Motivations to Regulate Online Gambling and Violent Game Sites:
An Account of the Third-Person Effect

Fang Wan

University of Manitoba

Seounmi Youn

Emerson College


With online gaming becoming a major entertainment form, there are growing concerns that websites promoting gambling and violent games have undesirable effects. Such concerns have led to numerous calls to regulate controversial gaming sites. However, little research has been done to explain why people support restrictions on gaming sites. One theory, the third-person effect, provides a possible explanation. The third-person effect suggests that when confronted with a negatively perceived message, people tend to overestimate the message’s effect on others compared to one’s self. This perceptual disparity motivates people to take action against such messages. In a survey of 184 adults, this study found that people perceive gambling and violent game sites to have a greater effect on others than on themselves, and the third-person perception significantly contributes to predicting censorship attitudes. This study also found that age and gender play a part in explaining the magnitude of the third-person effect and the link between third-person perception and censorship attitudes. Public policy implications relating to regulation of gaming sites are discussed.


With the rapid growth of the Internet gaming industry, marketers have turned to online games as venues for disseminating advertising and promotional messages (Bulik 2004; Emling 2001; Freeman 2001; Goff 2004; Neff 2001). A report by Jupiter Media Metrix states that approximately 35.1 million people participate in playing games on the Internet, and the number of players is predicted to increase to 104.9 million by 2005 (Hopper 2002). This growth is explained by the popularity of websites featuring casino and lottery-style games, online games, and sweepstakes. According to an industry report for gaming and entertainment sectors, online gambling revenue will increase from $4.2 billion in 2003 to $14.5 billion in 2006 worldwide (Hopf 2004). In addition, U.S. customers were responsible for between 50 and 65 percent of the revenue in 2003 (Manter 2003). In-Stat/MDR’s study on online gaming reported that online gaming accounted for nine percent of the traffic on the U.S. Internet in 2002, and online subscriptions for gaming consoles such as PlayStation will account for $650 million annually by 2007 (PC Magazine 2003).

Embracing the idea of “advertising-as-entertainment” (Nelson 2002, p.81), marketers have incorporated interactive games into their websites or have placed their products in game sites (Bulik 2004; Webster 2004; Youn and Larson 2002). For example, Ford’s site offered an online sweepstakes in a Team Ford Racing Fan Club section and provided an online game for the Ford Escape featuring a lunar racetrack (Hopper 2002). Interactive games in the form of advertising and promotional tools provide marketers with opportunities for developing and implementing their marketing mix strategy on the Internet. Online game-related tactics help increase brand awareness as well as exposure to cross-promotional materials (Goff 2004; Gunn 2001; Nelson 2002). This may be due to the interactive role of players in games, which can increase gamers’ involvement with the promoted brand (Coupey 2001). In the long run, games seem to have the potential to facilitate the development of long term consumer-brand relationships (Hopper 2002).

However, despite the commercial benefits of online games for marketers, there have been rising concerns about the “harm” gaming websites may inflict on consumers. Attention has been directed toward gambling sites promoting online betting transactions (McAleavy 2002) or gaming websites featuring realistic violence as a selling point (Anders 1999). Claims of harmful effects from controversial websites and the concomitant cry for regulations have come from various parties, such as consumer interest groups, policymakers, and government agencies. Exemplary regulations include the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act (Rosen 2000), the Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (Smith 2002), and several attempts to protect minors from obscene materials online, such as the Children’s Internet Protection Act (Lenhart, Rainie, and Lewis 2001). Efforts to restrict gaming sites are driven by the belief that they will help reduce the negative impact controversial gaming websites have on consumers. Censorship advocates believe that these regulations can protect “vulnerable” groups, particularly children or teenagers, from harmful materials on the Internet.

On the other hand, not everyone supports internet regulations. Online gaming industries are worried that legislation can discourage consumers from participating in e-gaming transactions and thus shrink commercial growth in the online gaming sector (McAleavy 2002). They contend that the regulations would deprive interested consumers from learning about or acquiring lawful gaming products or services. Free speech advocates argue that the proposed or enacted legislation is unconstitutional under the First Amendment. Despite emerging efforts to restrict the Internet, there is little compelling evidence suggesting that a ban on violent game or gambling sites would result in reducing problematic behaviors (Uslaner 2000). Given these conflicting viewpoints and their potential impact on the online gaming industry, a better understanding of the motivations that restrict the sites which promote gambling and violent games is needed. Therefore, this study will discuss restrictions for controversial gaming websites and address what underlines consumers attitude toward websites censorship. This study will apply the third-person effect as the theoretical foundation to explain the underlying motivations for censoring gaming websites, and explore the role of gender and age in explaining the relationship between the third-person effect and censorship attitudes toward gaming websites.

