in short-distance events because they have superior muscle type and bone structure. Likewise, Africans (Kenyans/Ethiopians) are genetically pre-determined to succeed in long-distance events because of the altitude of their terrain and the ability of their body to disperse oxygen throughout their muscles over longer periods of time.

These are just examples of the ways in which sports are already handicapped towards those with the better genetic make-up. If PEDs were obtainable to all and at the price already shown to be more affordable than other techniques to do the same thing what harm would this have on giving everyone a chance to succeed. A side note on this is obviously should there be any limits? After consulting with obvious ambassadors for performance-enhancing drugs in professional sport, a former retired bodybuilder no longer competing, has shown that the PEDs can be taken, and taken safely if they are followed within guidelines. So for the introduction of PEDs in sport, obvious guidelines must be set up about how they are to be taken safely and effectively to reduce injury or death resulting from sport. Savulescu et al. (2004) have suggested that guidelines should be set up for holding safe competing levels in each individual sport. For example in the cycling world which often times athletes are caught using EPO to increase the oxygenated blood flow, a safe level of  0.5 PCV (a type of scan used to measure oxygenation of blood) would display the level the athletes must fall within to compete fairly and safely. Again this is a topic which will require the reader to assume that perhaps the view they hold on drugs in sport may not necessarily be bad and potentially with the introduction of a limit to the amount of the substance athletes can take, the introduction of PEDs will allow for fairness among performance quality of all athletes whilst all athletes remaining healthy.

By now if you still believe that perhaps there is evidence to suggest that PEDs in sport may not necessarily be that bad the next point to ask yourself would be, ‘How strong is the data, that has been presented?’ Now is where it is necessary to re-look at what data there is that surrounds performance-enhancing drugs in sport to help demonstrate why their introduction will not be detrimental to sporting competition, like competing in the Olympics. Many high profile athletes such as Linford Christie have come out and said that since their ban from competing because of the use of PEDs, there has been and always will be a continued increase in the amount of new and readily available substances that are being developed. With experimental studies conducting to show improvements in performances, and the fact that there is no way to test for a drug that still has not been finalised, without allowing all athletes to go out and use these non-lethal performance-enhancing substances we have seen that only those with access (via money) will raise to the top of their sport. Christie said that, ‘athletics is so corrupt now that I would not want my child doing it’. This just reinforces the ideology that the PEDs in sport are currently so ingrained in the sporting society that unless you are taking advantage of them, you as an athlete are being left behind. So you must begin to contemplate a) if the drug is not bad for the athlete and b) if limits are placed on the drug, why not legalise it so that there will no longer be only a small section that gain access to the drug, meaning all athletes can compete in the same sport, levelling the playing field.

The use of non-harmful performance-enhancing drugs has become so widespread that the Australian Sports and Anti-Doping Association have said that it is near impossible to maintain an up-to-date list with all the substances currently being used to boost individual athletic performances. In 1988, International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch suggested that athletes be allowed to use non-harmful performance-enhancing drugs to compete in major sporting events such as the Olympics. He argued that people need to adjust to changing times and as stated by Savulescu et al. (2004) with guidelines in place to protect the athletes in the safe use of non-harmful performance-enhancing drugs the welfare of the athlete must be our primary concern. If a drug does not expose an athlete to excessive risk, we should allow it even if it enhances performance. Many authors have demonstrated as shown through Savulescu et al. (2004) that the crusade against drugs in professional sport has failed. After all performance enhancement is not against the spirit of sport – more so it is the spirit of the sport.

Surely by now, you are beginning to believe that the introduction of non-harmful performance-enhancing drugs will not be a bad thing for professional sport, but in reality it could actually help to level the playing field. You have heard support for this argument including; if limits are put in place to provide a protection for the athletes health and tests are put in place to monitor well-being of the athletes instead of trying to find cheaters PEDs can and will be used safe and effectively by all. The genetic lottery as stated early will no longer play as a significant role as it previously did. All countries and nations will have access to the performance-enhancing drugs because they will no longer be explicitly sold to those athletes who can provide the pharmaceutical companies with the most amount of money for creating new and undetectable drugs. Last but not least when questioned on, ‘Should performance-enhancing drugs be legal?’ the head of the IOC Juan Antonio Samaranch (whose main ideology of the committee he supports is to provide a equal playing field for competitive sport) embraces that drugs in sport will not go away and the introduction of non-harmful performance-enhancing drugs will be a positive thing. Why do we all continue to disallow a level playing field for all?

References

Rabinowicz, V. (1992). As cited in Savulescu, J. Foddy, B. & Clayton, M. (2004). Why we should allow performance enhancing drugs in sport. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2004, 38, 666-670

Savulescu, J. Foddy, B. & Clayton, M. (2004). Why we should allow performance enhancing drugs in sport. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2004, 38, 666-670.

Whitman, J. H. (2007). Winning at all costs: using law & economics to determine the proper role of government in regulating the use of performance-enhancing drugs in professional sports. Law Review: University of Illinois. Vol. 2008.



Ground Zero Mosque
November 2, 2010, 5:08 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

“Building a mosque at Ground Zero is like building a memorial to Hitler at Auschwitz” and “You can build a mosque at Ground Zero when we can build a synagogue in Mecca” are just two of the many signs that protesters hold in opposition of the controversial issue of building of a mosque near Ground Zero. Those who oppose its construction feel that it would be a towering tribute to the World Trade Centre terrorist attacks that were perpetrated in the name of Islam. On the other hand, Muslims and those in support of the centre claim that it is devoted to peace and is meant to bridge the gap between moderate Muslims and non-Muslims throughout the United States. Those in support of constructing the mosque in the supposed location believe that they have the religious freedom, as per the First Amendment, to build a prayer sanctuary wherever they so please. While the opponents recognize this liberty, and agree that legally they are all allowed to build their mosque on any private property they choose, they feel that it is an extreme insensitivity to the friends and family of those that perished in the September 11th terrorist attacks almost ten years ago.

