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Long-Term Relations Among Prosocial-Media Use, Empathy, and Prosocial Behavior

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Despite recent growth of research on the effects of prosocial media, processes underlying these effects are not well understood. Two studies explored theoretically relevant mediators and moderators of the effects of prosocial media on helping. Study 1 examined associations among prosocial- and violent-media use, empathy, and helping in samples from seven countries. Prosocial-media use was positively associated with helping. This effect was mediated by empathy and was similar across cultures. Study 2 explored longitudinal relations among prosocial-video-game use, violent-video-game use, empathy, and helping in a large sample of Singaporean children and adolescents measured three times across 2 years. Path analyses showed significant longitudinal effects of prosocial- and violent-video-game use on prosocial behavior through empathy. Latent-growth-curve modeling for the 2-year period revealed that change in video-game use significantly affected change in helping, and that this relationship was mediated by change in empathy.
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Psychological Science
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DOI: 10.1177/0956797613503854
2014 25: 358 originally published online 11 December 2013Psychological Science
Tajima, Roxana Andreea Toma, Wayne Warburton, Xuemin Zhang and Ben Chun Pan Lam SachiMargareta Jelic, Barbara Krahé, Wei Liuqing, Albert K. Liau, Angeline Khoo, Poesis Diana Petrescu, Akira Sakamoto,
Sara Prot, Douglas A. Gentile, Craig A. Anderson, Kanae Suzuki, Edward Swing, Kam Ming Lim, Yukiko Horiuchi,
Long-Term Relations Among Prosocial-Media Use, Empathy, and Prosocial Behavior
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Psychological Science
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DOI: 10.1177/0956797613503854
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Research Article
Recent years have witnessed increasing interest in posi-
tive effects of prosocial media (e.g., Greitemeyer, 2011a,
2011b). A growing research literature has demonstrated
that prosocial media can foster prosocial interactions.
Significant effects of prosocial media on helping have
been demonstrated for a variety of media, including tele-
vision shows (Mares & Woodard, 2005), video games
(Saleem, Anderson, & Gentile, 2012a), and music lyrics
(Greitemeyer, 2009).1 For example, Gentile et al.
(2009) found that adolescents’ greater use of prosocial
video games was related to more frequent helping,
503854PSSXXX10.1177/0956797613503854Prot et al.Prosocial-Media Use, Empathy, and Prosocial Behavior
research-article2013
Corresponding Author:
Sara Prot, Department of Psychology, Iowa State University, W112
Lagomarcino Hall, Ames, IA 50011-3180
E-mail: sprot@iastate.edu
Long-Term Relations Among
Prosocial-Media Use, Empathy,
and Prosocial Behavior
Sara Prot1, Douglas A. Gentile1, Craig A. Anderson1, Kanae
Suzuki2, Edward Swing1, Kam Ming Lim3, Yukiko Horiuchi4,
Margareta Jelic5, Barbara Krahé6, Wei Liuqing7,
Albert K. Liau3, Angeline Khoo3, Poesis Diana Petrescu8,
Akira Sakamoto4, Sachi Tajima9, Roxana Andreea Toma8,
Wayne Warburton10, Xuemin Zhang7, and
Ben Chun Pan Lam1
1Department of Psychology, Iowa State University; 2Faculty of Library, Information and Media Science,
University of Tsukuba; 3National Institute of Education, Singapore; 4Department of Psychology,
Ochanomizu University; 5Department of Psychology, University of Zagreb; 6Department of Psychology,
University of Potsdam; 7School of Psychology, Beijing Normal University; 8Department of Psychology,
West University of Timisoara; 9Department of Psychology, Kantogakuen University; and 10Department
of Psychology, Macquarie University
Abstract
Despite recent growth of research on the effects of prosocial media, processes underlying these effects are not
well understood. Two studies explored theoretically relevant mediators and moderators of the effects of prosocial
media on helping. Study 1 examined associations among prosocial- and violent-media use, empathy, and helping in
samples from seven countries. Prosocial-media use was positively associated with helping. This effect was mediated
by empathy and was similar across cultures. Study 2 explored longitudinal relations among prosocial-video-game use,
violent-video-game use, empathy, and helping in a large sample of Singaporean children and adolescents measured
three times across 2 years. Path analyses showed significant longitudinal effects of prosocial- and violent-video-game
use on prosocial behavior through empathy. Latent-growth-curve modeling for the 2-year period revealed that change
in video-game use significantly affected change in helping, and that this relationship was mediated by change in
empathy.
