Violent video game play is linked to increased aggression in players but insufficient
evidence exists about whether the link extends to criminal violence or delinquency, according to a new American Psychological Association task force report.
Mark Appelbaum, the task force chair, commented in the review:
The research demonstrates a consistent relation between violent video game use and increases in aggressive behavior, aggressive cognitions and aggressive affect, and decreases in prosocial behavior, empathy and sensitivity to aggression
Scientists have investigated the use of violent video games for more than two decades but to date, there is very limited research addressing whether violent video games cause people to commit acts of criminal violence. However, the link between violence
in video games and increased aggression in players is one of the most studied and best established in the field.
No single risk factor consistently leads a person to act aggressively or violently, the report states. Rather, it is the accumulation of risk factors that tends to lead to aggressive or violent behavior. The research reviewed here demonstrates that
violent video game use is one such risk factor.
In light of the task force's conclusions, APA has called on the industry to design video games that include increased parental control over the amount of violence the games contain. APA's Council of Representatives adopted a resolution encouraging the
Entertainment Software Rating Board to refine its video game rating system to reflect the levels and characteristics of violence in games, in addition to the current global ratings. In addition, the resolution urges developers to design games that
are appropriate to users' age and psychological development, and voices APA's support for more research to address gaps in the knowledge about the effects of violent video game use.
The task force conducted a comprehensive review of the research literature published between 2005 and 2013 focused on violent video game use. This included four meta-analyses that reviewed more than 150 research reports published before 2009. Task force
members then conducted both a systematic evidence review and a quantitative review of the literature published between 2009 and 2013. (A systematic evidence review synthesizes all empirical evidence that meets pre-specified criteria to answer specific
research questions) This resulted in 170 articles, 31 of which met all of the most stringent screening criteria.
In addition to the report described above, the APA released a declaration:
A Resolution on Violent Video Games - that strongly encourages the Entertainment Software Rating Board to refine the ESRB rating system specifically to reflect the levels and characteristics of violence in games in addition to the current global ratings
While the ESRB said that it has had an open dialogue with the APA - and will continue to do so, it also said that it doesn't need to make changes to the ratings system. It cited an 8-year-old FTC report on the reliability of the ratings system (compared
to other entertainment industry ratings systems) and a Hart Research poll that found parents were familiar with the ESRB.
Does Media Violence Predict Societal Violence? It Depends on What You Look at and When, by Christopher Ferguson; Journal of Communication
Since the 1920s, scholars and politicians have blamed violence in movies and other media as a contributing factor to rising violence in society. Recently the responses to mass shootings in Aurora, CO and at Sandy Hook Elementary followed this theme as
media consumption came into the equation. But can consumption of violent media really be a factor in real-world violence? A recent study published in the Journal of Communication by a researcher at Stetson University found that there were no associations
between media violence consumption in society and societal violence.
Christopher Ferguson (Stetson University) published his findings in the Journal of Communication. Ferguson conducted two studies that raised the question if whether the incidence of violence in media correlates with actual violence rates in society. The
first study looked at movie violence and homicide rates between 1920 and 2005. The second study looked at videogame violence consumption and its relationship to youth violence rates from 1996-2011. He found that societal consumption of media violence is
not predictive of increased violence rates in society.
For the first study, independent raters evaluated the frequency and graphicness of violence in popular movies from 1920-2005. These were correlated to homicide rates for the same years. Overall, movie violence and homicide rates were not correlated.
However, during the mid-20th century, movie violence and homicide rates did appear to correlate slightly, which may have led some to believe a larger trend was at play. That correlation reversed after 1990 so that movie violence became correlated with
fewer homicides. Prior to the 1940s, movie violence was similarly related to fewer homicides, not more.
In the second study on video game violence, the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) ratings were used to estimate the violent content of the most popular video games for the years 1996-2011. These estimates of societal video game violence
consumption were correlated against federal data on youth violence rates during the same years. Violent video game consumption was strongly correlated with declines in youth violence. However, it was concluded that such a correlation is most likely due
to chance and does not indicate video games caused the decline in youth violence.
Previous studies have focused on laboratory experiments and aggression as a response to movie and videogame violence, but this does not match well with real-life exposure. Other studies have indicated that, in the short term, the release of violent
movies or video games is associated with declines in societal violence. However, no one has examined these trends long-term. Some scholars have argued that movies are becoming more violent, but none have examined whether this phenomenon is a concern for
society. This study is the first to suggest that movie violence and video game violence consumption probably are increasing over time, but that there is little evidence that this has caused a problem for society.
Society has a limited amount of resources and attention to devote to the problem of reducing crime. There is a risk that identifying the wrong problem, such as media violence, may distract society from more pressing concerns such as poverty, education
and vocational disparities and mental health, Ferguson said. This research may help society focus on issues that really matter and avoid devoting unnecessary resources to the pursuit of moral agendas with little practical value.
Members of the media and others often have attributed violence in video games as a potential cause of social ills, such as increased levels of teen violence and school shootings. Now, a University of Missouri researcher has found that media acceptance of
video game violence has increased as video game technology has improved over time. Greg Perreault, a doctoral student at the MU School of Journalism, examined the coverage of violent video games throughout the 1990s by GamePro Magazine, the most popular
video game news magazine during that time period. Perreault found that journalists from GamePro expressed a considerable amount of concern about the level of violence in the game software companies were creating in the early 1990s, when video game design
was limited by technology. Perreault said:
Early in the '90s, when video games were still a relatively new medium, journalists expressed quite a bit of concern about the level of violence in many of the games,. It is interesting because the simulated violence in these games was so mild relative
to modern-day games.