The name of this project that has been perpetrated in the media, ‘the mosque at Ground Zero,’ is technically not correct. The proposed building, two blocks away from the former site of the World Trade towers, is actually a 13 story Islamic community centre. The proponents of the centre describe it as a community centre with a prayer space, offering programs and classes similar in style to a YMCA or Jewish community centre, both of which are present in Lower Manhattan. It will include everything a community centre would need, equipped a restaurant and culinary school, as well as a performing centre and bookstore. The 100,000 square foot structure will be built at the address of 45-51 Park Place, in place of two buildings that were partially destroyed on 9/11. For that reason, the official title of the project is currently called Park51. The name only changed after turmoil ensued when Imam Fesial Rauf, the Imam heading the project, announced the first official name of the project, Cordoba House. The Cordoba Initiative, a group founded by the Imam himself, explains that the title Cordoba House was given out of respect to a time when Muslims, Christians, and Jews all lived in peace in between the 8th and 11th century in Cordoba, Spain (Hernandez). Imam Rauf claims this is an homage to the “oasis of art, culture and science” (Lexington) that the three monotheistic religions collaboratively achieved; however many deem the term as a tribute to the Muslim conquering of Christian Spain, where they turned a Cordoba church into what is currently the third largest mosque in the world. The Cordoba Initiative claims that the centre will be “a platform for multi-faith dialogue. It will strive to promote inter-community peace, tolerance and understanding locally in New York City, nationally in America, and globally.” Because of the biases that people hold, they look at this name and see what they want to see, rather than taking it objectively for what it is. The title of Cordoba House was nonetheless changed to Park51 to dull the controversy. However, protests later erupted after right wing blogger Pamela Geller dubbed the project “Ground Zero mosque” on her website Stop Islamization of America (Elliot).

Like Geller, there are those that view the building of Park51 as another step forward for the Islamization of the United States. They believe that if the project is completed, it can be used as a recruitment tool for Islamist extremists, and lead to an increased level of homegrown terrorists. They are clearly neglecting base rates, as the vast majority of Muslims are not radicals. They actually condemn the terrorist attacks, as stated by both the American Muslim Political Coordination Council and the American Muslim Alliance immediately following the attacks. Those that believe that this project further enhances the Islamization of America are looking for a pattern that clearly is not there. Like Gilovich argues, they try to make sense of noise to foster their own theories. Having an Islamic presence around Ground Zero is nothing new. There were several Muslim prayer spaces in the Twin Towers (Freedman), and there is a mosque not too far away, where Feisal Rauf is the currently the Imam. The Islamization of America theory, although it altogether lacks empirical evidence, is not aided by the controversy surrounding the funding of the project. Imam Rauf stated that he will “ clearly identify all of our financial backers” (Caruso), but is yet to do so. There is the distinct possibility that funding may come from organizations that support and harbor terrorism, such as Hamas and Al-Qaeda, inevitably questioning if there are ulterior motives for this project. Rauf originally said that the funding would be one hundred percent from the Muslim American community (Editorial), but later told a London Arabic newspaper that he would as well accept funding from Muslim and Arab countries abroad (Pressman). Malcolm Hoenlein, leader of the Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations sums up this sentiment, saying, “Imam Rauf refuses to condemn Hamas. And why is it being built here? Is it to celebrate a victory against the United States, as some militant Muslims may see it?”

On the less extreme side, many stand in opposition of the project, not because of any racist undertones or fear of an invasion, but simply because it is a very sensitive area. Those who lost friends or family members in the 9/11 attacks have a hot cognition view of the subject. They are very emotionally invested and cannot think completely objectively about this issue. The terrorist attacks are easily the most salient memory of the World Trade Centers and surrounding areas for these people, and do not want to be reminded of it every time they will see the Islamic community centre. They are not opposed to the building of the Islamic cultural centre, only to the proposed location. Building it so close to a 3000-person cemetery would not necessarily be seen as glorifying tribute to Islamic extremism, but rather as a metaphoric slap in the face to those who knew someone that perished in the attacks. Regardless of many New Yorkers’ feelings, the Muslim community is still pushing for the community centre’s construction. Local and national leaders of Muslim organizations met at the Park51 site and stood adamant in their convictions, saying that the centre should not budge from its planned site, not only based on their constitutional right to do so, but also as a matter of principle (Barnard). Whichever way the decision ends up going, one group will feel as though the other side is being unfair and insensitive, as with any issue with a high level of emotional baggage.

The payoffs in this situation are huge, with the costs of a miss being astronomical; the final decision will have political, emotional, and religious ramifications. If the centre is built and becomes a hotbed of Muslim radicalism, many atrocities and future terrorist attacks may follow. There is already fear in the United Sates of the expansion of home grown terrorists, as is evident by the unsuccessful Times Square bombing in May 2010. In the meantime, the strong opposition towards the community centre is playing well for extremists, as “America is revealing its ugly face, and that even if it doesn’t further radicalize people in the Middle East, there’s no doubt that it will radicalize … small number of homegrown extremists here in the United States” (Thomas). Even if Park51 does not produce extremism, the American public can see it as further Islamization of their country, very similar to the Islamization of Europe. On the other hand, if Park51 is built and is just another community centre, as it most likely will be, there will be the backlash of the anti-Muslim movements that are currently going on. It will further propagate Muslim anti-American sentiments, resulting with each group holding more hostility towards the other. The same will happen if the site is deemed inappropriate, as Muslims will be infuriated at the government if they cannot exercise the First Amendment. Regardless of the final decision, there are going to be negative consequences for one or both parties involved.

Many political players have weighed in their opinion on the matter. President Obama stated that Muslims have the right of religious freedom, and are legally allowed to build a place of worship on a privately owned property. Regardless of his personal opinion if he thinks it is a good idea of not, one in his position has to socially conform and pick the easier answer of the two, which is to go with what the law says. New York mayor Michael Bloomberg echoes agrees with the president, saying that Ground Zero is a “very appropriate place” for Park51, as it “tells the world” that America exemplifies freedom of religion for all (Rabinowitz). He noted that the government has no business in its citizens’ personal lives and cannot tell them how or where to pray. Notable political figures who oppose the project include 2008 presidential nominee John McCain and 2008 vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin. McCain believes that Park51 would harm Islamic-American relations rather than help it, and Palin even posted her thoughts on her twitter account, asking peaceful Muslims to please consider the consequences of going through with the proposal. The aforementioned political figures are not the ones who are going to decide the final verdict, although their opinions are representative of the opinions held by majority of Americans.

The proposal to build a Muslim community centre only blocks away from Ground Zero is a very controversial debate. It brings back painful memories for some, while others hope it will bring peaceful tidings for the future. There are those that are disgusted at the idea of a centre dedicated to Islam built virtually on top of a mass grave, the same ideology that motivated the terrorists to fly planes into the Twin Towers. Others acknowledge the value of freedom of religion and legality that technically this building should be built. Imam Rauf wants to encourage multi-faith peace, while many believe this is another stride in the Islamization of America. There is no right answer for this debacle. Whichever way it goes, one side will not be happy. The 3000 people that died in the World Trade Centre terrorist attacks were martyrs for American ideals including freedom of religion. Family members of the deceased claim that their relatives would want the American values upheld, the same values that were attacked that day almost a decade ago. The Rasmussen Report poll in July found that 54% of Americans oppose the project, while only 20% are in favour of it (Rasmussen). Regardless of the numbers, the Cordoba Initiative is lawfully allowed to build on the Park 51 site. It is up to them to decide if it is worth it to.