Keywords
mass media, cross-cultural differences, social behavior, prosocial media, violent media, prosocial behavior, empathy,
helping, general learning model, prediction
Received 3/1/13; Revision accepted 8/10/13
at IOWA STATE UNIV on February 23, 2014pss.sagepub.comDownloaded from
Prosocial-Media Use, Empathy, and Prosocial Behavior 359
cooperation, and sharing, in cross-sectional, longitudinal,
and experimental studies. Other studies have shown sig-
nificant associations between watching prosocial televi-
sion programs and performing prosocial acts in real life
(e.g., Rosenkoetter, 1999; Sprafkin & Rubinstein, 1979).
Experimental studies have demonstrated short-term
causal effects of prosocial media. For example, Greitemeyer
and Osswald (2010) showed that playing prosocial video
games made participants more likely to help researchers
pick up fallen pencils, agree to participate in further
experiments, and come to the aid of a female experimenter
who was being harassed by an ex-boyfriend.
Longitudinal studies suggest that habitual use of pro-
social media can cause long-term increases in prosocial
behavior. Gentile et al. (2009) found that the amount of
prosocial-video-game play predicted increases in proso-
cial behavior over a period of 3 to 4 months. D. R.
Anderson et al. (2000) found that children who watched
the television show Blue’s Clues showed significantly
greater increases in prosocial behaviors than nonviewers.
Together, correlational, experimental, and longitudinal
studies in this area provide evidence that prosocial media
have effects on prosocial behavior.
These effects can be understood within the framework
of the general learning model, an extension of the gen-
eral aggression model (C. A. Anderson & Bushman, 2002;
Barlett & Anderson, 2013; Buckley & Anderson, 2006;
Gentile, Groves, & Gentile, in press; Maier & Gentile,
2012). The general learning model is a metatheoretical
framework that integrates key ideas from several more
specific models, including social learning theory and
social-cognitive theory (Bandura, 1973, 1983), script the-
ory (Huesmann, 1986, 1998), cognitive-neoassociation
theory (Berkowitz, 1984), cultivation theory (Comstock
& Scharrer, 2007), desensitization theory (Carnagey,
Anderson, & Bushman, 2007), and social information-
processing theory (Crick & Dodge, 1994). It provides a
general framework for understanding how long-term
beliefs, attitudes, and affective traits are developed from
various life experiences.
According to the general learning model, people learn
from environmental interactions, including from the
media, and they do so through several learning mecha-
nisms. Media content determines much of what is learned.
Violent media are likely to increase the probability of
aggressive behavior and decrease the probability of pro-
social behavior because of changes in attitudes, beliefs,
affect, and scripts. Prosocial media are expected to
decrease the likelihood of aggression and increase the
likelihood of prosocial behavior. In short-term contexts,
prosocial media are thought to affect behavior by prim-
ing prosocial cognitions (including scripts) and increas-
ing positive affect (Saleem et al., 2012a; Saleem, Anderson,
& Gentile, 2012b). In long-term contexts, prosocial media
are posited to affect behavior through long-term changes
in beliefs, attitudes, behavioral scripts, and affective traits.
Although effects of prosocial media have been dem-
onstrated, processes underlying these effects have been
less extensively researched and are less understood than
processes underlying the effects of violent media (e.g.,
C. A. Anderson et al., 2003). At present, there is empirical
support for short-term predictions of the general learning
model concerning prosocial media’s effects; several
experimental studies have demonstrated short-term
effects of prosocial media on helping using diverse sam-
ples, manipulations, and measures (Barlett & Anderson,
2013). These studies point to empathy as a key mediator
of short-term effects of prosocial media (Greitemeyer,
2009; Greitemeyer, Osswald, & Brauer, 2010). However,
no studies have examined long-term mediators of proso-
cial media’s effects on helping. Empirical evidence con-
cerning potential moderators of these relationships is
also lacking. Whereas some studies suggest that age, cul-
ture, and parental involvement in media habits may sig-
nificantly moderate the effects of media violence (e.g.,
C. A. Anderson et al., 2003; C. A. Anderson, Gentile, &
Buckley, 2007), the meta-analysis by C. A. Anderson et al.
(2010) did not show significant effects of culture or age
on the effect sizes for the effects of violent media on
prosocial behavior. This evidence suggests that effects of
prosocial media may also be similar across cultures, but
no comparable data are as yet available to test this
prediction.
To address these gaps, we conducted two studies on
potential mediators and moderators of prosocial media’s
effects on helping. Study 1 examined relations among
prosocial-media use, empathy, and helping in samples
from seven countries. We hypothesized that greater pro-
social-media use would be associated with more frequent
helping (defined here as voluntary behavior intended to
benefit another person) and that this effect would be at
least partially mediated by empathy (the tendency to be
aware of and react to the mental and emotional states of
other people; Davis, 1983). Given past findings of proso-
cial media’s effects on empathy and prosocial behavior in
short-term contexts (e.g., Greitemeyer, 2009; Greitemeyer
et al., 2010), we focused on empathy as a potential key
mediator of the effects of habitual prosocial-media use
on prosocial behavior in the long term. Study 1 also
explored gender, age, and culture as potential modera-
tors. On the basis of the general learning model, we
expected that the effects of prosocial media on empathy
and prosocial behavior would generalize across gender,
age, and culture.