Restrictions of Gaming Websites

With the development of the Internet, online gambling industry has grown very rapidly. This fast expansion has elicited anti-Internet gaming legislation from state and federal governments, along with self-regulation in the credit card industry. Major reasons for inhibiting online gambling include the increase in problem gambling, children’s access to gambling sites, fraud over the Internet, and moral decay (Manter 2003; Smith 2002). The video game-like nature of virtual casinos often makes it hard for gamblers to resist the temptation to gamble on the net (Kish 1999). In an online environment, problematic gambling can be exacerbated because online gamblers remain anonymous and may lose track of how much money is being won or lost due, in part, to the intangibility of digital money (Manter 2003). Underage gambling may occur since children and teenagers have easy access to gambling sites without leaving their home (Kish 1999). Since offshore gambling operations are beyond the reach of U.S. regulatory laws, online gamblers continue to suffer from the misconduct of fraudulent offshore site operators. For example, online gamblers’ losses are deducted immediately from their online accounts, while their winnings are often not credited (Keller 1999). Proponents of Internet gambling regulation believe that regulations would protect consumers from threat of fraud, addiction, bankruptcy, and moral decay, as well as from the dangers of untaxed online betting (Mainelli 2000).

In response to these major concerns, the Senate passed the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act of 1999 to ban all online gaming (Birnbaum 2000). Additionally, the Internet Gambling Enforcement Act was passed by the House of Representatives in 2002 to prevent the use of credit cards, checks, and electronic fund transfers to pay for interactive betting (Smith 2002). For online gambling activities, consumers usually register at a site and deposit money to open accounts by using credit cards or make payments through digital cash services such as PayPal and NETeller (McAleavy 2002). In response to legislative efforts, major credit card companies announced that they would forbid the use of their credit cards in monetary transactions between gamblers and online gambling businesses. eBay, which purchased PayPal, also stated that it would prohibit the service from processing online gambling transactions (McAleavy 2002). Simply put, online gambling is illegal under existing federal law in the United States.

The debate concerning the regulation of Internet content and the protection of minors is not limited to gambling websites. Commercial sites promoting violent computer games have raised many concerns from parents, educators, and legislators (Simons 1999; Tribe 1999). A survey released by the Entertainment Software Association (2004) showed that Americans identified video, PC, and Internet-based games as their favorite forms of entertainment, compared to watching TV or going to movies. With the increasing popularity of these games, critics are concerned that children or teenagers have unlimited access to Internet game sites which feature interactive violence. They have blamed violent computer or video games for desensitizing gamers to bloodshed, or for inducing violent behaviors. In response to these concerns, as well as the public’s outrage over school violence, the FTC and the Justice Department urged an investigation into the entertainment industry’s marketing practices aimed at children and teenagers and a study of the link between aggressive behavior and consumption of violent entertainment (Broder 1999; Wallace 1999).

Furthermore, researchers have examined the negative consequences of computer gaming in several areas: physical activity, education, and psychological health. For example, research has shown that an excessive amount of computer gaming could lead to a lack of physical exercise and addiction (Griffiths 1997). Researchers are concerned that excessive computer gaming by school children could cause them to neglect their homework and have less interest in their education, even though these concerns remain largely unsubstantiated (Creasey and Myers 1986; Griffiths 1997). Researchers have also reported evidence to suggest that violent computer games among children and adolescents could increase the priming and elaboration of aggressive thought networks (Anderson and Dill 2000; Berkowitz 1984, 1990), weaken inhibitions against aggressive behavior, and increase acceptance of the use of violence to resolve conflict (Berkowitz and Green 1967; Dill and Dill 1998).

These concerns about the potentially negative effects of gambling and gaming websites lie at the core of the censorship debate. Prior studies contend that support for the government regulation of media content results from the perceived harm of messages (Rucinski and Salmon 1990). Efforts to restrict media content are seldom based on pinpointing research evidence showing the negative impact of these messages. Instead, they are grounded primarily on perceptions of the harmful effects of messages on others — the “gullible” public (Gunther 1995; McLeod, Eveland, and Nathanson 1997; Rojas, Shah, and Faber 1996). This argument is explained by the third-person effect in the field of mass communication theory (Davison 1983). The third-person effect has been recently referred to as “the influence of presumed influence”(Gunther and Storey 2003, p.199), which incorporated the idea that people perceive some influence of a communication on others and, as a result, change their own attitudes or behaviors. The third-person effect claims that people perceive the impact of presumably harmful messages to be greater on others than on themselves, and thus they are willing to censor these messages (Davison 1983). Applying the third-person effect, this study attempts to explain the motivations that drive the growing demand for censorship of online gaming sites.

