Accepted for publication

Vossen, H.G.M., & Fikkers, K.M. (online first publication). The mediating role of sympathy in the relationship between media violence and Dutch adolescents’ social behaviors. Journal of Children and Media. doi:10.1080/17482798.2020.1828118

Abstract: Previous research suggests that empathy could serve as a mediator in the relation between media violence exposure and social behavior (i.e., aggressive and prosocial behavior). However, conceptualizations of empathy are diverse and empirical findings are mixed. Theory as well as previous research suggests that sympathy, more than empathy, may explain how media violence can affect youths’ aggressive or prosocial behavior. The present study formally tests this assumption using a three-wave longitudinal design with 878 early adolescents. Although neither sympathy nor empathy provided a significant indirect pathway between media violence and social behavior, the findings do show that sympathy is more strongly related to media violence and social behavior than empathy Methodological challenges and suggestions for future research are discussed.



Van der Wal, A., Piotrowski, J.T., Fikkers, K.M., & Valkenburg, P.M. (2020). More than just a laughing matter: A coding framework of humor in media entertainment for tweens and teens. Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, 64(3), 478-498. doi:10.1080/08838151.2020.1796389

Abstract: Despite the crucial role of humor in t(w)eens’ media entertainment, we lack a theoretically-informed approach to investigate the prevalence and co-occurrence of humor types in such entertainment. Therefore, this study tested a coding framework of humor in t(w)eens’ media entertainment by content-analyzing 107 television series (5,633 scenes) listed by 10- to 14-year-olds as their favorite. Results confirmed ten humor types (aggressive, slapstick, self-defeating, sexual, irreverent, coping, parody, wordplay, incongruity, absurdity), with aggressive humor most often and coping humor least often present (in 87.9% versus 23.4% of series respectively). Humor types also frequently co-occurred, highlighting the need to revise existing theories.



Fikkers, K.M. & Piotrowski, J.T. (2019). Content and person effects in media research: Studying differences in cognitive, emotional, and arousal responses to media contentMedia Psychology. Advance online publication. doi:10.1080/15213269.2019.1608257

Abstract: Cognitive, emotional, and arousal responses to media content stem from two sources of variation: differences in content and differences between individuals. Although the first source of variation (content effects) has been well-studied, individual differences (person effects) in responses to media are investigated much less within communication science. To help build this comparatively thin area of scholarship, this study investigated how four theoretically-relevant variables (need for cognition, affective empathy, sensation seeking, and sensory processing sensitivity) affected responses to positive and negatively-valenced media entertainment. In a within-subjects design, 243 youth aged 7-15 years (49.9% female) responded to a positive and negative film clip using both self-report and physiological measures (heart rate and skin conductance), while parents reported on individual differences. Multilevel analysis was used to distinguish between media content effects and individual differences in responses. Results showed that more variation in responses was due to differences between participants than to differences between stimuli. However, need for cognition, affective empathy, sensation seeking, and sensory processing sensitivity did not significantly explain this between-participant variation in responses. Several conceptual and methodological take-aways are offered to advance our understanding of the relationships between stable individual differences and state responses to media.

⇒ Accompanying statistical output for all analyses reported in this paper.

Fikkers, K.M., Piotrowski. J.T., & Valkenburg, P.M. (2019). Child’s play? Assessing the Bidirectional longitudinal relationship between gaming and intelligence in early childhood. Journal of Communication, 69(2), 124-143. doi:10.1093/joc/jqz003

Abstract: This study investigated the longitudinal relationship between children’s digital game use and fluid and crystallized intelligence. Specifically, this study examined whether digital games affect children’s fluid and crystallized intelligence (an effects perspective), whether children with higher levels of fluid or crystallized intelligence are more attracted to digital games (a selection perspective), or whether evidence supports a reciprocal relationship between digital game play and intelligence. Using data from 934 children aged 3 to 7 years (52% girls) across four waves with one-year intervals, our evidence for fluid intelligence indicates partial support for the effects perspective and no support for the selection perspective. For crystallized intelligence, our findings did not reveal any significant relationship with digital game use. The results suggest that digital games can move the needle for fluid intelligence, but more insight is needed to identify how this effect occurs, in which situations, and for which children this is most likely.

⇒ Accompanying Mplus output: (1) Model for fluid intelligence, (2) Model for crystallized intelligence

Piotrowski, J.T. & Fikkers, K.M. (2019). Media Violence and Aggression. In M.B. Oliver, A. Raney, & J. Bryant (Eds.), Media Effects: Advances in Theory and Research (4th ed., pp. 211-226). New York, NY: Routledge.