Study 2 examined relations among prosocial- and
violent-media use, empathy, and helping in a longitudi-
nal sample of 3,034 children and adolescents measured
three times over a period of 2 years. The longitudinal
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360 Prot et al.
design allowed for stronger tests of our causal mediation
model. We hypothesized that prosocial-media use would
predict increases in trait empathy and prosocial behavior
over time.
Study 1
Method
Participants.This cross-sectional correlational study
explored relations among prosocial-media use, empathy,
and prosocial behavior across cultures. Samples were
obtained in seven countries: Australia (426 participants),
China (203 participants), Croatia (438 participants), Ger-
many (200 participants), Japan (395 participants), Roma-
nia (233 participants), and the United States (307
participants). The total sample of 2,202 adolescents and
young adults was 40.0% male and 59.6% female (0.4% of
participants did not report their gender) and had a mean
age of 21 years (SD = 5.6).
Measures.Participants responded to a questionnaire
either online or in face-to-face interviews by trained
research assistants. The choice of an online or in-person
questionnaire was based on appropriateness to each
country.
Media use was measured using a version of the
General Media Habits Questionnaire (C. A. Anderson &
Dill, 2000; Gentile, Lynch, Linder, & Walsh, 2004).
Participants listed their three favorite television shows,
three favorite movies, and three favorite video games.
They rated each show, movie, and game separately for
how frequently they watched or played it (nine items;
5-point scale from watch/play once a month or less to
watch/play 5 or more times a week).
Participants rated each of their listed television shows
and movies for prosocial content (“How often do charac-
ters help each other?”) and for violent content (“How
often do characters try to physically injure each other?”).
These two items were rated on 7-point scales that ranged
from never to all the time. To capture the more active and
varied characteristics of video-game play, we used two
items to measure prosocial content in each game (“How
often do characters help each other in this game?” and
“How often do you help others in this game?”). Similarly,
two items were used to measure violent content in each
game (“How often do characters try to physically injure
each other in this game?” and “How often do you try to
physically injure players in this game?”). Again, 7-point
scales ranging from never to all the time were used.
For each video game listed by the participant, ratings on
the two prosocial-content items were averaged to create
a prosocial-content score comparable to the prosocial-
content score for each television show and movie.
Similarly, ratings on the two violent-content items were
averaged. Thus, each of the (up to) nine screen entertain-
ment products listed (three TV shows, three movies,
three video games) had a frequency score, a prosocial-
content score, and a violent-content score. Such self-rat-
ings of media content have been shown to correlate
highly with and yield validities similar to expert ratings
(Gentile et al., 2009; Busching et al., 2013).
Empathy was measured by the empathic-concern and
perspective-taking subscales from the Interpersonal
Reactivity Index (IRI; Davis, 1980, 1983; 14 items). The
IRI measures empathy as a stable personality characteris-
tic. An example item is “Before criticizing somebody, I try
to imagine how I would feel if I were in their place.
Items were rated on a scale from 1 (does not describe me
well) to 5 (describes me very well). Empathy scores were
computed by averaging across the 14 items.
Prosocial behavior was measured using the Brief
Prosocial Scale (adapted from P. C. Cheung, Ma, & Shek,
1998; 10 items). An example item is “I try to be helpful to
people even if I don’t expect to see them ever again.
Items were rated on a scale from 1 (extremely uncharac-
teristic of me) to 7 (extremely characteristic of me). Scores
were averaged across the 10 items.
Also assessed were gender, age, race, grade point
average, socioeconomic status, and parental education.
Results
Preliminary analyses.To calculate total prosocial-
media exposure, we multiplied the frequency of watch-
ing or playing each favorite television show, movie, and
video game by its corresponding prosocial-content rating
and then summed these nine products. Violent-media
exposure was calculated similarly. Total screen time was
computed by summing participants’ ratings of how fre-
quently they watched and played the television shows,
movies, and video games that they had listed as their
favorites. Descriptive statistics for the scales in this study
are shown in Table 1. (See Section 1 of the Supplemental
Material available online for correlations between the
main variables.) Race, grade point average, socioeco-
nomic status, and parental education were not signifi-
cantly related to media habits or prosocial behaviors, so
these variables were excluded from further analyses. On
the basis of geographical location and scores on the cul-
tural dimension of individualism-collectivism (Hofstede,
1980; Hofstede, Hofstede, & Minkov, 2010), we divided
the nations into three cultural groups: individualistic
Western countries (Australia, Germany, and the United
States), collectivistic East European countries (Croatia
and Romania), and collectivistic East Asian countries
(China and Japan).
