Convention Coverage

PSPI Symposium: In the Public Interest

Richard J. McNally (top) and Craig A. Anderson discuss their reports on Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Media Violence, respectively.

The Each issue of the APS journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest covers a single topic in psychological science chosen for its importance to the general public. At the APS Annual Convention, Richard J. McNally, Harvard University , and Craig A. Anderson, Iowa State University, spoke about their articles in the symposium “Psychological Science in the Public Interest.”

Does Early Psychological Intervention Promote Recovery From Posttraumatic Stress?

The tragic events of September 11, 2001 were distressing for many Americans. Of particular concern was the psychological health of the New Yorkers, fire fighters, police officers, and victim’s families closely involved in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks

APS Fellow McNally suggested that government officials were immediately concerned with the potential for widespread trauma-related symptoms. “Within a couple of days of the attacks on New York City , more than 9,000 counselors arrived in New York to provide assistance,” McNally said. The purpose of these counselors was to provide individuals with crisis intervention in order to prevent subsequent experiences of posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

According to McNally, a popular method of crisis intervention is psychological debriefing, which was initially developed to help rescue workers exposed to traumatic events such as car accidents, fires, or murders. McNally suggested that these people “were bottling up feelings that they really needed to process.” Debriefing entails a three to four hour session between a facilitator and the traumatized individual, held within days of a distressing event. The session allows the individual to process the traumatic event by discussing it during a one-on-one or group session with the facilitator. The individual is encouraged to describe the worse part of the event and what physical symptoms they are experiencing.

Psychological Science in the Public Interest
Stephen J. Ceci, co-chair
Cornell University
Robert A. Bjork, co-chair
University of California, Los Angeles
Richard J. McNally
Harvard University
Craig A. Anderson
Iowa State University

Although McNally said that “surveys that have been done on people who have been exposed to psychological debriefing almost unanimously show that people appreciate it,” the evidence he reviewed reveals that psychological debriefing does not reduce the occurrence of PTSD. Actually, McNally suggested that psychological debriefing can actually “make matters worse.” Psychological debriefing, although well-intentioned, does not have evidence for its effectiveness.

McNally concluded his talk by suggesting that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy may be a more encouraging means of early psychological intervention. CBT is a multi-session therapy that educates the traumatized individual about the event and encourages the individual to relive the event using the process of systematic desensitization. It requires the individual to cognitively restructure maladaptive beliefs and teaches effective relaxation techniques. Although psychological debriefing resembles CBT, its structure and length does not provide a reduction in subsequent PTSD-related symptoms.

The Influence of Media Violence on Youth

Video games, song lyrics, television shows, and films are littered with violent imagery. Media proponents say no. APS Fellow and Charter Member Anderson disagrees. Anderson states that he is “one of the few people who feel comfortable saying the C-word in large public forums.” Anderson made his position clear: Exposure to media violence causes aggressive behavior.

In a report originally commissioned by the US Surgeon General, but later rejected under apparent political pressure, Anderson and his colleagues reviewed evidence from hundreds of studies based on well-tested theoretical processes. These studies typically used one of three research methodologies: experimental, correlational, or longitudinal. Although these three broad methodologies have been used, the research in these domains arrives at the same conclusion: Short-term exposure to media violence leads to an immediate increase in aggression, and long-term or repeated exposure to media violence increases aggression throughout one’s lifespan.

According to Anderson , this large literature base reveals four underlying processes responsible for the increase in aggression after short- and long-term exposure to media violence. These include observational learning and imitation , priming effects and the automation of these effects over time , physiological arousal and excitation transfer, and emotional desensitization . Exposure to media violence influences aggressive behavior through one or more of these routes.

Anderson believes effect size is an important statistic in showing the media violence-aggression link. He contended that the effects size for the relationship between media violence and subsequent aggression is larger than the effect size for many relationships that have prompted government action. These relationships include smoking and lung cancer, condom use and HIV prevention, asbestos exposure and cancer, amount of time spent on homework and grades, and calcium intake and bone mass.

According to Anderson , there are two take-home messages from media-violence research. First, “The scientific debate is over in this domain. It has actually been over among academic experts in the domain for quite some time. Violent media cause increases in aggressive and violent behavior. There is absolutely no doubt about that.” Second, “It is now time, in my view, for serious public policy debate about what to do.” He believes there are several options, including parental and child education, identification of parental tools that can be used to reduce youth exposure to media violence, and a discussion of the possibility of governmental regulation. t

The reports discussed in this symposium are available online at .

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