The Third-Person Effect

Scholars have attempted to explain why the third-person effect occurs by using causal attribution concepts such as fundamental attribution error (Gunther 1991; Rucinski and Salmon 1990). Gunther (1991) states that observers usually underestimate other people’s ability to be aware of situational factors (e.g., the persuasive intent of media messages), and therefore view others as being susceptible to message effects. But when judging the impact of a message on themselves, observers believe they understand the role of situational factors like persuasive intent. Observers may also engage in egotistical differential attributions (Miller 1976; Stephan and Gollwitzer 1981), or self-positivity biases (Perloff 1993). When a message is believed to produce negative effects, people assume that it will have more influence on others in an effort to enhance a sense of personal control and self-esteem (Gunther 1991). In contrast, individuals believe that they are less susceptible to an undesired influence by seeing themselves as more intelligent than others. Such attributions preserve positive self-image.

Researchers have examined several factors moderating the perceptual disparity between the effects of media on others and themselves. Some studies have found a greater third-person effect when the source of the message is believed to be negatively biased (Cohen et al. 1988; Gunther 1991), or when the intent of the message is judged as socially undesirable (Rucinski and Salmon 1990). Other research has shown a larger gap in the perceived effect when people believe they are knowledgeable about an issue (Lasorsa 1989), when people are highly ego-involved with an issue (Perloff 1989), or when people think an issue is important (Mutz 1989). Additional studies have reported a larger third-person effect when the other is viewed as more distant from oneself (Cohen and Davis 1991; Cohen et al. 1988; Eveland et al. 1999).

In brief, the third-person effect has been found to occur when a message is perceived to cause negative effects. As discussed earlier, many people expressed fears that violent video and computer games play a part in triggering violent behaviors in teenagers (Anders 1999; Broder 1999), and that online gambling activities lead to negative consequences on gamblers’ welfare and safety (Manter 2003; Smith 2002). Given teenagers’ easy access to harmful gaming sites, it is also important to look at concerns about the potential impact of controversial gaming sites on teenagers. Since websites for gambling and violent games are generally perceived to be harmful to either individuals or society, we expect that the third-person effect will occur for these sites and that the perceived effect will be greater on others than on oneself. Thus, it is hypothesized:

H1a: People will perceive gambling and violent game websites to have a greater impact on other adults than on themselves.

H1b: People will perceive gambling and violent game websites to have a greater impact on teenagers than on themselves.

Concern over gambling and violent game websites may be particularly great when one is considering their impact on children and teenagers. Regarding the nature of self-other comparisons, it is suggested that this perceptual gap increases as the hypothetical others become more psychologically distant from the respondents (Cohen and Davis 1991; Cohen et al. 1988; David et al. 2002; Eveland et al. 1999). Teenagers may be seen as being more distant or different from oneself than other adults and, therefore, potentially more vulnerable to message effects. The vulnerability of teenagers is further reflected by minors’ access to explicitly violent and sexual materials on gaming websites or even underage gambling on the Internet. Therefore, we hypothesize that:

H1c: People will judge gambling and violent game websites to have a greater impact on teenagers than on other adults.

Gender and Age Differences in the Third-Person Effect

Demographic characteristics are important factors in affecting the magnitude and the direction of the third-person effect. Some studies have examined how gender affects the third person effect. Female respondents showed greater third-person perception in reference to other adults for political advertising and to younger voters for negative political advertising (Shah et al. 1997). For Internet pornography, female respondents were more likely than male respondents to believe that such messages would have a greater negative influence on other male students (Lo and Wei 2002). With respect to controversial gaming sites, we expect that female respondents will be more likely to display third-person perception than male respondents. This expectation is derived from findings in prior research on gaming consumption.

Researchers argue that online gaming is a gendered activity with the dominant players being male and young (Bryce and Rutter 2003). Griffiths, Davies, and Chappel (2003) recently surveyed more than 20,000 respondents from two online gaming fan sites. Their results indicated that the majority of players were male (approximately 85%) and over 70% of players were between 10 and 30 years old. In addition, computer gaming is perceived to be a masculine activity and is more prevalent among males than females (Buchman and Funk 1996; Colwell and Payne 2000; Griffiths and Hunt 1998). The dominance of “masculine” game themes (e.g., war, competition, sports, acquisition, etc.) and a high level of game violence have been claimed as attributes that make these games uninteresting or offensive to females (Funk and Buchman 1996; Greenfield 1994). Based on these findings, males seem to have more extensive experience with online gaming than females and to be more involved in online gaming than females. Both the extensive experience and higher involvement may reduce males’ perceived negativity of online gaming. In other words, males may think online gaming is not as harmful as females, which in turn will affect the magnitude of the third person effect — a smaller gap between the perceived impact on self and others. Therefore, the following hypothesis was developed.