This book chapter gives an overview of the topic of media violence and aggression. It features a historical overview, key theories, and a discussion of the existing empirical evidence.

Van der Wal, A., Fikkers, K.M., & Valkenburg, P.M. (2019). What’s in it for them? Teens’ differential preferences for types and contexts of televised aggression. Communication Research. doi:10.1177/0093650219832231

Abstract: The effect of teens’ exposure to televised aggression depends on the characteristics of the viewer and the portrayed aggression. However, few studies have investigated which teens prefer what forms of televised aggression. Therefore, this study investigated how teens’ trait aggression and sex guide their preferences for types (physical, verbal, and indirect) and contextual features of televised aggression (reward, punishment, justification, graphicness, realism, and humor). A linkage analysis combined survey data of 156 teens (balanced for trait aggression and sex, age 10-14 years) with a content analysis of 4,839 scenes from their favorite television programs. Aggressive teens preferred more physical aggression than less aggressive teens. Trait aggression was not related to preferences for contextual features of aggression. Boys preferred more physical aggression than girls, as well as more realistic, graphic, justified, rewarded, and punished aggression. This study underscores the importance of distinguishing between different viewers and forms of televised aggression.


Fikkers, K.M., Piotrowski, J.T., & Valkenburg, P.M. (2017). Assessing the reliability and validity of television and game violence exposure measures. Communication Research, 44 (1), 117-143.  doi:10.1177/0093650215573863

Abstract: This study evaluated whether common self-report measures of television and game violence exposure represent reliable and valid measurement tools. Three self-report measures – direct estimates, user-rated favorites, and agency-rated favorites – were assessed in terms of test retest reliability, criterion validity (their relationship with coded media diaries), and construct validity (their relationship with aggression and gender). A total of 238 adolescents participated in a two-wave survey and completed two media diaries. For game violence, the three self-report measures were reliable and valid. For television violence, only direct estimates achieved test-retest reliability and construct validity. Criterion validity could not be established for the television violence measures because the media diary was not a valid criterion for television violence. Our findings indicate that both direct estimates and favorites are valid measures for game violence, whereas for television violence only direct estimates are valid. We conclude with a discussion about ways to further improve upon and reconceptualize media violence exposure measurement.

Fikkers, K.M., Piotrowski, J.T., & Valkenburg, P.M. (2017). A matter of style? The differential effects of parental mediation on early adolescents’ media violence exposure and aggression. Computers in Human Behavior, 70, 407-415. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2017.01.029

Abstract: This two-wave survey study investigated the concurrent and longitudinal relationships between different styles of restrictive and active parental mediation (autonomy-supportive, controlling, or inconsistent), adolescents’ media violence exposure, and aggression. Our sample consisted of 1029 adolescents (10–14 years; 49.8% girls). Results indicate that restrictive mediation communicated in an autonomy-supportive style was concurrently related to decreased aggression via decreased media violence exposure. In contrast, inconsistent restrictive mediation was concurrently related to increased aggression via increased media violence exposure. No significant relationships were found for controlling restrictive mediation. None of the restrictive mediation styles were longitudinally related to media violence exposure and aggression. Active mediation moderated neither the concurrent nor the longitudinal relationships between media violence exposure and aggression – regardless of the style used. Findings suggest that autonomy-supportive restriction may be an effective route for parents who are concerned about their child’s media violence exposure and aggressive behavior.


Fikkers, K.M., Piotrowski, J.T., & Valkenburg, P.M. (2016). Beyond the lab: Investigating early adolescents’ cognitive, emotional, and arousal responses to violent games. Computers in Human Behavior, 60, 542-549. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2016.02.055

Abstract: Cognitive, emotional, and arousal responses to violent games play a central role in theoretical explanations of how violent media may affect aggression. However, existing research has focused on a relatively narrow range of responses to violent games in experimental settings. This limits our understanding of whether and how violent game-induced responses relate to aggression in real life. To address these gaps, this study investigated how cognitive effort, emotional valence, and arousal in response to violent games relate to early adolescents’ aggression, both cross-sectionally and over a period of one year. In addition, we investigated how a social context variable (i.e., family conflict) predicts these responses to violent games and subsequent aggression. A sample of 448 early adolescents (10–14 years) completed survey questions and media diaries that measured their responses to violent games. Results showed that, outside the lab, a positive cross-sectional relationship between violent game-induced arousal and aggression exists. In addition, arousal mediated the relationship between family conflict and aggression. Study findings justify increased research attention to media responses outside the lab and a need for further theoretical and methodological refinement.