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Prosocial-Media Use, Empathy, and Prosocial Behavior 361
Multigroup confirmatory factor analyses were con-
ducted with Mplus 6.1 (Muthén & Muthén, 2010) to test
the measurement equivalence of empathy and prosocial
behavior across cultural groups. Missing data were treated
using full-information maximum likelihood estimation.
Because of the large sample size, differences in the
comparative-fit index (CFI), rather than nested chi-square
tests, were used to test invariance (G. W. Cheung &
Rensvold, 2002). A difference (in absolute value) between
two CFIs of less than .01 suggests invariance. A measure-
ment model of empathy and prosocial behavior across
cultures and without parameter constraints showed ade-
quate model fit, χ2(32) = 121.74, p < .01; Tucker-Lewis
index (TLI) = .98; CFI = .98; root-mean-square error of
approximation (RMSEA) = .06, 90% confidence interval
(CI) = [.05, .08]. The results of cross-group equality-
constrained models (see Section 2 of the Supplemental
Material) established metric equivalence for the measures
of empathy and prosocial behavior across the cultural
groups. Therefore, in the main analyses, the forms and
factor loadings of empathy and prosocial behavior were
constrained to be equal across the groups.
Main results.A structural model of media use, empa-
thy, and prosocial behavior was examined (Fig. 1).
Total screen time, violent-media use, gender, and age
were statistically controlled. This model had good fit,
χ2(52) = 187.13, p < .01; TLI = .96; CFI = .98; RMSEA = .05,
90% CI = [.04, .06]. Within each group, greater prosocial-
media use was linked to higher levels of prosocial behav-
ior; this association was fully mediated by empathy.
Constraining the indirect effects of prosocial-media use
on prosocial behavior through empathy to be equal
across groups resulted in a significantly poorer model fit
(ΔCFI = .03). Paired comparisons showed significant dif-
ferences between all three groups (ΔCFI > .01 for all three
paired comparisons). Thus, the effects of prosocial media
differed among the cultural groups. Nonetheless, the indi-
rect effects of prosocial-media use on prosocial behavior
through empathy were of similar magnitudes in all three
groups (standardized indirect effect = 0.38 for Western
countries, 0.21 for East European countries, and 0.28 for
East Asian countries, all ps < .01). These results suggest
considerable cross-cultural generalization of the links
among prosocial-media use, empathy, and prosocial
behavior.
To examine gender as a potential moderator, we ran
three series of multigroup models comparing results for
men and women within each cultural group. As in the
previous model, prosocial-media use was entered as a
predictor of helping, with empathy as a mediator, and
with total screen time, violent-media use, and age statisti-
cally controlled. Good model fit was obtained for
an unrestricted multigroup model—Western sample:
χ2(60) = 146.06, p < .01; TLI = .96; CFI = .97; RMSEA = .06,
90% CI = [.04, .08]; East European sample: χ2(60) = 107.58,
p < .01; TLI = .96; CFI = .97; RMSEA = .05, 90% CI = [.03,
.06]; East Asian sample: χ2(60) = 98.04, p < .01; TLI = .95;
CFI = .96; RMSEA = .05, 90% CI = [.03, .06]. Constraining
path coefficients from prosocial-media use to empathy
and from empathy to prosocial behavior to be equal
across genders did not result in a significant reduction in
model fit, ΔCFI = .00 for each of the three cultural groups.
Thus, prosocial-media effects were similar for men and
women.
In our next model, we examined age as a moderator
by adding Age × Prosocial-Media Use and Age × Violent-
Media Use interaction terms. No significant interactive
effects on empathy or helping were found (all ps > .05).
Discussion
Study 1 yielded similar paths from prosocial-media use
to prosocial behavior via empathy across the seven
Table 1.Mean Scores and Reliabilities for the Main Scales of Interest in Study 1
Country means
Variable
Number of
items Mean αAustralia China Croatia Germany Japan Romania
United
States
Prosocial-media use 9 .82 110.02
(38.59)
91.07
(42.36)
62.27
(32.64)
61.29
(29.35)
93.94
(41.57)
66.57
(28.55)
74.28
(26.11)
Violent-media use 9 .74 82.00
(41.60)
55.02
(36.00)
52.07
(32.2)
38.13
(24.37)
58.80
(31.70)
43.84
(28.13)
70.40
(44.55)
Total screen time 9 .78 21.60
(10.26)
18.56
(7.35)
15.17
(7.47)
13.32
(5.97)
20.93
(7.22)
16.74
(6.67)
22.01
(7.46)
Empathy 14 .76 4.64
(0.76)
3.69
(0.55)
3.41
(0.48)
3.77
(0.46)
3.46
(0.43)
3.42
(0.59)
3.63
(0.58)
Prosocial behavior 10 .78 5.17
(0.88)
5.09
(0.73)
4.89
(0.89)
5.33
(0.70)
4.92
(0.87)
4.88
(0.97)
5.01
(0.80)
Note: Standard deviations are given in parentheses.