H2a: Female respondents will demonstrate a stronger third person effect (i.e., discrepancy between the perceived effect of gambling and violent game websites on self vs. others) than male respondents.

Several studies found that a third-person perception for harmful messages was positively correlated to age. For negative political advertising, older respondents were more likely to perceive larger effects of attack advertising on other adults and on younger voters (Shah et al. 1997). Tiedge et al. (1991) and Rucinski and Salmon (1990) found significant third-person effects only among the better educated and older members of their sample. Age may reflect accessibility of social attitudes and confidence in one’s ability to resist persuasion (Perloff 1993). Therefore, older people tend to underestimate the impact of negative messages on themselves, which may increase the magnitude of the third person effect — a larger gap between the perceived impact on self and on others. When it comes to gaming websites, we would expect that:

H2b: Older people will demonstrate a stronger third person effect (i.e., discrepancy between perceived effect of gambling and violent game websites on self vs. others) than younger people.

The Third Person Effect and Pro-Censorship Attitude

Overestimation of the harmful effect of messages on others is central to demands for censorship of those messages. People’s attempts to censor messages deemed dangerous may be provoked by concerns that others will be affected by this danger. Censors defend their actions as allegedly protecting the “helpless” from blasphemous or threatening ideas (Dority 1991). This paternalistic desire helps to understand the motivation for censoring harmful messages. This could be explained by “biased optimism” (Weinstein 1989) and/or “self-positivity bias” (Raghubir and Menon 1998). People tend to believe that they are not susceptible to harmful messages by considering themselves to be more intelligent than others, which enhances their self-esteem. People have little personal need to limit harmful messages because they feel that they are not being adversely affected by those messages.

Past studies on several forms of undesirable entertainment messages and advertisements have shown a relationship between the third-person effect and a pro-censorship attitude. They include violence on TV (Rojas, Shah, and Faber 1996), pornography (Gunther 1995; Lo and Wei 2002; Rojas, Shah, and Faber 1996), misogynic rap lyrics (McLeod, Eveland, and Nathanson 1997) and controversial product advertising (Shah, Faber, and Youn 1999). In line with this research, the current study attempts to test the behavioral outcome (e.g., censorship) of the third-person effect in the domain of new media — controversial websites featuring gambling and violent games — in an effort to expand the external validation. As people tend to perceive gambling and violent gaming sites as having a greater negative influence on others than on themselves, it is reasonable to expect that the perceived negative effects on others lead people to support censorship of controversial gaming sites. Accordingly, we hypothesize that

H3a: The greater the perceived effect of controversial gaming websites on other adults, the more willing people will be to censor these websites.

H3b: The greater the perceived effect of controversial gaming websites on teenagers, the more willing people will be to censor these websites.

Gender and Age Difference in Pro-Censorship Attitude

Previous research has examined gender difference in censoring controversial media content. Females were more likely to support restrictions on erotic media content (Senn 1993), sexual violence and sexually explicit materials on television (Lee and Yang 1996), and pornography on the Internet (Lo and Paddon 1999 Lo and Wei 2002). Females were also more willing to censor advertising for controversial products such as casinos and lotteries (Youn, Faber, and Shah 2000), and cigarettes, beer, and liquor (Shah, Faber, and Youn 1999). One study surveyed people who complained to the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal about television and radio content in 1990 and 1991, and found that those who complained were more likely to be female, older, have higher educational standards, and stronger religious beliefs than the general community (Duck and Mulin 1995).

Age also appeared to be a key predictor of a desire to censor controversial media content. Older respondents tended to show pro-censorship attitudes for pornography (Rojas, Shah, and Faber 1996), lottery advertising (Youn, Faber, and Shah 2000) and advertising for controversial products such as cigarettes, beer and liquor (Shah, Faber, and Youn 1999). In brief, it seems that females and older people are more likely to endorse the censorship of controversial media content because of their paternalistic motivation to protect vulnerable audiences. As mentioned earlier, in the online gaming context, the majority of players are male and young (Griffiths, Davies, and Chappel 2003). Given their extensive experience and high involvement with online gaming, they would be less likely to censor gaming websites than females and older people. Therefore, we hypothesize that:

H4a: Females will be more willing to censor gambling and violent game websites than males.