As technology improved throughout 1990s, new gaming systems such as the Nintendo 64 and Sony Playstation were released, along with the capacity for higher levels of graphic violence. Perreault found that despite this increase, the levels of concern about
violence from GamePro journalists decreased. Perreault said:
As technology improved and the animations became more and more life-like, game creators had increased capability to design more graphic violence, including blood and gore. Despite this increasing amount of violence, journalists seemed to be less and less
bothered by the blood and guts. This is important to note because journalism often mirrors the culture of the audience it serves. As technology improved, the entire gaming community became more and more comfortable with the levels of violence that were
simultaneously increasing in video games. In a sense, the gaming community grew up. They aged from children using video games as toys to adolescents and adults using them as recreational devices. It appears that journalists reflected this trend in their
Perreault says the video game rating system is another example of this trend. He says when the rating system first was created, gaming journalists opposed it; however, as games become more and more violent, the rating system is used continually as a
defense against outside criticism:
As more and more parents and outside sources criticize violent games, gamers and gaming journalists point to the rating system and say that parents should not allow their kids to play violent games with explicit ratings. Ultimately, the trend in violent
games is a reflection of what interests our society. Similar trends can be found in the increased number of 'R' rated movies as well as the popularity of gangster rap and other violent music. Video games are just another way our culture is expressing
Perreault will present his research at the International Communication Association conference in Seattle this May.
A recently released University of Glasgow study that takes the data from a survey of 11,000 children born between 2000 and 2002 comes to the conclusion that playing video games - even at a young age - does not lead to behavioral problems.
The authors of the study aimed to examine both television and video games screen time, in the hopes of finding connections with attention disorders, anger issues, and other problems that might be connected to both. Researchers wondered aloud if games
may have more powerful effects due to active user engagement, identification with characters and repeated rehearsal and reinforcement.
But their research went in another direction. They learned that exposure to video games had no effect on behavior, attention or emotional issues, and that watching three or more hours of television starting at age 5 did lead to a small increase in
behavioral problems in youngsters between 5 and 7. Television and video games did not lead to attentional or emotional problems and there seemed to be no difference between boys and girls in the survey results.
The survey relied heavily on parents reporting average screen time and later behavioral problems, but the size of the research pool -- more than 13,000 families -- left researchers confident their results were solid. Researchers also said they modified
the results to take into account various parenting approaches and socio-economic differences.
Past research has found that playing a classic prosocial video game resulted in heightened prosocial behavior when compared to a control group, whereas playing a classic violent video game had no effect. Given purported links between violent video
games and poor social behavior, this result is surprising. Here our aim was to assess whether this finding may be due to the specific games used. That is, modern games are experienced differently from classic games (more immersion in virtual
environments, more connection with characters, etc.) and it may be that playing violent video games impacts prosocial behavior only when contemporary versions are used.
Methods and Findings
Experiments 1 and 2 explored the effects of playing contemporary violent, non-violent, and prosocial video games on prosocial behavior, as measured by the pen-drop task. We found that slight contextual changes in the delivery of the pen-drop task
led to different rates of helping but that the type of game played had little effect. Experiment 3 explored this further by using classic games. Again, we found no effect.
We failed to find evidence that playing video games affects prosocial behavior. Research on the effects of video game play is of significant public interest. It is therefore important that speculation be rigorously tested and findings replicated.
Here we fail to substantiate conjecture that playing contemporary violent video games will lead to diminished prosocial behavior.
A recent study by Texas A&M International University chair and associate professor,
psychology Dr. Christopher J. Ferguson shows that childhood media consumption is not a predictor for future adult criminal behavior.
The long-held (and as of yet unproven) argument has been that violent video games or other violent media have a direct causation to violent crimes like school shootings. But according to a new study from TAMIU, genetics, environment, the lack of
maternal nurturing, and a number of other factors combined are better predictors of adult criminality. The TAMIU study used data from a National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which included a representative sample of U.S. adolescents.
Dr. Ferguson said:
We basically find that genetics and some social issues combine to predict later adult arrests. Despite ongoing concerns about media influences, media exposure does not seem to function as a risk factor for adult criminality.
Genetics alone don't seem to trigger criminal behavior, but in combination with harsh upbringing, you can see negative outcomes. In our sample, experiencing maternal warmth seemed to reduce the impact of genetics on adult criminality.
Researchers also noted that other factors such as family environment, peers and socioeconomic status can also be predictors of adult criminality. The research also found that being exposed to maternal affection may have the potential to
decrease criminal behavior in individuals who might otherwise be at risk.
People may object morally to some of the content that exists in the media, but the question is whether the media can predict criminal behavior. The answer seems to be no.
The Effect of Violent and Nonviolent Video Games on Heart Rate Variability, Sleep, and Emotions in Adolescents With Different Violent Gaming Habits
By Malena Ivarsson, BA, Martin Anderson, MD, Torbjorn Akerstedt, PhD and Frank Lindblad, MD
Objective To study cardiac, sleep-related, and emotional reactions to playing violent games versus nonviolent video games in adolescents with different gaming habits.
Methods Thirty boys (aged 13--16 years), half of them low-exposed (1 hour/day) and half high-exposed (3 hour/day) to violent games, played a violent games/nonviolent video games for 2 hours during two different evenings in their homes. Heart rate and
heart rate variability were registered from before start until next morning. A questionnaire about emotional reactions was administered after gaming sessions and a sleep diary on the following mornings.
Results During sleep, there were significant interaction effects between group and gaming condition for heart rate. There was also a significant interaction for sleep quality, and sadness after playing.