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362 Prot et al.
Total Screen
Time
–0.16**
Age
Prosocial-
Media Use 0.10
0.79** 0.48**
Gender
Violent-Media
Use
Total Screen
Time
0.13**
0.15**
Empathy
Prosocial
Behavior
Western Countries
East European Countries
–0.03
Age
Prosocial-
Media Use
0.33** 0.63**
Gender
Violent-Media
Use
0.11**
0.18**
Prosocial
Behavior
Empathy
East Asian Countries
–0.01
Age
Prosocial-
Media Use
0.40** 0.71**
Gender
Violent-Media
Use
Total Screen
Time 0.05
0.03
Prosocial
Behavior
Empathy
–0.46**
0.15**
0.07
–0.38**
0.11*
–0.29**
–0.06
0.00
a
b
c
Fig. 1.Results from Study 1: multigroup structural equation model of the effects of prosocial-
media use on prosocial behavior, as mediated by empathy. Results are shown separately for
the Western, East European, and East Asian cultural groups. Standardized coefficients are shown
(*p < .05, **p < .01). Solid lines represent significant effects, and dashed lines represent nonsig-
nificant effects.
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Prosocial-Media Use, Empathy, and Prosocial Behavior 363
countries. These results are consistent with a causal theo-
retical model linking prosocial-media use to helping
behavior through changes in empathy, but of course the
cross-sectional nature of these data precludes strong
causal conclusions. Therefore, we conducted a 2-year,
three-wave longitudinal study for a more thorough test.
Study 2
Method
Participants.The initial sample in this study consisted
of 3,034 children and adolescents from six primary
and six secondary schools in Singapore (73% male, 27%
female; mean age = 11.2 years, SD = 2.1). Data were
collected annually, from 3,034, 2,360, and 2,232 partici-
pants in Waves 1 through 3, respectively. Questionnaires
were administered in class by teachers who received
detailed instructions from research personnel. The
response rate was 99% at Wave 1, 87.5% at Wave 2, and
85% at Wave 3.
Measures.For practical reasons, our assessment of
media use focused on video games only. At each wave,
participants listed their three favorite video games and
indicated how many hours they spent playing each game
on a usual school day and on a usual weekend (total of
six items). The 16-point rating scale ranged from none to
more than 10 hours. Participants also indicated how fre-
quently each of their listed games contained violent
themes (two items per game; e.g., “How often do you
shoot or kill creatures in this game?”) and prosocial
themes (two items per game; e.g., “How often do you
help others in this game?”). The 4-point rating scale for
these items ranged from never to almost always. Children
who reported playing no video games received a score of
0 for both prosocial- and violent-game exposure.
The Children’s Empathic Attitudes Questionnaire
(Funk, Fox, Chan, & Curtiss, 2008; 16 items) measured
trait empathy. An example item is “I would feel bad if my
mother’s friend got sick.” Items were rated on a 3-point
scale (no, maybe, and yes).
The helping and cooperation subscales of the Prosocial
Orientation Questionnaire (P. C. Cheung et al., 1998; 18
items) measured prosocial behavior. An example item is “I
would spend time and money to help those in need.
Items were rated on a scale from 1, strongly disagree, to 5,
strongly agree. Also assessed were gender, age, race, socio-
economic status, school grades, and parental education.
Results and discussion
Preliminary analyses.Total video-game time was cal-
culated as the total time spent playing video games per
week. To reduce positive skewness, we applied a square-
root transformation to these scores. Prosocial and violent
content were calculated as average ratings of the three
games. Table 2 displays basic statistics for the main mea-
sures. At each wave, prosocial-media use was positively
related to empathy (rs = .10, .09, and .08 for Waves 1, 2,
and 3, respectively; all ps < .01) and to prosocial behavior
(rs = .09, .08, and .06, respectively; all ps < .01). Violent-
media use was negatively related to empathy (rs = .15,
.14, and .14, respectively; all ps < .01) and to prosocial
behavior (rs = .13, .13, and .13, respectively; all ps <
.01). (See Section 3 of the Supplemental Material for
more details on the correlations among the main mea-
sures.) Race, socioeconomic status, school grades, and
parental education were unrelated to the main measures
of interest, so these variables were excluded from further
analyses.