H4b: Older respondents will be more willing to censor gambling and violent game websites than younger respondents.


Data Collection

The survey was conducted in a large Midwestern city. Overall, 184 adults were interviewed at an airport in a manner similar to the mall intercept technique. The ages of participants ranged from 18 to 78, with a mean age of 39 years old. Fifty-one percent were men. As for their education and backgrounds, 13% had completed only high school, about half (55%) had attended or completed college and 32% had attended or completed graduate school. Forty-three percent came from households with an annual income between $40,000 and $79,000. One third of respondents (37%) reported an income of $80,000 and over, and 20% reported an income of less than $39,999. These demographics suggest that the airport interview yielded a sample that was more educated and affluent than the general population. These differences are reflective of Internet users in general (Howard, Rainie, and Jones 2001). In fact, about half (51%) of respondents reported they spend one-half to one hour online on an average day, 26% spend more than one hour online, and 16% spend less than 30 minutes online. Only 7% didn’t spend any time on the net.


The survey instrument consisted of items to measure: (1) the third-person effect; (2) censorship attitudes toward violent gaming and gambling websites; and (3) control variables including attitudinal values, media use, Internet use, and demographics. To assess the third-person effect, this study asked respondents to indicate how strongly they agreed or disagreed that either gaming or gambling websites had a powerful impact on “themselves,” on “other adults,” and on “teenagers.” Respondents rated their level of agreement with each item using 5-point Likert scales ranging from (1) “strongly disagree” to (5) “strongly agree.” To minimize response reactivity, the “self” and “others” questions on the third-person effect were randomly arranged throughout the questionnaire. Questions regarding each type of website were also randomly interspersed to avoid any response bias due to the order of presentation.

Censorship attitudes toward websites were assessed with two separate questions: one concerned attitudes toward restricting a website (e.g., There should be restrictions on gambling on the Internet); the other concerned an outright ban on a website (e.g., Gambling on the Internet should be banned). Responses were given on the same 5-point scale. For each type of website, the two items showed acceptable internal consistency (a=.80 for gambling; a=.87 for violent games). Thus, scores from both items were averaged to create an index of censorship attitude for subsequent analysis.

To determine other factors that may influence people’s willingness to censor commercial websites, this study included two attitudinal variables — religiosity and authoritarianism, which had previously been found to influence censorship attitudes in some studies (Hense and Wright 1992; Sullivan, Piereson, and Marcus 1982). The religiosity scale was measured with four items constructed by Putney and Middleton (1961). The authoritarianism scale was assessed with ten items developed by Altemeyer (1996). Both scales had acceptable internal consistency with an alpha of .84 for religiosity and .75 for authoritarianism. As for other attitudinal variables, general attitude toward websites was included because it was expected to have a negative relationship with censorship attitudes toward websites. The attitude toward the web in general was measured with nine items, some of which were adopted from the Attitude Toward the Site (Ast) scale developed by Chen and Wells (1999). Cronbach’s alpha of this measure was .74. For each scale, individual items were summed for further analysis.

To control for personal experience with websites, respondents were asked to indicate how much time they spent online on an average day and how many times per month they purchased products or services on the net. Media use was measured by the amount of local and national TV news watching and the amount of newspaper reading per week. Political ideology, from conservatism to liberalism, and political involvement were also assessed using 5-point Likert scales. Finally, demographic variables such as gender, age, education, and family income were included.


H1a and H1b stated that respondents would perceive gambling and violent game websites to have a greater impact on others than on themselves. In addition, H1c expected that these controversial sites would be perceived to have a greater effect on teenagers than on other adults. To test these hypotheses, paired t-tests were run for each site. As predicted, a significant third-person perception was found for both gambling and violent game websites. This was true when the comparison group was either other adults or teenagers (see Table 1). A perception disparity between other adults and teenagers showed mixed results. For violent game websites, teenagers were perceived to be more influenced by these sites than were other adults, whereas there were no perceptual differences between other adults and teenagers for gambling websites. The findings indicate that respondents believe teenagers to be more susceptible to violent game sites than other adults.