Conclusions Different combinations of the extent of previous violent games and experimental exposure to a violent games or an nonviolent video games are associated with different reaction patterns---physiologically, emotionally, and sleep related.
Desensitizing effects or selection bias stand out as possible explanations.
Abstract: Video games are an increasingly popular leisure activity. As many of best-selling games contain
hyper-realistic violence, many researchers and policymakers have concluded that violent games cause violent behaviors.
Evidence on a causal effect of violent games on violence is usually based on laboratory experiments finding violent games increase aggression. Before drawing policy conclusions about the effect of violent games on actual behavior, these experimental
studies should be subjected to tests of external validity.
Our study uses a quasi-experimental methodology to identify the short and medium run effects of violent game sales on violent crime using time variation in retail unit sales data of the top 50 selling video games and violent criminal offenses from the
National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS) for each week of 2005 to 2008. We instrument for game sales with game characteristics, game quality and time on the market, and estimate that, while a one percent increase in violent games is associated
with up to a 0.03% decrease in violent crime, non-violent games appear to have no effect on crime rates.
Scott Cunningham of Baylor University
Benjamin Engelstatter of Centre for European Economic Research (ZEW) - Information and Communication Technologies Research Group
Michael R. Ward of University of Texas at Arlington - College of Business Administration - Department of Economics
A longitudinal study of the association between violent video game play and aggression among adolescents.
Willoughby T, Adachi PJ, Good M. Department of Psychology, Brock University, Ontario, Canada
In the past 2 decades, correlational and experimental studies have found a positive association between violent video game play and aggression. There is less evidence, however, to support a long-term relation between these behaviors.
This study examined sustained violent video game play and adolescent aggressive behavior across the high school years and directly assessed the socialization (violent video game play predicts aggression over time) versus selection hypotheses
(aggression predicts violent video game play over time).
Adolescents were surveyed annually from Grade 9 to Grade 12 about their video game play and aggressive behaviors. Nonviolent video game play, frequency of overall video game play, and a comprehensive set of potential 3rd variables were
included as covariates in each analysis.
Sustained violent video game play was significantly related to steeper increases in adolescents' trajectory of aggressive behavior over time. Moreover, greater violent video game play predicted higher levels of aggression over time, after
controlling for previous levels of aggression, supporting the socialization hypothesis.
In contrast, no support was found for the selection hypothesis. Nonviolent video game play also did not predict higher levels of aggressive behavior over time. Our findings, and the fact that many adolescents play video games for several hours
every day, underscore the need for a greater understanding of the long-term relation between violent video games and aggression, as well as the specific game characteristics (e.g., violent content, competition, pace of action) that may be
responsible for this association.
The Daily Mail researched a few press release quotes.
Lead researcher Professor Teena Willoughby said:
The current study is the first to demonstrate a relation between sustained violent video game play and the progression of aggressive behaviour.
It is clear that there is a long-term association between violent video games and aggression. This is an important and concerning finding, particularly in light of the hours that youth spend playing these games.
Professor Mark Griffiths, director of the International Gaming Research Unit at Nottingham Trent University, said:
The study as a whole does provide one of the strongest pieces of empirical evidence to date that there is a direct relationship between playing violent video games and subsequent aggressive behaviour.'
There is a long-lasting and at times intense debate about the possible link between violent computer games and aggressiveness. A group of researchers from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, are now questioning the entire basis of the discussion. In a
recently published article, they present a new study showing that, more than anything, a good ability to cooperate is a prerequisite for success in the violent gaming environment.
A study, authored by Ulrika Bennerstedt, Jonas Ivarsson and Jonas Linderoth and titled How gamers manage aggression: Situating skills in collaborative computer games , is presented in International Journal of Computer-Supported
The Gothenburg-based research group spent hundreds of hours playing online games and observing other gamers, including on video recordings. They focused on complex games with portrayals of violence and aggressive action where the participants have to
fight with and against each other. The situations gamers encounter in these games call for sophisticated and well-coordinated collaboration. We analysed what characteristics and knowledge the gamers need to have in order to be successful, says
Jonas Ivarsson, Docent (Reader) at the Department of Education, Communication and Learning.
It turns out that a successful gamer is strategic and technically knowledgeable, and has good timing. Inconsiderate gamers, as well as those who act aggressively or emotionally, generally do not do well.
In a nutshell, we're questioning the whole gaming and violence debate, since it's not based on a real problem but rather on some hypothetical reasoning, says Ivarsson.
Recent video games have begun depicting religion as a violent, problematic force, according to research from a new University of Missouri study.
Greg Perreault, a doctoral student at University of Missouri's School of Journalism, studied five extremely popular games from the last few years that incorporate religion heavily into their storylines: Mass Effect 2, Final Fantasy XIII, Assassin's
Creed, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow , and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.
In each case, Perreault found that religion became equated with violence within the video games' narratives. Perreault said in a press release:
In most of these games there was a heavy emphasis on a 'Knights Templar' and crusader motifs. Not only was the violent side of religion emphasized, but in each of these games religion created a problem that the main character must overcome, whether it is
a direct confrontation with religious zealots or being haunted by religious guilt.
Just because religion was associated with violence, however, does not mean it was always depicted as evil. For example, Perreault noted that in Mass Effect 2 , the character of Thane is an extremely spiritual assassin who assists the player.
Of those five games, Mass Effect 2, Final Fantasy XIII, and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion all deal with religions created specifically for the game. The remaining two titles, Assassin's Creed and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow ,
both center around Catholicism.