Works Cited
Magazines
Elliot, Justin. (2010, august 16). How “the ground zero mosque” fear mongering began. Salon. Retrieved from http://www.salon.com/news/ground_zero_mosque/index.html?story=/politics/war_room/2010/08/16/ground_zero_mosque_origins

Lexington. (2010, August 5). Build that Mosque. The Economist. Retrieved from http://www.economist.com/node/16743239

Newspapers
Barnard, Anne. (2010, September 21). Muslim Leaders Unite Behind Center. The New York Times.

Caruso, David. (2010, September 8). AP Exclusive: Backers of WTC mosque appear divided. The Associated Press. Retrieved from http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5iNLTahM5QJw8Ts0SpTgWLjXwN7gAD9I435J80

Editorial. (2010, August 4). Money behind the mosque. New York Post. Retrieved from http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/editorials/money_behind_the_mosque_SZDcDNLjX4SwxHmwtES5mK

Freedman, Samuel. (2010, September 10). Muslims and Islam Were Part of Twin Towers’ Life. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/11/nyregion/11religion.html?_r=1&src=tp

Hernandez, Javier. (2010, July 13). Planned Sign of Tolerance Bringing Division Instead. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/14/nyregion/14center.html?_r=1

Peer, Basharat. (2010, August 13). Zero tolerance and Cordoba House. Financial Times. Retrieved from http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/bf1110d8-a5b0-11df-a5b7-00144feabdc0.html

Pressman, Gabe. (2010, August 17).  Should the Mosque be Built?- Follow the Money. NBC New York. Retrieved from http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local-beat/Should-the-Mosque-Be-Built—–Follow-the-Money–99967009.html
Thomas, Gary. (2010, august 26). Radical Islamists Try to Exploit Islamaphobia. Voice of America News. Retrieved from http://www.voanews.com/english/news/Radical-Islamists-Try-to-Exploit-Islamophobia-101592048.html

Rabinowitz, Dorothy. (2010, August 4). Liberal Piety and the Memory of 9/11. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703545604575407160266158170.html

Rasmussen Reports. (2010, July 22). 20% Favor Mosque Near Ground Zero, 54% Oppose. Rasmussen Reports. Retrieved from http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/general_politics/july_2010/20_favor_mosque_near_ground_zero_54_oppose



False Legitimacy and Pseudoscience in Learning and Brain Power
November 2, 2010, 5:05 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Brain training has been a popular racket for both the gaming industry and pseudoscientists alike. It cashes in on peoples’ fear of depleting faculties, or the chance for people to take their brain power to a greater level. Nintendo has sold over 17 million units of its Dr Kawashima brain training titles world-wide since their release in 2005 (Nintendo, 2009). While the Brain Gym training program is in use in more than 87 countries (Brain Gym, 2009). These two programs will form the basis of this study, which aims to understand why people have placed so much faith in these platforms for increasing their brain power despite a lack of empirical evidence of their effectiveness. The study will address particular instances where consumers have fallen prey to their own heuristics and cognitions in making a valid assessment of the legitimacy of these programs. To assess this correctly several different aspects will be regarded. First, Dr Kawashima’s Brain Age will be used as a case study of how irresponsible marketing can create an illusion of the legitimacy of pseudoscience. Then Brain Gym will be studied to determine the authenticity of its claims in aiding learning and brain functioning. Finally, the 6 leads of opinion change will be applied the two programs to determine how consumers can be roped in by this pseudoscience.

Legitimate and objective evidence should be held in greater esteem, as people often fall victim to their own beliefs and expectations about the world. This can be harmful as it causes them to disregard conflicting information, even if it dismisses their initial expectations (Gilovich, 1991). By dismissing this information, it will lead to the reinforcement of faulty data as fact and can lead to unhealthy or outright ludicrous decisions. Plous (1993), a professor of psychology at Wesleyan University, explains that we will actively search for information that will support an expectation which we have and ignore contradictory information, resulting in a confirmation bias.

This knowledge is important to apply to brain power programs because they relate directly with people’s mental health and well being, and improper or misconstrued information about these programs can be dangerous and reduce research for better alternatives. Brain training games, specifically Brain Age – developed by Nintendo and Dr Kawashima – aims to stimulate your brain by giving it a workout (Nintendo, 2007a). This workout includes using the software on the Nintendo DS hand-held console daily. It provides puzzles such as counting, math problems, memory, and drawing, and tracks your progress over time. Brain Gym is a program that was developed by the Education Kinesiology Foundation, and it uses 26 physical movements that apparently help with learning problems, and create new pathways in the brain (Brain Gym, 2009a). These movements are based on the first years of an infant’s life, when they are learning to coordinate movements. The problem with both of these programs is that they are based on no legitimate evidence that they actually do the things they are purported to achieve, as will be discovered throughout this paper.

In a peer reviewed study conducted by Nacke, Nacke and Lindley (2009), they address the effectiveness of brain training games on the aging population. They found that brain training games, regardless of the age of the user, are more effective when done with pen and paper than with the Nintendo DS. Another peer reviewed study, in Nature (Owen et al., 2010), addressed the growing concern over the lack of evidence for programs that sought to improve cognitive functioning via computer games. 11,430 participants were involved in a six week study that aimed to determine whether these games can improve the general level of cognitive functioning. The results indicated that while the participants did get better at the particular tasks for each mini-game, there was no transfer of this skill onto general levels of cognitive functioning. The New Scientist biomedical news editor, Thompson (2010), has also gone on record to claim that no trial has ever shown concrete proof that these types of brain training games have ever worked in the way they are marketed. So why do people continue to buy these games, and do they honestly believe they increase their brain power?

The Brain Age website (Nintendo, 2007b), advertises the game as the workout that your brain needs. It uses exercise as a premise for legitimising the game, that is, just like the gym is for exercising your body, the Brain Age game is for exercising your brain – all it takes is a few minutes a day to increase your brain power! The game is based on the work by a Japanese neuroscientist Dr. Ryuta Kawashima, which Nintendo proudly boasts as much as possible, seemingly to legitimise the game by preying on people’s perceptions. This approach uses hot cognition in the way that it heightens a person emotional response to the game by making them focus on the ‘legitimacy of pseudoscience’ through the use of a doctor and allusions to a fitness regime. To properly understand how people can believe in this false-authenticity it is important to look at a typical review done on the game by a gaming magazine; the main sources of information to refer to when buying the software. In a review by Harris (2006), on the multimedia review website IGN, the author claims that Brain Age is the equivalent of a fitness club. He goes on to say that, “the science isn’t entirely accurate”, but then begins to refer to the actual technology of the Nintendo DS and its touch screen, and nothing to do with the science behind the actual anticipated outcomes from the game. Harris also seems to unknowingly sell the game using hot cognition, like persuading readers that their mind will sweat from using the game, just like a regular work out. The article makes no scientific references to the legitimacy of the science behind the daily workout and rather focuses on the positive aspects of its user friendliness or nice interface, which in turn affects judgement with the use of irrelevant information.