Table 1 Paired t-tests of Perceived Effects of Gambling and Game Websites

Paired t-tests of Perceived Effects of Gambling and Game Websites

H2a and H2b stated that females and older respondents would show a stronger third-person effect than their counterparts. To test these hypotheses, we calculated the mean differences between estimates of an impact on self and others (e.g., self versus other adults; self versus teenagers) and ran independent-sample t-tests by gender and age. In the case of age, the sample was split based on the mean score. The results in Table 2 demonstrated that, for violent game sites, females yielded larger third-person gaps than males (t=3.55, p<.001 for self versus other adults; t=2.45, p<.05 for self versus teenagers). However, for gambling sites, there was no significant difference in the third-person gaps between females and males. With regard to age, older respondents were more likely than younger respondents to show larger third-person gaps for gambling sites (t=2.21, p<.05 for self versus other adults; t=2.93, p<.01 for self versus teenagers). Age differences in the third-person perception gap did not appear for violent game sites. Thus, H2a and H2b were partially supported.

Table 2 Independence-Sample t-tests of Perceived Effects of Gambling
and Game Websites by Gender and Age

Independence-Sample t-tests of Perceived Effects of Gambling and Game Websites by Gender and Age

To further discover the interaction of gender and age on the third person perception, we ran two ANOVA analyses with gender and age as the between-subjects factors and social distance (perceived impact on self, other adults, and teenagers) as a within-subjects factor for gambling and game sites separately. For gambling sites, ANOVA analysis yielded a marginally significant three-way interaction of gender, age, and social distance (F (2, 336) =2.40, p<.10) and significant two-way interaction of social distance and age (F (2, 336) =5.93, p<.01). With regard to the three-way interactions, post hoc analysis indicated that: 1) female and younger respondents showed higher estimates of the impact on self than female and older respondents (F (1,168)=6.24, p<.05); 2) female and older respondents had marginally higher estimates of the impact on teenagers than female and younger respondents (F (1,168)= 3.45, p<.10); and 3) female and younger respondents had marginally higher estimates of impact on self than male and younger respondents (F(1,168=3.55, p<.10). There was no age difference for male respondents. Mean scores and three-way interaction figures are presented in Table 3, Figures 1 and 2.

Table 3 Perceived Impact of Gambling Websites as a Function of Gender, Age and Social Distance

Perceived Impact of Gambling Websites as a Function of Gender, Age and Social Distance

Figure 1

Perceived impact of Gambling web site Female Respondents

Figure 2

Perceived impact of Gambling web site Female Respondents

For violent game sites, ANOVA analysis yielded a significant two-way interaction of gender and social distance (F (2,338) =6.70, p<.01). Mean scores and the two-way interaction figure are included in Table 4 and Figure 3. Post hoc analysis indicated that female respondents had higher estimates of the impact of game sites on other adults (F (1,168) =8.68, p<.01) and on teenagers than male respondents (F(1,168)=5.0, p<.05).

Table 4 Perceived Impact of Gaming Web Sites as a Function of Gender, Age and Social Distance

Perceived Impact of Gaming Web Sites as a Function of Gender, Age and Social Distance

Figure 3

Perceived impact of Gambling web site

Hypothesis 3a and 3b posited that the perceived effect of controversial gaming sites on others would lead to people’s willingness to censor these sites. To test this relationship, hierarchical multiple regressions were performed for each gaming site. A total of sixteen independent variables were grouped into six separate blocks. Demographic (gender, age, education, and income), orientational (media use and political orientation), attitudinal variables (religiosity, authoritarianism, and attitude toward the web) and Internet use were entered in the first four blocks. The first person variable was entered in the fifth block, and finally, the two third-person variables were entered in the sixth block. This approach provided the most conservative test of the third-person effect and ensured that any effects attributed to third person variables would not be due to their relationship with other factors related to censorship attitudes. The results for gambling websites are included in Table 5.

Table 5 Hierarchical Multiple Regression Predicting
Willingness to Censor Gambling Websites – Split Sample by Gender and Age

Hierarchical Multiple Regression Predicting Willingness to Censor Gambling Websites - Split Sample by Gender and Age

Overall, the full model explained 34% of the total variance in censorship attitudes for gambling sites. After controlling for all the confounding variables, the perceived impact of gambling sites on other adults appeared to be a strong predictor of censorship attitude (b = .24). However, the perceived impact on teenagers had no significant impact on willingness to censor gambling sites. Therefore, H3a was supported, but H3b was not supported for gambling sites. As expected, the perceived impact on self did not predict censorship attitude. Among all the control variables, an attitudinal measure, such as authoritarianism, emerged as a strong predictor of censorship attitudes toward gambling websites (b = .37).