Still, Perreault emphasized that he did not believe game developers were attacking religion with these themes:
It doesn't appear that game developers are trying to purposefully bash organized religion in these games. I believe they are only using religion to create stimulating plot points in their story lines. If you look at video games across the board, most of
them involve violence in some fashion because violence is conflict and conflict is exciting. Religion appears to get tied in with violence because that makes for a compelling narrative.
While Perreault's study of just five games is far from an exhaustive survey of all of modern video games, he does believe game writers should be aware of how they use religion in their plots.
A new report from the Swedish Media Council comes to the conclusion that there's no conclusive evidence that there
is no evidence that violent computer games cause aggressive behavior .
The Media Council is a Swedish government agency in charge of film and media classification and whose mission statement is to reduce the risk of harmful media influences among minors and to empower minors as conscious media users.
The findings are based on a review of more than 100 articles about violent games and aggression which have been published in international scientific journals since 2000. The review found that there is a clear and statistically significant link
between violent games and aggressive behavior. But the review also found that many of those same studies use different methods to measure aggression, and few produced a clear connection to violent behavior. Many of those same studies suffered from
serious methodological deficiencies and didn't provide sufficient evidence to establish a causal relationship.
The studies that did attempt to examine other causes of aggression found that factors such as poor physical health or family problems were factors that lead to violent behavior and a propensity to play violent games.
If research can't provide any simple answers about how games make children aggressive, perhaps we adults should stop judging the games children play based on whether they are violent or not, Media Council researcher Ulf Dalquist said in a
A functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) analysis of long-term effects of violent video game play on the brain has found changes in
brain regions associated with cognitive function and emotional control in young adult men after one week of game play. The results of the study were presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).
The controversy over whether or not violent video games are potentially harmful to users has raged for many years, making it as far as the Supreme Court in 2010. But there has been little scientific evidence demonstrating that the games have a
prolonged negative neurological effect.
For the first time, we have found that a sample of randomly assigned young adults showed less activation in certain frontal brain regions following a week of playing violent video games at home, said Yang Wang, M.D., assistant research
professor in the Department of Radiology and Imaging Sciences at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis. These brain regions are important for controlling emotion and aggressive behavior.
For the study, 22 healthy adult males, age 18 to 29, with low past exposure to violent video games were randomly assigned to two groups of 11. Members of the first group were instructed to play a shooting video game for 10 hours at home for one
week and refrain from playing the following week. The second group did not play a violent video game at all during the two-week period. Each of the 22 men underwent fMRI at the beginning of the study, with follow-up exams at one and two weeks.
The results showed that after one week of violent game play, the video game group members showed less activation in the left inferior frontal lobe during the emotional task and less activation in the anterior cingulate cortex during the counting
task, compared to their baseline results and the results of the control group after one week. After the second week without game play, the changes to the executive regions of the brain were diminished.
These findings indicate that violent video game play has a long-term effect on brain functioning, Dr. Wang said.
Coauthors are Tom Hummer, Ph.D., William Kronenberger, Ph.D., Kristine Mosier, D.M.D., Ph.D., and Vincent P. Mathews, M.D. This research is supported by the Center for Successful Parenting, Indiana.
Game Politics points out that the Center for Successful Parenting, Indiana is in fact a nutter group with a website that is designed for parents to learn about the negative side effects of violent video.
A one-year longitudinal study with 324 German third and fourth graders was conducted in order to find out whether a preference for violent electronic games socializes children to become more aggressive or whether aggressive
individuals tend to select this type of game.
Cross-lagged panel analyses suggest that children who were rated as openly aggressive at Time 1 intensified their preference for violent electronic games over time. We determined that it could be ruled out that this selection
effect was due to a number of underlying variables ranging from ecological variables (neighborhood) to family variables (migration status, older brother) and child variables (gender, self-esteem, level of achievement).
The research suggested there was a risk that this preference for violent video games would become entrenched in these children. However, the researchers found no evidence in the group they studied that violent computer and video games led to
increased aggression in real life.
This is the good news from our study into the educational effects of media, said Jens Vogelgesang of Hohenheim University: But it should be noted that this applies expressly only to the group of 8-to-12 year olds that we looked into in a
study on the effects.
One of the researchers seems disappointed that results don't support the concept that games cause violence. The research team leader Maria von Salisch throws in a totally out of context comment:
In the case of older children, the negative effects from violent games on their behaviour has already been documented and this remains a cause for concern.
We are unable to rule out the possibility that an entrenched preference for violent computer and video games might over the course of a game-playing career lead to greater readiness to commit acts of violence.
What sort of researchers title their supposed scientific study with nutter phrases like 'downward spiral' anyway?
Being exposed to strong language on TV as well as playing video games are linked to aggression in teenagers, a university
A US study in the medical journal Pediatrics appears to be the first to examine the impact of strong language.
To explore the issue, scholars at the mormon Brigham Young University in Utah gathered information from 223 middle school students.
Family life professor at the university, Sarah Coyne, explained that the findings revealed that exposure to bad language is associated with acceptance and use of similar language, which in turn influences both physical and verbal aggression.
Professor Coyne said:
On the whole, it's a moderate effect.
We even ran the statistical model the opposite way to test if the violent kids used more profanity and then sought it out in the media, but the first path we took was a much better statistical fit even when we tried other explanations.
Profanity is kind of like a stepping stone. You don't go to a movie, hear a bad word, and then go and shoot somebody. But when youth both hear and then try profanity out for themselves it can start a downward slide toward more aggressive
Researchers from the University of Bonn have found brain activity patterns in heavy gamers that differed from
those of non-gamers. The study's results have just been published in the scientific journal Biological Psychology.