When a user actually plays the game, they are supposed to use it every day and play the same games over and over so the user can see how much ‘smarter’ they have become. What is actually happening could be a learning effect. By playing the same games over time, it allows the user to learn how to play the game better, rather than actually increasing their cognitive ability or intelligence. When the player then refers to the graphs that tracks their progress, they see how their skill level has increased over time, which they then attribute to an increase in their intelligence. This relays an expectation that they have about the program from the attempted legitimisation of the games scientific credibility done by Nintendo, and the game reviewers, who ignore the key issue of whether or not it actually increases brain power.

The other major contributor to the field of increasing brain power is the Brain Gym. It was founded by Paul Dennison, who based it on his earlier books (Brain Gym, 2009b). The purpose of his earlier work was to develop more effective ways for disabled children and adults to learn. This earlier work was combined with his knowledge acquired as a marathon runner, in vision training, and in acupressure. His wife Gail also influenced the inception of Brain Gym with her background in dance, vision training, and acupressure. The pair claim that the program works by repeating particular movements which causes the brain to optimise its storage and retrieval of information (Brain Gym, 2009c). It also creates strengthened or new pathways between different parts of the brain and the nervous system using 26 different movements. So they believe that someone whose brain is not interconnected properly will benefit significantly from this program.

Despite the evidence showing a lack of support for the program, 87 countries around the world still use Brain Gym in some of their schools’ curriculum (Brain Gym, 2009a). Goswami (2006), director of Cambridge University’s Centre for Neuroscience in Education, directly attacked the claims of the Brain Gym program as ‘neuromyths’ and that the only reason why they were being used in schools across the United Kingdom was due to the sales tactics employed at information seminars for teachers.

A segment on the British Broadcasting Corporations Newsnight program (Ghosh, 2008) interviewed teachers and scientists about the effectiveness of Brain Gym. The teachers just regurgitated the same claims that the seminars had informed them of, and supposedly believed in the effectiveness of the program. However, Professor Colin Blakemore, a neuroscientist at Oxford university, believed that the movements, such as pressing your hands beneath the clavicle while rubbing your stomach – which is supposed to increase blood flow to the brain and aid its electromagnetic activity, is utterly nonsense. He likens it to pressing your hand on the wall of your house to change the central heating system, and that by ignoring better alternative education programs, they are actually harming the children. Paul Howard Jones of Bristol University agrees that it is possible that it may improve response times, however there is no evidence that it changes brain wiring. The children, when asked how it works, respond just like the teachers by regurgitating the claims from the Brain Gym founders, such as: “It works by increasing blood flow to the brain”. This demonstrates that the children and teachers have strong expectations for the program to work, and that despite a lack of evidence that grades or education levels have increased since it has been used, they seem to pick and choose what they want acknowledge. The problem with an open-ended expectation like this is that they have no concrete operational definitions, and it allows the teachers and children the opportunity to ignore the lack of evidence because it does trigger the initial belief (Gilovich, 1991). On the other hand, the children’s and teacher’s belief will be triggered when they observe instances that support their expectations, such as an increase in grades. They then attribute this increase to the effectiveness of Brain Gym.

Another fault with the interpretation of the legitimacy of Brain Gym seems to stem from the teachers’ and founders’ focus on the positive aspects of the program. Teachers that hold the expectation that the program works will only choose to look at the information in the positive squares (see table 1).

Using Brain Gym/No increase in brain power (-)

 

Using Brain Gym/Increase brain power (+)
Not using Brain Gym/No increase in brain power (+) Not using Brain Gym/Increase in brain power (-)

 

Table 1. Representation of outcomes from using Brain Gym

In fact they are ignoring two key alternative explanations for any increase in aptitude as a result from undertaking Brain Gym. The first is the self-fulfilling prophecy effect, where the teachers will tell the kids how effective this will be on their brain power, and as a result the students will then begin to think they are becoming smarter and so will focus harder on their work so that they do not fall behind the other students who are also getting smarter, and also so they do not disappoint themselves and their teachers. Another explanation from Goldacre (2003), a medical doctor and journalist, was that just having the exercise and regular breaks involved with Brain Gym, was more effective than the pseudoscience behind it in aiding children in learning.

In considering why people would believe that these pseudoscientific programs can boost brain power, it is important to address the 6 leads of opinion change. First, they actually believe that they can increase their brain power by using these programs. Second, they consider their opinion on the effectiveness of these programs to be legitimate. We can see this in Brain Age by the attempted authenticity Nintendo lends to the program, and the selective bias of the teachers and students who use Brain Gym. Third, the data is misleading in both instances because they both pass themselves off as having legitimate scientific backing for their programs, yet upon further examination they fail the empirical tests. Fourth, the data that stems from current research on the effectiveness of the programs is often ignored or dismissed by the program coordinators and users. Fifth, the only evidence that would really affect the beliefs of the users is perhaps greater public awareness of the benefit of scientific rigour in addressing pseudoscience, and denouncement of such programs  by government funded education authorities. And finally, they may not even feel it is worth finding out  about conflicting evidence if they enjoy the games and see no harm in playing them. However the ramifications of attitudes like this will leave them unaware of how they could be spending their time on more beneficial alternatives to actually increasing their brain power.

References

Brain Gym. (2009a). What is “Brain Gym”? Retrieved October 3, 2010, from http://www.braingym.org/about

Brain Gym. (2009b). History. Retrieved October 3, 2010, from http://www.braingym.org/history

Brain Gym. (2009b). FAQ. Retrieved October 3, 2010, from http://www.braingym.org/faq

Ghosh, P. (Writer). (2008, April 2). Newsnight [Television broadcast]. London: British Broadcasting Corporation.

Gilovich, T. (1991). How we know what isn’t so: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life. New York: Macmillan.

Goswami, U. (2006). Neuroscience and education: from research to practice? Nature, 7 (5), 406-413.

Goldacre, B. (2003). Work out your mind. Retrieved October 4, 2010, from http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2003/jun/12/badscience.science

Nacke, L. E., Nacke, A., & Lindley, C. A. (2009). Brain training for silver gamers: effects of age and game form on effectiveness, efficiency, self-assessment, and gameplay experience. CyberPsychology & Behaviour, 12 (5), 493-499.

Nintendo. (2007a). What is Brain Age? Retrieved October 2, 2010, from http://www.brainage.com/launch/what.jsp

Nintendo. (2007b). Brain Age: Home. Retrieved October 2, 2010, from http://www.brainage.com/launch/index.jsp

Nintendo. (2009). Financial Results Briefing for Fiscal Year Ended March 2009. Retrieved October 2, 2010, from http://www.nintendo.co.jp/ir/pdf/2009/090508e.pdf

Plous, S. (1993). The Psychology of Judgement and Decision Making. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Thompson, H. (2010, October 4). Mental muscle: six ways to boost your brain. New Scientist, 2780, 28-33.