Longitudinal results.Using Mplus 6.1, we ran an
autoregressive path model with prosocial- and violent-
video-game use at Time 1 as predictors of prosocial
behavior at Time 3, with empathy at Time 2 as a mediator
(Fig. 2). Missing data were treated using full-information
maximum likelihood estimation. Initial levels of prosocial
behavior, empathy, and total amount of video-game time
were included as predictors, along with gender. The
Table 2.Mean Scores and Reliabilities for the Main Scales of Interest in Study 2
Number of
items
Time 1 Time 2 Time 3
Variable αMαMαM
Prosocial-video-game use 6 .85 1.34 (0.87) .84 1.28 (0.88) .85 1.35 (0.89)
Violent-video-game use 6 .75 1.39 (0.91) .75 1.27 (0.90) .76 1.15 (0.91)
Total video-game play time 6 .88 3.53 (2.84) .89 4.05 (2.47) .89 3.88 (2.42)
Empathy 16 .86 2.32 (0.40) .87 2.32 (0.39) .89 2.33 (0.39)
Prosocial behavior 18 .84 3.05 (0.45) .84 3.05 (0.43) .84 3.05 (0.41)
Note: Standard deviations are given in parentheses.
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364 Prot et al.
model yielded a good fit, χ2(5) = 9.05, p > .05; TLI = 0.98;
CFI = .99; RMSEA = .02, 90% CI = [.00, .03]. Prosocial-
video-game use at Time 1 had a significant positive indi-
rect effect on prosocial behavior at Time 3 through
empathy at Time 2. Violent-video-game use at Time 1
had the opposite effect on prosocial behavior at Time 3,
through its effect on empathy at Time 2. Two alternative
path models were tested to explore the possibility of
reverse causal effects between prosocial behavior and
media habits and reverse mediation of media effects on
empathy through changes in prosocial behavior (see
Section 4 in the Supplemental Material). No evidence of
such effects was found. However, the indirect effects of
prosocial- and violent-video-game use on later prosocial
behavior through empathy remained significant. These
longitudinal results strongly support our causal theoreti-
cal model.
To check for potential effects of gender as a modera-
tor, we conducted a multigroup path model. Good model
fit was obtained, χ2(10) = 16.47, p > .05; TLI = 0.971;
CFI = .99; RMSEA = .02, 90% CI = [.00, .04]. For both boys
and girls, prosocial-media use predicted greater helping
indirectly through its effect on empathy. Similarly, vio-
lent-media use predicted less helping through its effect
on empathy in both groups. Constraining path coeffi-
cients to be equal across genders did not result in a sig-
nificant reduction in model fit (ΔCFI = .00). Thus, the
longitudinal effects of media on helping were essentially
equivalent for males and females.
To examine age as a moderator, we added Age ×
Media Use interaction terms to the model. Interactive
effects of age and media habits on empathy and proso-
cial behavior were not significant (all ps > .05).
Latent-growth-curve results.We used latent-growth-
curve modeling to further examine these relations over
time (Fig. 3). Latent-growth-curve modeling does not test
causal relations, as do autoregressive path models, but it
can provide useful insights into relations among variables
over time once a causal order has been established. Good
model fit was obtained, χ2(46) = 145.9, p < .01; TLI = .98;
CFI = .99; RMSEA = .03, 90% CI = [.02, .03]. Higher initial
levels of prosocial-video-game use predicted higher ini-
tial levels of prosocial behavior (standardized indirect
effect through the intercept of empathy = 0.33, p < .01).
In contrast, higher initial levels of violent-video-game
use predicted lower initial levels of prosocial behavior
(standardized indirect effect through the intercept of
empathy = 0.61, p < .01). The rate of change in proso-
cial gaming had both a positive direct effect on change in
helping (standardized effect = 0.66, p < .01) and a posi-
tive indirect effect on change in helping through change
in empathy (standardized effect = 0.20, p < .02). In com-
parison, the rate of change in violent gaming negatively
1 Year1 Year
Prosocial Behavior 1 Prosocial Behavior 3
Empathy 2
Violent-Video-Game
Use 1
Prosocial-Video-
Game Use 1
0.22** 0.22**
0.22**
0.14**
0.07**
0.03
Time 1 Time 3Time 2
Gender
–0.08**
Empathy 1
Total Time Spent
Playing 1
–0.10**
Fig. 2.Results from Study 2: path model of prosocial-video-game use at Time 1 as a predictor of prosocial
behavior at Time 3, as mediated by empathy at Time 2. Standardized coefficients are shown (**p < .01).
Solid lines represent significant effects, and the dashed line represents a nonsignificant effect.
at IOWA STATE UNIV on February 23, 2014pss.sagepub.comDownloaded from
Prosocial-Media Use, Empathy, and Prosocial Behavior 365
predicted change in prosocial behavior through change
in empathy (standardized effect = 0.22, p < .02).
General Discussion
Main findings and implications
The main goal of the present research was to explore
mediators and moderators of the effects of prosocial
media on prosocial behavior. Both studies demonstrated
that prosocial-media use is positively associated with
prosocial behavior in real life. More important, both stud-
ies found empathy to be a key mediator of these effects.