Psychologists, epileptologists and neurologists from the University of Bonn studied the effect of shoot em up game images and other emotionally charged photos on the brain activity of heavy gamers. Compared to people who abstain from
first-person shooters, they show clear differences in how emotions are controlled, reported lead author Dr. Christian Montag from the Institute of Psychology at the University of Bonn.
21 subjects ranging in age from 20 to 30 years played first-person shooters for about 15 hours per week on average. During this study, they were shown a standardized catalog of photos that reliably trigger emotions in human brains, using video
glasses. At the same time, the researchers recorded the responses in their brains using one of the brain scanners at the Life & Brain Center of the University of Bonn. The images included photos as they are used in the violent games, but also
shots of accident and disaster victims. This mix of images allowed us to transport the subjects both to the fictitious first-person shooter world they are familiar with and to also trigger emotions via real images, explained Dr. Montag.
This catalog of photos was also shown to a control group of 19 persons who had no experience with violent video games.
When the subjects regarded the real, negative pictures, there was greatly increased activity in their amygdalas. This region of the brain is strongly involved in processing negative emotions. Surprisingly, the amygdalas in the subjects as well
as in the control group were similarly stimulated, reported Montag: This shows that both groups responded to the photos with similarly strong emotions.
But the left medial frontal lobes were clearly less activated in the users of violent games than in the control subjects. This is the brain structure humans use to control their fear or aggression. First-person shooters do not respond as
strongly to the real, negative image material because they are used to it from their daily computer activities, Montag concluded: One might also say that they are more desensitized than the control group.
On the other hand, while processing the computer game images, the first-person shooters showed higher activity in brain regions associated with memory recall and working memory than the control group members. This indicates that the gamers put
themselves into the video game due to the computer game images and were looking for a potential strategy to find a solution for the game status shown, said Dr. Montag.
One question raised while interpreting the results is whether the users showed altered brain activity due to the games, or whether they were more tolerant of violence from the start and as a consequence, preferred first-person shooter games. The
researchers from the University of Bonn were able to suggest an answer to this question based on the fact that they took into account various personality traits such as fearfulness, aggressiveness, callousness or emotional stability. There were
no differences between the subjects and the control group in this area, reported Dr. Montag: This is an indication that the violent games are the cause of the difference in information processing in the brain.
Some video game players are transferring their screen experiences into the real world - prompting thoughts of violent solutions
to their problems, say researchers.
Fans of computers can become so immersed in their virtual environment they do things in the real world as if they were still playing.
The findings come after sailor Ryan Donovan was sentenced to 25 years in jail for shooting dead an officer on a nuclear sub to copy the violent video game Grand Theft Auto.
Researchers at Nottingham Trent University and Stockholm University have for the first time identified evidence of Game Transfer Phenomena (GTP), which results in some gamers integrating video experiences into their real lives. The study to be
published in the next issue of the International Journal of Cyber Behaviour, Psychology and Learning.
The study involved 42 in-depth interviews with participants aged between 15 and 21 years old, all of whom were frequent video game players and had been recruited from gaming forums.
They thought in the same way as when they were gaming, with half of participants often looking to use something from a video game to resolve a real-life issue.
In some cases these thoughts were accompanied by reflexes, such as reaching to click a button on the controller when it wasn't in their hands, while on other occasions gamers visualised their thoughts in the form of game menus.
Violent solutions to real life conflicts appeared to be used by few of the players, at least in their imaginations says the study.
One 15-year-old gamer said: There (in the video game) you can get guns. This I want to do in real life, to get some guns, shoot down people. This I want to do sometimes with irritating people.
The study concluded: The close resemblance to real life scenarios in video games may have opened a 'Pandora's Box for some players.
The Daily Mail has today reported that video games blur real life boundaries and prompt thoughts of violent solutions to players' problems
This headline is based on a small study exploring whether frequent video game players integrated elements of video game playing into their real lives - a theoretical process the researchers called game transfer phenomena (GTP). The study showed
that most gamers experienced GTP, including experiencing brief involuntary impulses to perform actions as they would when playing a game. For example, they might try to click a button on their controller while it was not in their hand.
It is important to note that not all the players were affected by the games and the degree that people were affected varied significantly from person to person. Additionally, it is not clear from this study whether GTP was related to the game
played or whether it related to the specific characteristics of individual game players. Many of the actions reported by participants were also unusual or novel, and do not provide evidence that games affect perception of behaviour. For example,
one participant said that they like to pack their suitcase neatly like Tetris blocks.
Further studies will be needed to investigate whether GTP is a real, significant phenomenon and the potential link between GTP and a player's individual characteristics.
The Daily Mail's report covering this study tended to focus on the violent and negative aspects of game transfer phenomena (GTP) highlighted in the study. The Daily Mail presents GTP as a proven phenomenon with definite results, but the results
of this interview-based study are debatable and GTP is still only a theory.
News coverage also linked the study results to a recent murder trial where video games were reportedly implicated. This angle seemed to be a confused addition to news coverage of the research, as it could suggest to readers that games were found
to be the primary cause of the incident, or that they could cause ordinary people to consider murder.
Research from Brock University in Canada seems to indicate that playing highly
competitive video games may lead to aggressive behavior faster than playing games with more violent content. Competitiveness, says a new study published by the American Psychological Association, may be the main video game characteristic that influences or causes aggression.
In a series of experiments lead by Paul J.C. Adachi, M.A., a PhD candidate at Brock University in Canada, video games were matched on competitiveness, difficulty, and pace of action. Researchers found that video game violence did not
elevate aggressive behavior on its own. The more competitive games produced greater levels of aggressive behavior than less competitive games, no matter how much violent content was found in the games.