Furthermore, in order to explore whether gender and age moderate the relationship between the third person variables and censorship attitude, we split the sample by gender and age, and ran a hierarchical regression model with all variables except the split variable. As the results in Table 5 indicate, the perceived impact of gambling sites on adults remained a significant predictor of censorship attitude for male respondents, but not for female respondents. This is true for older respondents, but not for younger respondents. To test the statistical difference in the regression coefficients across gender and age, we followed the procedure recommended by Cohen and Cohen (1983) and Jaccard, Turrisi, and Wan (1990). We first took the difference between the corresponding regression coefficients across gender and age and then subjected the difference to a test of statistical significance with the following equation:

t = Equation


Where b1 and b2 refer to the unstandardized regression coefficients for group 1 and 2 (split the sample on the median of moderator);

S.E. b1 and S.E. b2 refer to the standard error of the unstandardized regression coefficient

This analysis resulted in a significant age difference in regression coefficients of the perceived impact on adults (t=2.14, p<.05), suggesting that, for older respondents, the perceived impact of gambling sites on other adults was a more powerful predictor of censorship attitude, compared to younger respondents (b = .45 versus b = .09 ). There was no significant difference in regression coefficients for female and male respondents.

We did similar analyses for censorship attitudes toward violent game sites. Compared to gambling sites, the full model accounted for a larger percentage of the total variance in willingness to censor violent game sites (57%). When all the confounding variables were taken into consideration, the perceived impact on other adults was not a significant predictor, but the perceived impact of game sites on teenagers turned out to be a significant predictor of censorship attitudes (b=.27, p<.01). Thus, H3a was not supported, while H3b was supported for violent game sites. Like gambling sites, the perceived impact on self did not affect pro-censorship attitudes of violent game sites. Among all the control variables, gender and age appeared to be important predictors of a desire to regulate game sites; females were more likely to support censoring gaming sites than males (b = -.22, p<.001) and older respondents were more willing to restrict gaming sites than younger respondents (b = .21, p<.01). As with gambling sites, more authoritative respondents were more supportive of censoring violent game sites (b = .32, p<.001).

When the total sample was split by gender and age, the estimated impact on teenagers continued to be a powerful predictor of censorship attitudes for males (b = .24, p<.05) and younger respondents (b = .36, p<.01) and the estimated impact of sites on other adults appeared to be a key predictor for older respondents (b = .40, p<.01). In order to test statistical differences in regression coefficients across gender and age, t-tests were run for third-person variables. This analysis yielded significant age differences. For older respondents, censorship attitudes were more driven by the perceived impact on others adults, compared to younger respondents (b = .40 vs. -.04, t=2.01, p<.05). Compared to older respondents, younger respondents’ censorship attitudes were more driven by the perceived impact on teenagers (b = .36 vs. 02, t=2.13, p<.05). There was no statistical gender difference in regression coefficients of the third-person variables. The results for gaming websites are included in Table 6.

Table 6
Hierarchical Multiple Regression Predicting
Willingness to Censor Gaming Websites – Split Sample by Gender and Age

Hierarchical Multiple Regression Predicting Willingness to Censor Gaming Websites - Split Sample by Gender and Age

To examine H4a and H4b, we ran a series of independent-sample t-tests to compare censorship attitudes toward gambling and game sites across gender and age. The study found that female and older respondents were more likely than their counterparts to censor gambling (females 7.01 vs. males 6.27, t=1.94, p<.05; old 7.06 vs. young 6.11, t=2.51, p<.01) and game sites (females 7.44 vs. males 5.76, t=4.42, p<.001; old 7.45 vs. young 5.63, t=4.82, p<.001). Therefore, H4a and H4b were supported.

Discussion and Conclusion

This study set out to examine whether the third-person effect would emerge in the context of controversial sites promoting gambling and violent games, and whether the third-person effect would influence pro-censorship attitudes. We found a significant disparity between the perceived effect of gaming sites on self and others, and further provided empirical support for the theoretical link between third-person perception and censorship attitude even after controlling for potential confounding variables. These findings extended the conclusions drawn from controversial media content such as pornography (e.g., Lo and Wei 2002) to controversial Internet content such as gambling and violent game sites. Moreover, the results confirmed Perloff’s (1999) observation that the relationship between third-person perception and willingness to censor media content is most likely to appear in the context of socially undesirable entertainment and advertising.

The current study explored the effect of gender and age on the magnitude of the third-person effect. The findings indicate that females tend to have a greater discrepancy between the perceived impact of violent game sites on self and on others than males. This may be explained by the likelihood that male consumers have more extensive experience with online games and are highly involved in game play on the Internet. More extensive experience with game sites would lessen the perceived negativity of game sites and, thus, narrow the gap between the perceived impact on self and on others. This study also found that older consumers are more likely than younger consumers to show a larger discrepancy between the perceived impact of gambling sites on self and on others. Older consumers may have more persuasion knowledge to resist the temptation of online gambling and, thus, underestimate the impact of gambling sites on themselves compared to younger consumers.