Double standards of conduct: the price of fame?
November 2, 2010, 5:01 am
Filed under: Sport

Sports stars have become popular and influential figures in mainstream society. The development of this social phenomenon can be largely attributed to heavy mass media coverage of sports by a variety of media outlets (Strudler, 2000). The tendency of media sources to focus their sport coverage specifically on individual athletes has created concern over the potential role modelling influence of star athletes and in turn led people to wonder whether or not these sporting stars are being held to a higher standard.

It is of common opinion that sports stars are held to a higher standard of moral conduct (Fralic, 2010; Kellett, 2009; Quinn, 2010). This is evidenced by the publics’ perceptions of the social status assigned to sport and the scrutiny of athletes’ personal characteristics and actions. These evaluations are believed to be made on a set of criteria beyond those used for other members of society as a result of augmented expectations stemming from increased social status. The opinion that sports starts are held to a higher standard of conduct is well based with examples of occurrences becoming evident on international levels.

There are a number of instances in particular that support the notion that sports stars are held to a double standard. Stephanie Rice posted a controversial comment on popular social networking site ‘Twitter’ which saw her heavily criticised and publicly vilified (Cowley, 2010). Beyond the unwarranted amount of media attention given to this indiscretion a stark disparity in the consequences of such an act became apparent. Given a similar situation would the average layman have received so much as a frown? Another example of exaggerated mistakes perpetuated by the media is in the case of Ben Cousins. One of the AFL’s most well known players has arguably become one of the most scrutinised national sportsmen in history (Toohey, 2010). Initially criticised for his abuse of illicit substances Ben Cousins was eventually ostracised from AFL communities and condemned by the nation. Firstly, should his off field discretions be able to hinder his chances of professional success? Secondly, would he have faced such severe punishment if he were not atop societies proverbial pedestal? Rugby lead star Jonathan Thurston is facing a similar situation having been disgraced over charges of public nuisance.  Thurston is to appear in Brisbane Magistrates Court to face charges regarding his alcohol-fuelled indiscretion (Badel, Marshall & Ritchie, 2010).  Star player Willie Mason argues that the public and media scrutiny on high-profile players has become ridiculous and that people are looking for any sign to get stars in trouble (Badel & Ironside, 2010).

Vaughan Mayberry, journalist for MX newspaper in Brisbane, believes we are obsessed with sporting stars voilating the social norms assigned to them. To highlight the apparent double standard between sports stars and the layman he draws reference to his own drunken antics. In a specific incident that led to his arrest he recalls being released after approximately 10 minutes without charge and the incident was not followed up by any newspaper stories or opinion pieces.  Mayberry believes that no one cared about the indiscretion because he was just an ‘average Joe’ and such acts were commonplace among young people but adding a sporting star to this scenario would automatically have made it front-page news (Mayberry, 2010).

Infidelity is another type of scandal that seems to lead to the disgrace of sporting stars and the demise of their careers despite being nothing out of the ordinary to general members of society. Tiger Woods philandering almost cost him his career. It lost him millions of dollars of sponsorship and endorsement deals and saw him publicly humiliated on international stages. Tiger Woods was forced to apologise to the world for personal incidents of which his family were at the forefront (Chance, 2009). By this standard should any member of society caught cheating on their spouse apologise to people uninvolved in the incident? Would it be appropriate to expect demotion or dismissal as a result of infidelity? If this were the case numerous individuals would find themselves unemployed. Why then does it seem that some of the same people with strong opinions about sporting stars transgressions are committing similar offences?

A psychological theory known as the Fundamental Attribution Error could be applied to understand the tendency of people to severely criticise sports stars for committing acts that are readily overlooked in situations involving themselves. According to this theory, observers tend to over attribute behaviour to dispositional factors and underestimate the influence of situational factors. That is to say that when involved in an unfavourable situation people tend to attribute their actions to situational factors deemed beyond their control. However, when appraising the acts of others in similar situations people are more likely to attribute negative outcomes to character flaws or lack of morals (Plous, 1993). This explains the ability of some people to condemn stars for scandals similar to those they have also committed. This effect is augmented by the status assigned to sports stars and the added responsibility of being a role model. Increased expectations coupled with the intensification of tabloid-style coverage and dramatisation of events leads to a double standard of conduct dubbed ‘the price of fame’ (Shilbury & Sherry, 2005).

The Availability Heuristic is another cognitive process that may facilitate people’s inaccurate judgments of sports stars. Coined by psychologists as the Availability Heuristic, this cognitive process refers to the tendency of decision makers to assess the frequency of an event by the ease with which instances or occurrences can be brought to mind (Plous, 1993). Psychologists argue that relying on availability to estimate frequency of occurrence can be disadvantageous as decision makers’ risk simplifying what might otherwise have been a difficult judgment. Some events are more available than others not because they tend to occur more frequently but because they are inherently easier to think about (Plous, 1993). With regard to the topic at hand, it is plausible that people are using this cognitive process in their appraisals of sports stars. Due to the bolstering of negative images via media outlets people are much more likely to recall situations in which sports stars actions violate social standards as these events are far more likely to be reported than acts in which no violation occurred.  That is to say that although unfavourable situations involving sports stars are easier to recall than favourable ones it is not necessarily true that the rate of these occurrences outnumber the positive ones.  It is most likely due to the amount of negative information published rather than the frequency of these events.

The vividness of information is also believed to affect peoples’ ability to make decisions. According to the theory, vivid information is more influential in the decision making process than pallid, abstract or statistical information (Plous, 1993).  The dramatisation of negative events by means of disturbing imagery and language is a technique used by the media to affect the way their audiences process the presented information. By making specific pieces of information more vivid than others it forces audiences to pay closer attention to the desired components of stories rather than information that is more incongruent to the negative image they are trying to portray.  An example of the affect of information vividness is with regard to the media output of the Ben Cousins saga. In one particular piece a colour photograph of a shirtless Ben Cousins being arrested and displaying his trademark tattoo features predominantly on the page. A short article features alongside the image giving a brief overview of the scandal with no confirmatory evidence as to the details of the scandal or the status of his conviction mentioned (Humphries, 2007). Similar images flooded all forms of media output following the exposure of the scandal that led audiences to overestimate his immorality. Are audiences likely to recognise the lack of confirmatory evidence presented in the article or be influenced by the scandalous imagery and motivated to align their beliefs appropriately?

