Flockhart Featured in MacEwan News

A long time research assistant in the lab was recently featured on MacEwan’s website for his work with us. Here is his story:
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Student Presentation on You Tube

Ann Sinyard’s presentation on the Rift and dreams at MacEwan’s Student Research Showcase was video taped and is available here.

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Student commentary on gaming, dreams and meaning

I often talk about my research into gaming and dreams in all of my classes and from time to time I get a discussion post from a student that seems to really capture the essence of our research. This one from Chase Stubbs in my Psychology of Consciousness class is the most recent example. He writes;

I have been a gamer for almost as long as I can remember but I had no idea that the amount of time I spent playing video games would have an effect on my dreams. Even after we discussed the effects videogame play can have on dreams in class I didn’t think much on it, as I don’t usually remember much of my dreams. However, shortly after the discussion on videogame play and dreams I had a vivid dream that fit most of the characteristics of gamer’s dreams we had discussed in class.

To put the dream in context I had been watched the first Resident Evil movie the week before I had the dream, and had played a bit of Destiny that night. Both of those stimuli were strongly represented in my dream. As the dream began I was walking down a corridor, which was reminiscent of a part of a map in destiny, with a rifle in my hands and a few people around me.  I wasn’t seeing through my own eyes though I was above and behind the Me that was in the dream, the same as many third person shooters. In class we had discussed how the third person perspective is something more often seen in high level gamers.  As we emerged from the hall way we walked into a large room with several doors leading in.

When my group got to the middle of the room zombies started pouring out of the dark doorways at us, not unlike when enemies spawn from openings in Destiny. At this point in the dream I probably should have been pretty afraid, massive waves of creepy zombies coming at you kind of scary. But there was no fear. Just preparedness, like when you are waiting for an enemy wave to attack in a video game. So my group and I proceeded to gun down zombies to prevent them from getting to us. This carried on for a little while, oddly I never needed to reload. Then as the number of zombies dwindled and it looked like we would be free a new challenge emerged.

A couple of lickers, the gross monster in resident evil 1 that has the long tongue and is killed on the train out of the hive, appeared out of nowhere. These things scared the crap out of me in the movie version, so coming face to face with one should have been terrifying. But like when the zombies appeared I didn’t feel any fear. I remember thinking crap not these guys, like you would in a tough boss fight in a game. This sense of confidence and control in a dram situation that should be fear inducing, and counted as a nightmare to most, is common in people who play lots of video games. It is probably the sense of control that I was feeling at the time that prevented it from being a scary event. Had I not felt like I could deal with the monsters it would have turned the experience from one of accepting resignation, well these guys suck but if we have to kill them we have to kill them, to one of terror where I would be running in blind panic. The dream ended as I was trying to kill the lickers.

This is an interesting demonstration of how the stimuli I had experienced that week were represented in my dreams. And how, probably, as a result of my hobby, video games, a terrifying event was turned into an almost exhilarating one. Looking back on it this dream occurred in the middle of a slew of minor assignments and midterms, which I was largely prepared for. It is interesting to think of this particular dream as a metaphor for all of the challenges I was facing at the time. With the zombies representing all the lesser obstacles I had to overcome, minor assignments, and the lickers as the bigger ones like midterms and an essay. And the confidence I felt in dispatching the monsters being a metaphor for the confidence I felt in my performance on the assignments, essays, midterms I had finished. And the dream ending without me killing the lickers as a metaphor for the other monsters I hadn’t overcome yet, the midterms that were still to come. Sorry for rambling on a bit at the end but writing out the details and situating it in time really made that dream make a lot more sense.