Additional analysis was done to examine the interaction of age, gender, and social distance on the perceived impact of gaming sites. It was found that female and older consumers, compared to other consumers, perceived teenagers as the most vulnerable group to gambling sites. Female consumers were also found to have a higher estimate of the impact of violent game sites on other adults and teenagers than male consumers. As explained earlier, this may be due in part to a lack of experience in game play. These findings illustrate that age and gender are important factors that affect third-person perceptions.

In a similar vein, the research findings indicated that female and older respondents were more willing to regulate online gambling and violent game sites than male and younger respondents. Previous research on restriction of media content deemed dangerous (Duck and Mulin 1995; Lo and Wei 2002; Shah, Faber, and Youn 1999) implied that female and older consumers tend to endorse censorship. It seems that female and older consumers are more conservative or are more likely to hold paternalistic motivations in regards to censorship issues. Future research is needed to explain the theoretical mechanism underlying these differences.

The current study identified third-person perception as one of the most important factors affecting censorship attitudes toward controversial gaming sites. This finding is consistent with the notion of “the influence of presumed influence” (Gunther and Storey 2003). Censorship attitudes are not driven by perceived influence of controversial gaming sites on oneself. Instead, consumers anticipate the impact of controversial sites on others and react to these anticipations regardless of whether such anticipations are accurate. In this study, censorship of gambling sites was driven by the perceived impact on others adults, whereas censorship of violent game sites was explained by the perceived impact on teenagers. This different third-person perception indicates that consumers would identify the target segment of controversial sites differently (that is, the target segment is other adults for gambling sites and teenagers for violent game sites), and perceive the target segment to be the most vulnerable group. Then, they would react to these perceptions by supporting censorship of the controversial sites.

Lastly, additional regression analysis by age showed that, for both gambling and game sites, older respondents showed a stronger link between the perceived impact on other adults and censorship attitude than younger respondents. On the other hand, younger respondents demonstrated a stronger link between the perceived impact on teenagers and censorship toward violent game sites than older respondents. This analysis suggests that age does affect the relationship between third-person perception and censorship attitude. Age difference in consumers may affect their perception of the target segment of gambling and violent game sites. For younger consumers, the target segment is teenagers; for older consumers, the target segment is other adults. These different perceptions are driven by egocentric projections and become the very foundation of their censorship attitude. Our research is the first to suggest that demographics of consumers could affect the relationship between the third-person perception and censorship attitude of controversial media content. This might be because the perceived target segment of controversial media content corresponds with demographic characteristics of consumers. Future research needs to test this proposition and establish the external validity of this theoretical account.

Public Policy Implications

This study provides some implications for public policy with regards to regulation of controversial gaming sites. With online gaming becoming a major entertainment form, a variety of interested groups are devoted to developing ways to protect consumers from the harm of controversial gaming sites. The findings in this study illustrate that, when it comes to the regulation of controversial gaming sites, it is not likely that consumers think they would be the potential victims. Rather, consumers are concerned about others’ susceptibility to these sites. These concerns, real or imagined, accurate or biased, serve as a major motivation to regulate these sites because consumers want to protect others who are perceived as vulnerable — the paternalistic motivation. Public policy-makers need to take this into account when using public opinion polls as the basis to regulate gambling and violent game sites. Consumers’ perceptions of others’ vulnerability to harmful messages cannot function as a solid foundation for public policy unless they are validated with actual effects of this message. Otherwise, unnecessary regulation may occur, which could be detrimental to the growth of the online gaming industry.


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About the Authors

Fang Wan (Ph.D.) is an Assistant Professor of Marketing at the Asper School of Business, University of Manitoba. Her research interests include social impacts of advertising images, cross-cultural consumer research and consumer information processing in online environments. She has published articles in Journal of Marketing Channels, Asia Pacific Journal of Marketing and Logistics, American Behavioral Scientist, Advances in Consumer Research and European Advances in Consumer Research. Email: [email protected]

Seounmi Youn (Ph.D., University of Minnesota) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Marketing Communication at Emerson College. Her research interests focus on interactive advertising effectiveness, adolescents’ online socialization, specifically privacy concerns, and the interplay between cognition and affect in advertising and consumer behavior. Her research has appeared in the Journal of Advertising Research, Psychology & Marketing, and Communication Research, as well as at international and national conferences in mass communication and advertising. Email: [email protected]