In one of the experiments, 42 college students played one of two video games, Conan or Fuel , for 12 minutes. Both games were even when it came to competitiveness, difficulty and pace of action, but differed in levels of violence.
After participants finished playing the game, they were then told they were going to take part in a separate food tasting study. Participants had to make up a cup of hot sauce for a taster who they were told did not particularly like hot or
spicy food. The participants could choose from one of four different hot sauces (from least hot to most hot) for the taster to drink. The authors found that there was no significant difference in the intensity and amount of the hot sauces prepared
by the participants who played Conan and those who played Fuel. The authors concluded that video game violence alone was not sufficient to elevate aggressive behavior.
In the second experiment, 60 college students played one of four video games: Mortal Kombat versus DC Universe , Left 4 Dead 2 , Marble Blast Ultra , and Fuel . Afterward, the students completed the same hot sauce test
from the first study. Electrocardiograms measured the participants' heart rates before and during video game play. On average, students who played the highly competitive games - Fuel and Mortal Kombat versus DC Universe - concocted what
researchers called significantly more of a hotter sauce than participants who played Marble Blast Ultra and Left 4 Dead 2. They also had significantly higher heart rates.
These findings suggest that the level of competitiveness in video games is an important factor in the relation between video games and aggressive behavior, with highly competitive games leading to greater elevations in
aggression than less competitive games.
Psychological studies invariably find a positive relationship between violent video game play and aggression. However, these studies
cannot account for either aggressive effects of alternative activities video game playing substitutes for or the possible selection of relatively violent people into playing violent video games. That is, they lack external validity.
We investigate the relationship between the prevalence of violent video games and violent crimes.
Our results are consistent with two opposing effects. First, they support the behavioral effects as in the psychological studies. Second, they suggest a larger voluntary incapacitation effect in which playing either violent or non-violent games
Overall, violent video games lead to decreases in violent crime.
According to a group of researchers in England, games with goals such as football are more
likely to make participants aggressive than anything encountered in Grand Theft Auto or Call Of Duty .
According to research conducted by Dr. Simon Goodson and Sarah Pearson of Huddersfield university, games with goals cause more of an aggressive reaction in participants than killing an animated character because sports is closer to real life.
Researchers measured the heart rates, respiration and brain activity of 40 male and female participants randomly selected to play violent Xbox 360 game or a football game. They found that when players killed someone in a game it caused little brain
activity. But when participant's conceded a goal or foul in the sports game it caused a higher level of brain activity.
Dr. Goodson added that participants generally reacted with more agitation during the football game and that maybe violent games have been misrepresented as the worst thing a gamer can play.
Dr. Goodson is presenting his research this week at the British Psychological Society's annual conference in Glasgow, Scotland.
According to researchers at Ryerson University (Toronto, Canada), violent video games do not desensitize players to violent imagery. The study was lead by Holly Bowen and co-authored by psychology professor Julia Spaniol.
Researchers examined the impact of chronic exposure to violent video games on emotional memory and responses to negative stimuli.
Emotional long-term memory helps us avoid negative situations, Bowen said. This has significant implications for public health. For example, if you remember the negative experience of being involved in a bar fight, you will avoid future
situations that may lead to an altercation.
Participants were shown 150 images representing three different stimuli: negative, positive and neutral scenes. One hour later, the students viewed those same images again (along with a new set of 150 distractor images) in random order. As each
image was displayed, participants had to respond whether or not they had seen it before. Finally, at the end of the experiment, the students completed a self-assessment test regarding their state of emotional arousal.
The researchers believed going into the study that game players would prove to be less sensitive to the negative images and therefore show reduced memory for these materials. The results showed no difference in the memory of video game players and
non-players. Exposure to video games were not associated with differences in self-reported arousal to emotional stimuli.
The findings indicate that long-term emotional memory is not affected by chronic exposure violent video games, said Bowen. Researchers caution that further study is needed to see if these results apply to all age groups and not just young adults.
New research by Dr. Christopher Ferguson from Texas A&M International University finds that depression in young people has more of a correlation to aggressive and violent behavior than gaming does - at least among Hispanics.
Ferguson recruited 302 (mostly) Hispanic youths between the ages of 10 - 14 years-old, from a small city on the border of Mexico. The population of this unnamed city was primarily of Hispanic dissent. Participants were interviewed at the start of the
study and at the end of the study 12 months later.
He then looked at how much exposure the subjects had to violence in video games, television, and negative events in their lives. Negative events included neighborhood problems, bad relationships with adults, antisocial behavior, family attachment,
delinquent peers, family interaction and communication, exposure to domestic violence, depressive symptoms, serious aggression, bullying, and delinquent behavior.
One year later, 7% reported being involved in at least one criminally violent act during the previous 12 months, with the common crime being physical assaults on other students or the use of force to take something away from someone else. 19%
reported engaging in at least one nonviolent crime during the same period, such as shoplifting or theft on school property.
Ferguson found that symptoms of depressions were a strong predictor for youth aggression and rule breaking. Depression was especially influential in those who were identified as having preexisting antisocial personality traits. The research did
not find that exposure to violence from video games or television at the start of the study was a good predictor of aggressive behavior in young people.
Dr. Furgeson's research will appear in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.
A new study into the effects of computer games has revealed that fast-paced action games turn us into faster and better
Scientists at the University of Rochester in New York conducted a series of tests to gauge whether regular bouts of high-speed gaming could help to improve our cognitive abilities.
The researchers tested dozens of 18- to 25-year-olds who were not ordinarily video-gamers, splitting them into two groups.