The longitudinal findings from Study 2 are especially
noteworthy because they demonstrate simultaneous pos-
itive long-term effects of prosocial media and negative
long-term effects of violent media on later prosocial
behavior. Most important of all, both the prosocial- and
the violent-media effects on prosocial behavior were
mediated by changes in empathy, and were evident even
after we controlled for relevant covariates.
Another interesting finding is that in both studies,
greater total media time, independent of prosocial or vio-
lent content, was associated with less prosocial behavior,
an effect mediated through empathy (see Figs. 1 and 2).
At first glance, this effect of total media time might be
seen as the simple result of more media time automati-
cally meaning that less time is available to help other
people. However, the fact that this effect was mediated
by empathy suggests that some other process must
underlie this effect. Perhaps excessive time engaged in
entertainment media leads to fewer socialization oppor-
tunities in which one can learn empathy for others.
On the whole, the present results complement past
findings from short-term experimental studies (e.g.,
Greitemeyer & Osswald, 2009, 2010; Saleem et al., 2012a,
2012b) and suggest that short-term effects of prosocial
and violent media accumulate, bringing about lasting
changes in behavioral patterns and personality traits.
These findings support long-term predictions of the gen-
eral learning model, the general aggression model, and
other social-cognitive models of personality.
Our findings advance theory in several ways. Study 1
is the first to directly compare the effects of prosocial
media on empathy and helping across cultures. It dem-
onstrated some intercultural differences, but also showed
mostly similarities in prosocial media’s effects. It also is
the first study to demonstrate empirically that trait empa-
thy appears to mediate long-term effects of prosocial
media on helping. Another major theoretical advance is
the finding from Study 2 that over a 2-year period, trait
empathy was significantly affected by the amount of time
Prosocial
Behavior: Intercept
Empathy:
Intercept
Empathy:
Slope
0.66**
0.43*
0.45**
–0.30
0.46**
–0.59**
–0.19**
–0.51*
0.72**
–0.19**
–0.02
–0.23*
0.41
0.09
0.08
Violent-Video-Game
Use: Intercept
Violent-Video-Game
Use: Slope
Prosocial-Video-
Game Use:
Intercept
Prosocial-Video-
Game Use:
Slope
Prosocial Behavior:
Slope
0.52**
Fig. 3.Results from Study 2: latent-growth-curve model of prosocial-video-game use, violent-video-game use, empathy,
and prosocial behavior over a 2-year period. Gender and amount of play at Time 1 are included as covariates. Standardized
coefficients are shown (*p < .05, **p < .01). Solid lines represent significant effects, and dashed lines represent nonsignificant
effects.
at IOWA STATE UNIV on February 23, 2014pss.sagepub.comDownloaded from
366 Prot et al.
youth spent consuming prosocial and violent media.
These findings constitute novel evidence that entertain-
ment media not only can cause short-term changes in
empathy in laboratory studies, but also can lead to stable
changes in empathy as a personality trait.
Other findings of note concern potential moderators of
prosocial media’s effects on prosocial behavior. In Study
1, greater prosocial-media use predicted higher levels of
prosocial behavior in samples from Western, East
European, and East Asian countries. Empathy significantly
mediated this relation in all three cultural groups. Although
multigroup modeling demonstrated significant differences
in the magnitude of prosocial media’s effects across the
cultural groups, the direction of the effects was the same.
In short, the links between prosocial-media use and pro-
social behavior generalize across cultures. The cross-cul-
tural differences that did appear may be the result of
differences between individualistic and collectivistic cul-
tures in social norms and situational affordances of proso-
cial behaviors (Miller, Bersoff, & Harwood, 1990; Yamagishi
& Yamagishi, 1994). For example, the expression of pro-
social behavior learned from prosocial media may be
more strongly regulated by appropriateness in the imme-
diate social situation in collectivistic cultures than in indi-
vidualistic cultures. This speculation suggests future
research directions.
Potential effects of gender as a moderator were exam-
ined in both studies. We found that links among proso-
cial-media use, empathy, and helping were similar for
males and females. The literature on media violence has
reported similar cross-group robustness of media effects
(e.g., C. A. Anderson et al., 2003; C. A. Anderson et al.,
2007). The cross-culture, cross-age, and cross-gender
similarity of the media effects in the present studies fur-
ther suggests that the mechanisms through which media
affect behavior are fairly general.
Limitations
Both studies were based on self-reports, so these findings
may have been influenced by self-report biases. In future
studies, it may be useful to employ other measures of
media use, empathy, and prosocial behaviors (such as
informant reports or observational measures, although it
seems unlikely that such measures would be more accu-
rate than self-reports in the case of media use or empa-
thy). It is possible that both social desirability and
self-enhancement tendencies influence self-reports of
prosocial behavior. However, past research supports
the construct and predictive validity of the prosocial-
behavior scales used in these two studies (e.g., P. C.