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Gackenbach Presentation at Unsound Festival in Krakow, Poland

Gackenbach just before Unsound presentation in Krakow, Poland on Oct 12, 2014

Gackenbach just before Unsound presentation in Krakow, Poland on Oct 12, 2014

I am presenting a talk on our work on gaming and the nightmare protection hypothesis at a music festival, Unsound Festival, in Krakow, Poland on Oct. 12, 2014 (www.unsound.pl). I was invited by Goethe-Institut, a German cultural institute in Poland. The theme of the festival is dreams in all its forms thus the relevance of my work on video game play and dreams. The title of the talk is “Video Game Play as Nightmare Protection”. I am part of a series of talks. The slides/pdf can be found at www.spiritwatch.ca and the audio is on You Tube 

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Replaying Japan 2014 Paper Presentation

Our lab presented a version of our work comparing dreams and media use to the second annual International Japan Game Studies Conference at the University of Alberta in August 2014. Here is the Taiwan and Canada Self-Construal Video Game Play and Dreams presentation.

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Conference presentations 2014

My students and I have presented at two international conferences in 2014 and are planning a presentation at a third one in August. The first was at the Towards a Science of Consciousness in Tucson, AZ. This poster was a report of both social media use and video game play associations to dreams and can be found here: Gackenbach and Boyes 2014 Tucson Presentation.

In early June three of my students attended and presented with me and a colleague at the International Association for the Study of Dreams conference in Berkeley. These presentations were:

1. A poster with Carson Flockhart and Alison Ditner of early results from an experimental manipulation of the nightmare protection thesis (nightmare protection poster IASD June 2014).

2. A poster with Sarah Gahr of cultural differences within Canadian students examining video game play, social media use, self-construal, and dreams (culture media and dreams poster IASD 2014).

3. A presentation with Arielle Boyes examining nightmare protection and female gamers (Boyes and Gackenbach Nightmare Protection Hypothesis and Female Gamers).

4. A presentation with my Taiwanese colleague, Ming-Ni Lee, and students Sarah Gahr and Yue Yu comparing media use, self-construal, and dreams across Taiwan and Canada (The Relationship Between Self-Construal, Media Use and dreams)

Jayne Gackenbach, Ph.D.

June 14, 2014


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Been a year!!

Time gets away from one and I see it’s been almost a year since I posted to this blog. So here is a quick recap of our labs activity in the last  year. We had papers and posters on our work at various professional conferences with some students presenting.

Several research projects are underway and some with funding from MacEwan University. We are currently collecting video game, social media, personality and dream information from three Chinese universities and at MacEwan. This is our first exploration of cross cultural differences but a related question is planned for a research project next year (Sarah Gahr). An honors thesis will examine questions about female gamers  and personality (Ally Ditner). The question of female high end gamers and the lack of nightmare protection was addressed in the thesis of Arielle Boyes which will be presented at the annual IASD conference. Another take on nightmare protection was done by Carson Flockhart with an experimental manipulation and we found some supporting results.

Two individual study students were involved in lab as well. Hanna Stark did a central image analysis of data comparing gamers to those who meditate and pray while Ann Sinyard is exploring the possiblity of Oculus Rift. We hope to run a study next year using the rift or at least asking developers about their experiences and their dreams.

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Dr. Zongkui Zhou of Central China Normal University visits our video game laboratory

We were pleased to have hosted a visit from Zongkui Zhou, Ph.D., a professor at the Central China Normal University (CCNU) where he is dean of the School of Psychology. He serves as the Director of the Key Laboratory of Adolescent CyberPsychology and Behavior affiliated to the National Ministry of Education, China. We have been discussing various possible research collaborations. Here is a picture taken during  his visit:


Dr. Zhou and Dr. Gackenbach are in the front row with Dr. Iain Macpherson, Dr. William Wei, Dr. David McLaughlin and Dr. Melike Schalomon in the back row.