The first group were told to play adrenalin-packed action games such as Call of Duty 2 and Unreal Tournament , in which participants dash around online arenas shooting each other. The second group were given The Sims 2 , a more
sedate, strategy-based game that mimics the pace of everyday life.
After 50 hours of playing, both groups were given a series of tests to see whether they could make quicker decisions. Scientists discovered that those who had trained on the action games made decisions 25% faster than their counterparts. They also
answered just as many questions correctly as their strategy game-playing peers.
It's not the case that the action game players are trigger-happy and less accurate – they are just as accurate and also faster, said Daphne Bavelier, a cognitive scientist at Rochester who has been testing how computer games affect the brain and
eyes for much of the past 10 years. Action game players make more correct decisions per unit time. If you are a surgeon or you are in the middle of a battlefield, that can make all the difference.
This benefit, researchers suggest in a forthcoming edition of Current Biology , has repercussions in the real world, such as improving our ability to multitask, drive, read small print and keep track of friends in a crowd.
Decisions are never black and white, she said. The brain is always computing probabilities. As you drive, for instance, you may see a movement on your right, estimate whether you are on a collision course, and based on that probability make a
binary decision: brake or don't brake.
Action-filled computer games – which force the brain to make a whole series of fast-paced decisions in a split second – appear to improve our ability to make those decisions quickly.
Young adults—male and female—who play violent video games long-term, handle stress better than non-playing adults and become less depressed
and less hostile following a stressful task, according to a study by Texas A&M International University associate professor, Dr. Christopher J. Ferguson.
The article on the research appears in the European Psychologist 2010.
In this study, 103 young adults were given a frustration task and then randomized to play no game, a non-violent game, a violent game with good versus evil theme, or a violent game in which they played 'the bad guy.' The results
suggest that violent games reduce depression and hostile feelings in players through mood management, Dr. Ferguson explained.
Whether violent video games cause aggression or violent crime has been a source of contention in public and academic circles. The results do not support a link between violent video games and aggressive behavior.
Ferguson said that the results of this study may help provide others with ways to come up with a mood-management activity that provides individuals with ways to tolerate or reduce stress: It probably won't come to a surprise to gamers
that playing games may reduce stress, although others have been skeptical of this idea. This is the first study that explores this idea, however. It does seem that playing violent games may help reduce stress and make people less depressed and hostile.
In a special issue of the journal Review of General Psychology, published in June by the American Psychological
Association, researchers looked at several studies that examined the potential uses of video games as a way to improve visual/spatial skills, as a health aid to help manage diabetes or pain and as a tool to complement psychotherapy. One study
examined the negative effects of violent video games on some people.
Much of the attention to video game research has been negative, focusing on potential harm related to addiction, aggression and lowered school performance, said Christopher J. Ferguson, PhD, of Texas A&M International University and
guest editor of the issue. Recent research has shown that as video games have become more popular, children in the United States and Europe are having fewer behavior problems, are less violent and score better on standardized tests. Violent
video games have not created the generation of problem youth so often feared.
In contrast, one study in the special issue shows that video game violence can increase aggression in some individuals, depending on their personalities.
In his research, Patrick Markey, PhD, determined that a certain combination of personality traits can help predict which young people will be more adversely affected by violent video games. Previous research has shown us that personality traits
like psychoticism and aggressiveness intensify the negative effects of violent video games and we wanted to find out why, said Markey.
Markey used the most popular psychological model of personality traits, called the Five-Factor Model, to examine these effects. The model scientifically classifies five personality traits: neuroticism, extraversion, openness to experience,
agreeableness and conscientiousness.
Analysis of the model showed a perfect storm of traits for children who are most likely to become hostile after playing violent video games, according to Markey. Those traits are: high neuroticism (e.g., easily upset, angry, depressed,
emotional, etc.), low agreeableness (e.g., little concern for others, indifferent to others feelings, cold, etc.) and low conscientiousness (e.g., break rules, don't keep promises, act without thinking, etc.).
Markey then created his own model, focusing on these three traits, and used it to help predict the effects of violent video games in a sample of 118 teenagers. Each participant played a violent or a non-violent video game and had his or her
hostility levels assessed. The teenagers who were highly neurotic, less agreeable and less conscientious tended to be most adversely affected by violent video games, whereas participants who did not possess these personality characteristics were
either unaffected or only slightly negatively affected by violent video games.
These results suggest that it is the simultaneous combination of these personality traits which yield a more powerful predictor of violent video games, said Markey. Those who are negatively affected have pre-existing dispositions, which
make them susceptible to such violent media.
Violent video games are like peanut butter, said Ferguson. They are harmless for the vast majority of kids but are harmful to a small minority with pre-existing personality or mental health problems.
Inspired by a plotline from the 2003 movie Runaway Jury , University of Southern California researcher Kwan Min Lee, and associates, conducted research under the title Will the Experience of Playing a Violent Role in a Videogame
Influence People's Judgments of Violent Crimes?
The inspiring scene from Runaway Jury involved the lawyer for a defendant accused of committing a violent shooting tried to have a hardcore video game player selected as a member of the jury. The lawyer carried the belief that a
hardcore gamer would judge the shooter less negatively because of similar, though virtual, experiences.
52 undergrads were involved in the study—who had never played the game used in the experiment ( True Crime )—and were randomly assigned to either a game-playing group or a control group. The game-playing group was tasked with playing True
Crime for 2 hours. Both groups were then asked to read two real-life crime cases committed by police officers and two by generic criminals, and then to answer a series of questions in which they judged the crime and the criminal.
It was reported that, people who played the violent game had more favorable judgment of the crimes and perpetrators than people who did not play the violent game in terms of their negative judgment of the perpetrators.