Cheung et al., 1998; Gentile et al., 2009). Furthermore,
such measurement error would tend to weaken the
observed relationship between prosocial-media use and
prosocial behavior.
In both studies, the effects of prosocial media on trait
empathy and helping were small. However, effects of this
magnitude are to be expected given the long-term stabil-
ity of personality traits and the many factors that may
influence them (Caspi, Roberts, & Shiner, 2005; Roberts,
Walton, & Viechtbauer, 2006). The fact that a single envi-
ronmental factor such as prosocial-media consumption
was found to predict significant changes in trait empathy
and prosocial behavioral tendencies over time is note-
worthy. Furthermore, the positive associations among the
multiple predictors may well have led to underestima-
tions of the true effect sizes, a necessary but conservative
statistical consequence of such data (Prot & Anderson,
2013).
Conclusion
This research provides evidence that prosocial-media use
can lead to long-term increases in trait empathy and
helping. Furthermore, these relationships generalized
across gender, age, and culture. These findings under-
score the fact that media are powerful teachers. Just as
exposure to violent media can lead to negative outcomes
such as desensitization and increased aggression, use of
prosocial media can lead to positive changes such as
increased empathy and helping. Coupled with the rapid
increases in media use among youth in developed coun-
tries, our studies suggest that accumulation of media
effects has the potential to significantly alter important
interpersonal behaviors in both positive and negative
ways. Knowledge of these long-term effects may help
parents, policymakers, and other concerned citizens
make decisions about what kind of society they want for
the future and how to create it.
Author Contributions
Data collection in Study 1 was conducted by C. A. Anderson, E.
Swing, D. A. Gentile, S. Prot, K. Suzuki, B. Krahé, Y. Horiuchi,
M. Jelic, W. Liuqing, P. D. Petrescu, A. Sakamoto, S. Tajima,
R. A. Toma, W. Warburton, and X. Zhang. Data collection in
Study 2 was conducted by A. Khoo, A. K. Liau, K. M. Lim, and
D. A. Gentile. Data analyses for Study 1 were conducted by
S. Prot, B. C. P. Lam, C. A. Anderson, and E. Swing. Data analy-
ses for Study 2 were conducted by S. Prot, D. A. Gentile, and
C. A. Anderson. S. Prot, C. A. Anderson, D. A. Gentile, B. Krahé,
A. K. Liau, M. Jelic, and B. C. P. Lam wrote and revised the
manuscript.
Acknowledgments
We thank Qing Feng for his assistance with data collection in
Beijing. We also thank the participating schools, teachers, and
students for their assistance with this study.
at IOWA STATE UNIV on February 23, 2014pss.sagepub.comDownloaded from
Prosocial-Media Use, Empathy, and Prosocial Behavior 367
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The authors declared that they had no conflicts of interest with
respect to their authorship or the publication of this article.
Funding
The data collection in China was supported by Humanities and
Social Science Research Projects of the China Ministry of
Education (The Impact of Violent Action Video Games on
Adolescents’ Aggression, Grant 10YJAXLX025). The data collec-
tion in Singapore was supported by a grant from the Ministry of
Education and the Media Development Authority of Singapore
(A. Khoo, principal investigator).
Supplemental Material
Additional supporting information may be found at http://pss
.sagepub.com/content/by/supplemental-data
Note
1. We use “helping” as synonymous with “prosocial behavior”
throughout this article, for simplicity of exposition.
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The revolutionary study of how the place where we grew up constrains the way we think, feel, and act, updated for today's new realities The world is a more dangerously divided place today than it was at the end of the Cold War. This despite the spread of free trade and the advent of digital technologies that afford a degree of global connectivity undreamed of by science fiction writers fifty years ago. What is it that continues to drive people apart when cooperation is so clearly in everyone's interest? Are we as a species doomed to perpetual misunderstanding and conflict? Find out in Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind. A veritable atlas of cultural values, it is based on cross-cultural research conducted in seventy countries for more than thirty years. At the same time, it describes a revolutionary theory of cultural relativism and its applications in a range of professions. Fully updated and rewritten for the twenty-first century, this edition: Reveals the unexamined rules by which people in different cultures think, feel, and act in business, family, schools, and political organizations Explores how national cultures differ in the key areas of inequality, collectivism versus individualism, assertiveness versus modesty, tolerance for ambiguity, and deferment of gratification Explains how organizational cultures differ from national cultures, and how they can--sometimes--be managed Explains culture shock, ethnocentrism, stereotyping, differences in language and humor, and other aspects of intercultural dynamics Provides powerful insights for businesspeople, civil servants, physicians, mental health professionals, law enforcement professionals, and others Geert Hofstede, Ph.D., is professor emeritus of Organizational Anthropology and International Management at Maastricht University, The Netherlands. Gert Jan Hofstede, Ph.D., is a professor of Information Systems at Wageningen University and the son of Geert Hofstede.
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