Manhattan Feeling a little down on yourself? Think a video game will lift your spirits?
Just don’t go for games that feature exceptionally muscular men or very thin women, or your self-esteem could take a hit, according to a psychology professor at Kansas State University.
Richard Harris said his research indicates a mere 15 minutes of viewing extreme body types in video games can negatively affect players’ feelings about their own bodies.
“It was kind of sobering that it did have such a short-term effect,” Harris said.
Harris and graduate student Christopher Barlett organized two study groups of university students.
The men played “WWF Wrestlemania 2000,” a professional wrestling game that included enormous muscular specimens such as The Rock, Big Boss Man and The Undertaker.
The second study group was made up of women who played a beach volleyball game.
Participants in the research were surveyed about their body image before playing the sports games and questioned after interacting with the games for 15 minutes.
Both male and female subjects viewed their own bodies more negatively after completing a cycle at the game control, Harris said. He said the immediacy of reaction by game players was disturbing because video games are such a powerful element of popular culture.
“I’m not saying that everyone with major body-image issues has them because of video games,” Harris said. “There may be other issues of concern with video games besides the well-known concern about violence.”
Previous research has raised questions about violence in video games inducing dangerous behavior in players. Other studies have examined the portrayal of women in television, movies and advertising.
In the Kansas State study, Harris said response to the video games reflected an emerging trend in the media toward idealized images of men.
“There’s been a lot of interest for a long time on the unrealistic supermodel image in advertising,” he said. “What isn’t as well known is that idealized masculine image is becoming so much more muscular and is just as unrealistic as the supermodel image.”
He said it would be as difficult for a man to make his body resemble that of a WWF wrestler as it would be for a woman to approach the body shape of Barbie.
There is no way for a man to mirror a superhero action figure without the use of steroids, he said.
“There’s some evidence of increasing numbers of body-image disorders in men, which used to be very rare,” Harris said.