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Social Media Use vs Video Game Play: Hall and Van de Castle Content Analysis of Dreams

Jayne Gackenbach, Arielle Boyes and Sarah Gahr

As technology use has become increasingly pervasive, it is of interest to examine heavy social media users compared to high end video game players in terms of the content of a recent dream gathered from each group. We would expect gamers to evidence more aggression and less pro-social interactions, while we would expect the opposite of high end social media users. We collected over 500 surveys from students at a Western Canadian University who varied along these dimensions. Of the first 127 randomly chosen dreams which were content analyzed using the Hall and Van de Castle (HVDC) system, two extreme media use groups were identified. Those who were Gamers (n=23) (males=19; females=4). They reported playing from several times a week to daily and had played a video game in the 24 hours prior to taking the survey almost all of which were combat centric. The second group was identified as high social media users (n=33) (males=3; females=30). They reported infrequent gaming (average less than once a month to once a month) but frequent social media use, i.e., daily facebook plus daily to several times a week twitter, tumblr or instgram use. Not surprisingly these media use groups fell along sex lines. Therefore they were separately compared to the HVDC norms as a function of sex. The major finding was that there were 11 differences from the male norms for the gamers and nine differences from the female norms for the social media group. Using Domhoff and Schneider’s system of data entry there are 25 possible statistical tests done.

                In terms of the social interaction percentages the gamers, as hypothesized, compared to the male norms had higher aggression/friendliness percents and higher physical aggression. But as shown in our earlier work there was no difference in aggressor percent nor in dreams with at least one aggression.  The social media users, relative to the female norms, were also higher on the aggression/friendliness percent but did not differ in the physical aggression percent or the other two variables involving aggression.  In terms of prosocial interactions, there was no difference from the same sex norms for either group for befriender percent. Both media use groups dreams were coded as having fewer dreams with at least one incident of friendliness.  The social interaction ratios showed some differences as a function of media use groups. Specifically, the friendliness per character index was lower for the gamers than the male norms but this was also the case for the social media users relative to the female norms. We can conclude with this minimal data set that the only difference between the media groups, relative to their norms, was in terms of a bit more aggression in the gamers, with that one exception it seems that their differences from the norms are more generational than type of media used.

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Nightmare Protection Thesis of Video Game Play in First Responders

Jayne Gackenbach and Carson Flockhart

It has been hypothesized that video game play during the day may act as protection from fears during sleep, which are sufficient to disturb sleep. In this research program we have examined the dreams of heavy video game players. While most are male and play combat centric games, this has not always been the case in this program of work. In any event we have found in some data that nightmares are less often reported among heavy players, when controlling for sex, or if no difference in incidence the response of the game playing dreamer to the self-identified nightmare has been positive.

The nightmare protection thesis was based upon the concept that defensive rehearsal in at least combat centric video game play, if done repeatedly over a long period of time, would result in well learned defensive responses. These would generalize to altered states, in this case dreams. This process is similar to the imagery rehearsal technique for treating nightmares.

 Also supporting the thesis is the numbing towards violence associated with serious combat centric game play which could result in a lessened nightmarish experience in the dream. Finally, it has been pointed out that there is a critical window of time following trauma where postrauma memories can be interfered with by engaging in a visuospatial cognitive task. Video game play is one such task.

In two studies, one on military gamers and a replication and extension on students who experienced trauma, we found support for a qualified nightmare protection function of video game play. In these studies the classic predictors of nightmares were controlled, emotional reactivity and past history of trauma, allowing for the play of video games to be considered regarding any nightmarish type of dream content. The thesis seems clearest for males playing combat centric games. However, female high-end gamers were surprisingly the most troubled by nightmares. This can be interpreted both by sex role inconsistency, playing combat games is not a traditional female type of play, and game genre female high end games experience.

In this second replication, we administered the same set of questionnaires to primary and secondary first responders online through prescreening of a university subject pool and through website solicitation. The same pattern of results as with the student population was observed. As before emotional reactivity and history of trauma were controlled for in the ANCOVA’s of sex x game play groups on subscales of the dream content analysis using a threat simulation scale. That is, high end male first responder gamers, who focus primarily on combat centric games, were found to show less overall threat and fewer targets of threat in their dreams than high end female first responder gamers. The opposite was true for low end first responder gamers, more threat in the males’ dreams than the females. Differences in results in the three studies testing the nightmare protection thesis of game play will also be examined.

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