Vividness of information gives a hot cognitive explanation for the unjustifiable negative evaluation of sports stars. A hot cognitive approach is typified by decisions based on emotional and defensive motivations rather than informational considerations (Gilovich, 1991). Allowing images such as the one previously mentioned to predominantly influence judgments regarding the situation is an example of this emotional decision making approach. Conversely, cold cognitive approaches to decision making involve the rationalisation of situations and consideration of accumulated knowledge (Gilovich, 1991). An individual would be more likely to consider information beyond that vividly presented when appraising such a situation. For example, a decision maker using the hot cognitive approach would be motivated to condemn Ben Cousins on the basis of the disturbing image, as it is incongruent of the behaviours expected of a role model. However, if in a cold cognitive state consideration would be made to rationalise the incongruence in line with the views of the individual. That is to say that considerations for alternate explanations would be made such as the age of the sports star or their social pressures at the time of the incident.  Should sporting stars social status deny them the chance to make mistakes?

It is the belief of some people that sports stars should be held to a higher standard of moral conduct, as they are public figures that are expected to set the benchmark for what is acceptable in society (Remmers, 2010). It is believed that they are representative of more than themselves, idolised for more than their athletic abilities, and for such reasons should behave like the faultless role models they have been constructed to be. In an online discussion it was argued that due to the cultural characteristics of sport and the role it plays in mainstream society high-profile athletes are symbolic of moral standards in society. Furthermore, it was believed that for these reasons stars should be evaluated on more stringent criteria than other members of society (Critchley, 2008). Conversely, whilst other members of society do acknowledge that sports stars are held to a higher standard of moral conduct they are not of the same opinion that this double standard is warranted (Roar, 2008). In online opinion polls it is the belief of a number of individuals that sports stars are constructed by sponsors and the media to fit a marketable image for profitable outcomes. They believe that in situations where the stars actions are incongruent to their projected image stars are unfairly condemned by the media, their sponsors and in turn, by society (Fiedorek, 2010).  In order to avoid contradictions of data with their opinion people shared a tendency to interpret the data according to their own set of beliefs.

The reputation of sports stars is at the mercy of media outlets. The data and evidence fed to the general population is controlled and censored by the media.  This restriction of information risks severe biasing in the disclosed information. Gilovich (1991) argues that second hand information can have severe biasing effects.  Firstly, it is argued that some sources may have strong motive for telling a good story. With regard to sports stars, it is believed that gossip and scandals attract more attention and make more money than reporting occurrences of acceptable behaviour (Stark, 2007).  Furthermore, Gilovich (1991) also argues that is it difficult to avoid making a good story better. It is for this reason that media outlets are inclined to dramatise events and focus more on outrageous or scandalous pieces of information in their reports. The distortion of stories by these sources is particularly potent when the story is second hand. That is to say that when knowledge of events is reported by a source via another source on behalf of the involved party it can be the case that publications cease to mention certain pieces of information and it possible that inconvenient or incongruent pieces of information are not even known by the third party. It is apparent that media outlets have strong motives for constructing biased arguments and emphasising their own points of view in the tabloid coverage of sports stars. The projection of these biased pieces of information to the unsuspecting members of society in turn influences their opinions on associated issues.

The data show evidence that sports stars are held to a higher standard of conduct.  Although little consensus exists as to whether or not these increased appraisals are warranted the data show that expectations, responsibilities and weightings of status are augmented for these members of society. Research has found sufficient evidence exists to make a decision on one side or the other of this controversial topic and it is down to individual interpretations and cognitive assessments to align the data with personal opinions. It has been found that individuals are motivated by a number of reasons to interpret the data in ways which align most appropriately with their opinions and beliefs.  If individual members of society misinterpret the data as a result of heuristic error or manipulations by sources such as the media does it really matter? To assess the significance of these appraisals the associated costs must be considered.  On the level of the individual, sports stars careers and livelihoods are at the forefront of these decisions.  The decision by members of society to criticise and condemn these individuals is of great cost to them and their families. The affect of social disapproval can often cause irreparable damage to sports stars personal and professional lives.  On a social level, the deceptive manipulation of data by media sources can leave untrained decision makers vulnerable to exploitation. Creating an environment in which it is socially acceptable to unjustifiably condemn sports stars could deter future athletes from stepping into the limelight. In a society in which sport is a fundamental part of culture deterrence of membership could come at great costs.

 

References

Badel, P. & Ironside, R. (2010, September 17) Players behaving badly and under lens. The Courier Mail. p. 3.

Badel, P., Marshall, M., & Ritchie. D. (2010, September 17) Willie lends support as critics demand action. The Courier Mail. pp. 124-125.

Chance, K.X. (2009, December 18). Re: Tiger Woods and the immorality of probing for immorality [Web blog message]. Retrieved from  http://xavierchance. wordpress.com/2010/03/08/tiger-woods-and-the-immorality-of-probing-for-immorality/

Cowley, M. (2010, September 9). Twitter turns into anti-social networking trap for sport stars. The Sydney Morning Herald. http://www.smh.com.au

Critchley, C. (2008, June 12). Re: Sports stars are role models whether they like it or not. The Herald Sun. Retrieved from http://blogs.news.com.au/heraldsun

Fiedorek, A. (2010, April 29). Re: Professional athletes face double standard [Online forum opinions]. Retrieved from http://tsl.pomona.edu/new/index.php ?option=com_content&view=article&id=1152:professional-athletes-face-double-standard&catid=60:outside-the-bubble&Itemid=102

Fralic, S. (2010, March 26). Re: Jesse vs. Tiger: The cheating double standard. The Vancouver Sun. Retrieved from www.vancouversun.ca

Gilovich, T. (1991). How we know what isn’t so: The fallibility of human reasoning in everyday life. New York: The Free Press.

Humphries, D. (2007, October 20). Inside the Eagles drug nightmare. The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from  http://www.smh.com.au

Kellett, C, (2009, October 12). Farina suspension ‘too harsh’. The Brisbane Times, Retrieved from http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au

Mayberry,V. ( 2010, September 16) Thurston slammed in drunk tank. mX, p. 13.

Plous, S. (1993). The psychology of judgement and decision making. New York. McGraw-Hill.

Quinn, E. (2010, June 22). Re: Should Athletes Be Better Role Models? [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://sportsmedicine.about.com/b/2010/06/22/ should-athletes-be-better-role-models.htm

Remmers, J.K. (2010, April 16). Re: How public opinion defrocks stars where others fail. [Online forum comment]. Retrieved from http://themoderatevoice.com /69613/how-public-opinion-defrock-stars-where-others-fail/

Roar. (2010, March 18). Re: Do we have unfair expectations of our sports stars? [Online opinion poll]. Retireved from http://www.theroar.com.au/2010/03/18/

Shilbury, D. & Sherry, E. (2005, September 19). Re: Great sporting expectations [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/ view.asp ?article=176

Stark, J. (2007, Septmeber 1). Re: Exposing our dirty double standards [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/columns/story ?columnist=stark_jayson&id=3009424

Toohey, P. (2010, September 18). How drug addiction shot down an eagle. The Courier Mail. pp. 66-67.