Fikkers, K.M., Piotrowski, J.T., Lugtig, P., & Valkenburg, P.M. (2016). The role of perceived peer norms in the relationship between media violence exposure and adolescents’ aggression. Media Psychology, 19, 4-26. doi:10.1080/15213269.2015.1037960

Abstract: This study investigated the role of a social context variable, perceived peer norms, in the relationship between media violence exposure and adolescents’ aggressive behavior. This was informed by a need to better understand whether, how, and for whom media violence exposure may affect aggression. Three hypotheses were tested with peer norms as moderator, as mediator, and as both moderator and mediator in the relationship between media violence and aggression. A two-wave longitudinal survey measured media violence exposure, perceived descriptive and injunctive norms, and aggressive behavior among 943 adolescents (aged 10 to 14, 50.4% girls). Results provided support only for the moderated-mediation model. The indirect effect of media violence on aggression via perceived peer approval of aggression (i.e., injunctive norms) was moderated by perceived prevalence of peer aggression (i.e., descriptive norms). Specifically, media violence indirectly increased aggressive behavior
for adolescents who perceived more peer aggression, but decreased aggression for adolescents who perceived less peer aggression. Implications for future research into media violence effects are discussed. 


Hoeken, H., & Fikkers, K.M. (2014). Issue-relevant thinking and identification as mechanisms of narrative persuasion. Poetics, 44, 84-99. doi:10.1016/j.poetic.2014.05.001

Abstract: Fictional narratives can have strong effects on people’s real world opinions, attitudes, and behavior. Given the far-reaching implications these effects may have, understanding when and how narratives can have such effects is important. One frequent claim about narrative impact is that stories can disable people’s ability to critically evaluate the issue. In an experiment, optimal conditions were created to assess whether readers came up with issue-relevant thoughts and to what extent such thoughts influenced the participants’ attitude. The impact of issue-relevant thoughts was compared to that of another mechanism of narrative persuasion: identification. Participants (N = 138) read a story including a discussion scene on a personally relevant issue. The manipulation consisted of the main character being in favor of or against a certain issue. Participants identified more strongly with the main character than with the antagonist. A mediation analysis revealed that identifying with the character being in favor of the issue yielded a more positive attitude toward the issue. A considerable number of participants generated issue-relevant thoughts that proved predictive of the attitude. The experiment provides further evidence for the identification mechanism while revealing insights into how integration of explicit argumentative content into a narrative can influence issue-relevant thinking.


Fikkers, K.M., Piotrowski, J.T., Weeda, W.D., Vossen, H.G.M., & Valkenburg, P.M. (2013). Double dose: High family conflict enhances the effect of media violence exposure on adolescents’ aggression. Societies, 3, 280-292. doi: 10.3390/soc3030280 [Open access]

Abstract: We investigated how exposure to media violence and family conflict affects adolescents’ subsequent aggressive behavior. We expected a double dose effect, meaning that high media violence exposure would lead to higher levels of aggression for adolescents in high conflict families compared to low conflict families. A total of 499 adolescents (aged 10 to 14, 48% girls) participated in a two-wave longitudinal survey (4-month interval). Survey questions assessed their exposure to violence on television and in electronic games, family conflict, and aggressive behavior. Analyses revealed a significant interaction between media violence and family conflict. In families with higher conflict, higher media violence exposure was related to increased subsequent aggression. This study is the first to show a double dose effect of media violence and family conflict on adolescents’ aggression. These findings underscore the important role of the family in shaping the effects of adolescents’ media use on their social development. 

Fikkers, K.M., & Valkenburg, P.M. (2013). Reasons for Consuming Violent Entertainment. In M.S. Eastin (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Media Violence, pp 318-320. SAGE Publications.

Abstract: For many years, researchers have wondered what people find attractive in violent entertainment. Why do people watch movies like ‘Saw’ or play first-person shooter games like ‘Call of Duty’? The answer to this question is highly relevant, because convincing evidence exists that individuals who are more attracted to violent entertainment are also more likely to be affected by it, that is, become more aggressive. It is therefore remarkable that research into the appeal of such entertainment has received far less attention than research into its effects. This entry discusses the most common reasons for consuming violent entertainment.