Which Side is Right? The Fight for the Inclusion of an R18+ Classification for Video Games in Australia
November 2, 2010, 4:59 am
Filed under: Censorship

In today’s society, virtual media plays a significant part in people’s lives. Currently, 99.7% of Australian households own at least one television (Screen Australia Research Statistics, 2010), while 78% of households have access to a computer (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2009).  Video games, a form of virtual media, are simulations where a person interacts with a virtual environment through the use of computers or gaming consoles, and encompass a wide variety of genres (Wikipedia, 2010b).  Numerous games depict violent and unlawful acts, including theft, assault, and various forms of death and destruction, explicit content which has been suggested to elicit real life aggression (Anderson et al., 2003; Bushman & Anderson, 2001; Huesmann, 2007).

In Australia, games are classified according to the levels of explicit content they display by the Australian Classification Board, a legislative classification and censorship body (Wikipedia, 2010a).  At present, there are four ratings the Board can to video games: General Exhibition (G), Parental Guidance recommended (PG), Recommended for Mature Audiences (M), and Mature Accompanied (MA15+), which is unsuitable for persons under 15.  Gaming content determined to exceed an MA15+ rating results in the game being refused classification (RC), making its distribution in Australian illegal.  These games are often subsequently edited in order to receive the MA15+ rating.

At present, additional classifications of R18+ and X18+ are only be applied to the mediums of film and literature, making such products legally unavailable for distribution to minors due to high level explicit content.  The introduction of an R18+ rating to video games distributed in Australia is in question, and thus far has been disallowed by South Australia’s former Attorney-General Michael Atkinson.  This report seeks to critically examine presenting arguments for and against the introduction of an R18+ classification in Australia through the use of the 6 leads of opinion change.

The 6 Leads of Opinion Change

What do you really believe anyway?

A discussion paper from the Attorney-General’s department (2009) released to the public details the numerous arguments both for against the establishment of an R18+ classification in Australia.  The negative side’s primary issue is that an R18+ rating would enable an increased amount of explicit content to fall into the hands of minors.

Atkinson revealed in an interview with Peter Mares of ABC radio (2009) that explicit content (i.e. drug abuse, sexual themes, high level violence) dealt with in games currently classified as RC is too extreme for minors, fearing that it could also negatively affect the mentally disordered population.  Such content has the potential to increase antisocial and/or aggressive behaviours in youths (Anderson et al., 2003).

This is also the rationale behind the different classifications between films and games.  It is reasoned that the interactive nature of video games depicting violent content evokes emotions such as aggression in a way that can not be achieved simply through the viewing of a film.

Classifications are only effective if consumers could distinguish between restricted (R18+) content and unrestricted (MA15+ or lower) content.  Due to the questionable nature of the availability and quality of classification information (English or otherwise), concerns were also raised about the levels of understanding presented by non-English speaking citizens and Indigenous communities.

The ability of a parent to monitor what games their children played was also questioned, reflected in Atkinson’s discussion (2009).  It was theorised that despite laws preventing minors’ viewing unsuitable films in cinemas, their parents monitored the restriction of unsuitable games in the household.  For example, the effectiveness of child locks on gaming consoles and computers is determined by a parent’s awareness of the function; even then, such locks are not completely child-proof.

The Classification Board is widely thought of as lenient with regards to what games are allowed into Australia under an MA15+ rating, causing Atkinson to believe that an R18+ rating could allow processes to be even more relaxed.  There is also deemed to be no need to change the existing classifications scheme.  There are only a small number of games that are affected by the lack of an R18+ rating, and applied RC classifications are usually compensated for by the production of ‘toned down’ versions, subsequently classified as MA15+.

There are, however, various counter-arguments put forward by the public.    The main focus of their arguments is that of principle: even though the content of RC games is unsuitable for access by minors, this does not mean that adult consumers should be prevented too.  The average age of a ‘gamer’ was determined to be 30 years, inferring that the number of minors thought to be affected by explicit content is an exaggeration.

David Doe (2009) revealed that, regardless of the presence of an R18+ rating, even high sexual and drug themes are strictly prohibited, receiving an automatic refusal of classification.  Adding to that, he states that while unsuitable games are slipping under the radar as being MA15+, an R18+ rating would ensure that such games were properly classified and hence not readily available for distribution among minors.

Evidence has been found that suggests that data supporting the violent game/aggression relationship has very little validity (Ferguson & Kilburn, 2010;).  Similar research has also found that violent games (such as shooters) also promote various skills, including spatial abilities, processing, visual memory and processing, and mental rotation (Castel, Pratt, & Drummond, 2005; Feng, Spence, & Pratt, 2007; Ferguson, Cruz, & Rueda, 2008)

Research has shown that the introduction of an R18+ classification would reduce ambiguity of what content is classed as restricted.  This would serve to promote technological methods of protection (e.g. child lock), as well as giving parents a better understanding of a game’s suitability (Brand, Borchard & Holmes, 2009).  The ambiguity is caused by a contradiction, with MA15+ games referred to as ‘unsuitable’, yet still available to a minor, and is accentuated by the presence of two versions of particular games as a result of an RC rating.  An R18+ rating promotes international consistency with other rating schemes, as well as increasing the credibility of Australia’s National Classification Scheme (NCS).

The ambiguity of the MA15+ rating for games is exacerbated by the different classifications for similar films, as well as the increasing association between the media (e.g. DVDs with games as part of the extra content).  This lack of cohesion between rating schemes is amplified by the presence of R18+ rated DVDs.  Ultimately, it is up to a minor’s parents as to what materials are available to them; the lack of this concept for games is a contradiction in the opposition’s argument.

Moral arguments are considered to be notwithstanding, as many of them are circumstantial and based on one’s point of view, while being contradicted by double standards (e.g. violence is acceptable in sport, though not video games).  Finally, an R18+ rating would benefit suppliers, retailers and copyright owners, as it would decrease the illegal importation and download of games otherwise classified as RC.  The ambiguity of the RC rating (prone to misinterpretation as ‘unsuitable for minors’ rather that just ‘unsuitable’) would also be reduced.

How well based is the opinion?

The opinion of those opposed to the introduction of an R18+ rating is grounded in formal research which has revealed there to be a correlation between violent/explicit content video-games and negative emotions (i.e. aggression).  There is clear evidence of the Classification Board’s lenience, while common sense similarly dictates that those who do not understand classifications are at a higher risk of exposure to unsuitable content.

Counter-arguments logically theorise that having an R18+ rating would account for an improvement in protection technology and understanding of the classifications.  This gives consumers less reason to obtain the material illegally, and effectively protects minors, as explicit content would be harder to obtain first hand.  It is argued that it would be logical to better aid parents in protecting their children with unambiguous information, rather than restricting one’s freedoms and prohibiting adults from making their own decisions altogether.  Research has also found that certain types of unsuitable games aid a gamer, rather than causing psychological stress.

How good are the data?

Numerous flaws have been found in the methodology of studies focusing on game-induced aggression (Ferguson, 2007a; Ferguson, 2007b).  Such limitations include limited sample sizes (insufficient power), and the lack of clinically validated measures.  Other studies do not match violent and non-violent games on confounding dimensions (e.g. frustration, game difficulty, and excitement); reported aggression could easily be attributed to one losing a game, rather than depicted violence.  King and Delfabbro (2010) propose that while violent acts can be committed by those who admit to playing violent games (a selection effect), it could be that innately aggressive people choose to expose themselves to similar events (an exposure effect).  No long-term negative social effects have been presented, and observable effects decrease as a function of age, revealing no significant effects for those aged over 10.

On the other hand, supporting evidence is similarly scant, mainly due to the one-sided nature of the argument and a publication bias; there is a lack of research to provide the evidence, rather than a lack of evidence alone.  However, of the research that has been conducted, reliable results have found flaws in opposing research’s data, as well as some research highlighting some numerous advantages of violent games.  Overall, this means that the data are relatively good, though not as well researched as it needs to be.

Do the current data really contradict either side’s beliefs?

The data presented by aggression research studies do not necessarily contradict the opinions presented by those in favour of an R18+ rating.  Such a contradiction is because that while they want the inclusion of the rating in the NCS, they don’t advocate exposure of the material to minors.  This is evident in that they want explicit content to be properly rated, resulting in the reduction of its availability to minors.  As a result, any opposing data is not significant enough to generate opinion change.

The current data also largely contradict the argument put forward by those opposed to the rating.  Not only does the data render previous research into game-induced aggression defunct, but there are numerous other contradictions to be considered.  Due to exposure being a matter of choice, there is no evidence to suggest that minors would be at a greater risk as a result of introducing the rating.  As Atkinson mentions in his interview, a problem is that the Classification Board wrongly classifies games, though the inclusion of an R18+ would negate this, contradicting the “no need for change” argument.

If such evidence is not enough to elicit opinion change, what would be sufficient?

At present, none of the research conducted thus far is grounds for saying that there is a link between violent games and aggressive emotions; though neither is it grounds for saying that there isn’t.  Hot cognitive approaches to the issue dictate that neither side is willing to change their opinion due to motivational and emotional influences.  However, those in favour of the inclusion of the rating have logically taken their opposition’s arguments into consideration and provided adequate counter-arguments, demonstrating a more cold cognitive approach.

This would indicate that both sides require irrefutable evidence supporting the other’s argument before they are willing to consider changing their own opinions.  As such, sufficient data are deemed to be free of all limitations, presented in a clear, concise way.  An ideal data set would present a convincing argument that doesn’t require them to completely change their previous opinion, while allowing them to observe the true results of the research without bias.

Is it worth finding out about, or merely a case of “why not”?

The data supporting both arguments are worth further investigation, as neither party has considered the relative costs.  Retainment of the current system, while offering protection of minors from RC content, intrudes on the moral rights of adults (i.e. the choice to see, hear and read what they want), and negatively impacts retailers and copyright owners through the illegal acquiring of such content.  On the other hand, adults and retailers are benefited by the rating, though it potentially exposes minors to highly explicit content.  Further research into both sides of the argument would serve to provide substantial evidence as to how tolerable a cost is, as well as its impact on the community.

Conclusion

Contraire to popular belief, the “It must be in the middle heuristic” never properly applies to a context with two opposing sides/stories.  As was demonstrated, the argument for the inclusion of an R18+ rating was much more logically grounded, providing acceptable rebuttals to each of the opposition’s key issues.  It could be said that people like Atkinson are succumbing to the overconfidence effect, as they are dismissing opposing arguments without removing bias and rationally considering each possibility.  It is this effect coupled with a hot cognition approach and the failure to fully account for the costs that has shown the argument against an R18+ rating to be ineffectual.  However, there is invariably some truth in the research that supports opinions of both sides regardless of the logic behind them, thus future research should be directed at establishing the extent to which this research can be used as grounds for effectively presenting arguments for this issue.

References

Anderson, C., Berkowitz, L., Donnerstein, E., Heusmann, L. R., Johnson, J., Linz, D., Malamuth, N., et al. (2003).  The influence of media violence on youth.  Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 4, 81–110.

Attorney-General’s Department (2009).  Should the Australian National Classification Scheme include an R18+ classification category for computer games? Retrieved October 1, 2010, from http://www.ag.gov.au/gamesclassification

Australian Bureau of Statistics.  (2009).  Household use of information technology, Australia 2008-09. Cat. No. 8146.0.  Canberra.  Retieved October 2, 2010, from http://abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/8146.0Main+Features12008-09?OpenDocument

Brand, J. E., Borchard, J. & Holmes, K. (2009).  Case study: Australia’s computer games audience and restrictive ratings system.  Communications & Strategies, 73, 67-79.

Bushman, B., & Anderson, C. (2001).  Media violence and the American public.  American Psychologist, 56, 477–489.

Castel, A., Pratt, J., & Drummond, E. (2005).  The effects of action video game experience on the time course of inhibition of return and the efficiency of visual search.  Acta Psychologica, 119, 217–230.

Feng, J., Spence, I., & Pratt, J. (2007).  Playing an action video game reduces gender differences in spatial cognition.  Psychological Science, 18, 850–855.

Ferguson, C. J. (2007a).  The good, the bad and the ugly: A meta-analytic review of positive and negative effects of violent video games.  Psychiatric Quarterly, 78, 309–316.

Ferguson, C. J. (2007b).  Evidence for publication bias in video game violence effects literature: A meta-analytic review.  Aggression and Violent Behavior, 12, 470–482.

Ferguson, C. J., Cruz, A., & Rueda, S. (2008).  Gender, video game playing habits and visual memory tasks.  Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, 58, 279–286.

Ferguson, C. J., & Kilburn, J. (2010).  Much ado about nothing: The misestimation and over interpretation of violent video game effects in Eastern and Western nations_Comment on Anderson et al. (2010).  Psychological Bulletin, 136, 51–173.

Huesmann, L. R. (2007).  The impact of electronic media violence: Scientific theory and research.  Journal of Adolescent Health, 41, S6–S13.

King, D., & Delfabbro, P. (2010).  Should Australia have an R18+ classification for video games? Youth Studies Australia, 29(1), 9-17.

Screen Australia Research and Statistics.  (2010).  Free-to-air TV. Peters, B.  Retrieved October 4, 2010, from http://www.screenaustralia.gov.au/gtp/freetv.html

Wikipedia (2010a).  Australian classification board.  Retrieved October 1, 2010, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australian_Classification_Board

Wikipedia (2010b).  Video game.  Retrieved October 6, 2010, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Video_game