The researchers concluded that that even a few hours of game playing as a particular game character can significantly influence one's attitude towards real-life criminal behaviors conducted by an individual similar to the game character.
It was also theorized that perhaps the jury selection process should take into account both real and virtual experiences as it was shown that attitudes towards real criminals can be influenced while taking on a similar role in a videogame.
Games may not bad for you after all, according to a joint study conducted by the Department of Psychology at the University of
Amsterdam, and Leiden University in the Netherlands.
More precisely, first-person shooters are better at training you for the hustle and bustle of everyday life, and less effective at making you a killing machine.
DOOM'd to switch: superior cognitive flexibility in players of first person shooter games, a research paper published on Frontiers in Cognition focuses on the benefits of playing first-person shooters.
Thirty-four adults (17 video game players and 17 non-gamers) participated in the study, with video game players defined as those who have played video games at least four times a week for a minimum period of 6 months. All of the video game
players had some experience with games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Unreal Tournament, Battlefield , and Grand Theft Auto IV . Non-gamers were described as having little to no video game experience. All of the
participants were recruited among student populations and through advertisements on internet forums catering to video game players.
While details of the study are pretty complex, the short story is that the video game players were able to rapidly react to fast moving visual and auditory stimuli, and to switch back and forth between different subtasks faster than the non-video
game playing group. The study also conducted test to make sure that these results weren't based on age or I.Q. After eliminating those possibilities, researchers found that it had more to do with first-person shooter games than any other possible
A new study conducted by a Wheaton College professor has concluded that people that play action and puzzle games are better able to think through complex problems.
Rolf Nelson, a professor of psychology, conducted the study and published his findings in the November edition of the journal Perception.
In the study, he had 20 students try to solve a spatial relation problem. The students were then given a puzzle game or action game to play. Once done with the game, the students were given the chance to finish the spatial relation problem again.
Results showed that puzzle players finished the task slower, but with more accuracy, while action players finished the task quicker but less accurately. Both finished quicker than if they had not played a game at all.
From the study abstract:
To understand the way in which video-game play affects subsequent perception and cognitive strategy, two experiments were performed in which participants played either a fast-action game or a puzzle-solving game. Before and
after video-game play, participants performed a task in which both speed and accuracy were emphasized. In experiment 1 participants engaged in a location task in which they clicked a mouse on the spot where a target had appeared, and in
experiment 2 they were asked to judge which of four shapes was most similar to a target shape. In both experiments, participants were much faster but less accurate after playing the action game, while they were slower but more accurate after
playing the puzzle game. Results are discussed in terms of a taxonomy of video games by their cognitive and perceptual demands.
Education minister Mike Russell said the technology, often seen as a distraction, could motivate young people to develop skills.
Russell said the Nintendo DS console, for example, could lead to surprising educational benefits for young people, particularly its top-selling brain-training games.
He said: We need to embrace new technologies and tap into all the resources available to us to ensure that our young people develop successfully in a modern society within which computers are so important.
Educational computer games can be a great way of motivating young people to learn in a way that is relevant and enjoyable for them.
Computer games are often perceived as solely a distraction to learning. But alongside traditional learning aids, they can help make learning more engaging.
Parents and teachers across the country are starting to see the benefits they can have.
Dr David Miller of the University of Dundee has conducted studies into the effects of brain-training games on improving learning in partnership with government education body Learning and Teaching Scotland (LTS).
Miller said it was clear many games had tremendous learning potential. The research focusing on a brain-training game showed it could improve pupil's basic computational skills. Children who used the game for 20 minutes each morning over a ten-week
period demonstrated statistically significant gains in accuracy and speed of processing.
He said: Research is starting to point towards computer games providing some real and tangible benefits to young people. These can include faster processing of information, enhanced selection of relevant material and higher levels of engagement.
Computer games are part of our culture and while we may have concerns about aspects of some popular games, many have huge potential for supporting learning.
University of Rochester researchers found that children who played video games were quick thinkers and had good
Contrary to the widely held belief that video games are contributing to Britain's obesity crisis, a team of American researchers has found that there are benefits to sitting in front of a screen for hours on end.
Dr Matthew Dye said there were good points about playing video games even though many critics claim they distract children from more healthy outdoor pursuits: Avid players got faster not only on their game of choice, but on a variety of unrelated
laboratory tests of reaction time .
Sceptics agree that gamers are fast but that they become less accurate as their speed of play increases. Gamers don't lose accuracy in the game or in lab tests as they get faster - this is a result of the gamer's improved visual cognition.
Dr Dye said video game fans did well on hand-eye co-ordination tests and comprehension tests: Playing video games enhances performance on mental rotation skills, visual and spatial memory, and tasks requiring divided attention.
Dr Dye said that parents and grandparents should play their children's computer games to improve their own memory and brain function: Training with video games may serve to reduce gender differences in visual and spatial processing, and thwart some of
the cognitive declines that come with ageing .
Results of a study performed by researchers at Iowa State University have led them to believe that there is a
relation between frequent videogame playing and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).
Video Games and Cognitive Control was designed to quantify the effects of playing videogames on two types of cognitive activity—proactive and reactive. Proactive attention is described as a gearing up mechanism, or where a player can
anticipate what is coming next, versus reactive attention, which is more of a knee-jerk response (a monster jumping out).
A visual task was used to test both attention types with brain waves and responses measured in both frequent videogame players and occasional players. Both groups were charged with identifying the color of a word when the color and word
matched, such as 'RED' presented in red, or did not match, such as 'RED' presented in blue or green. This is also referred to as the Stroop task.
While reactive control was similar in both groups, frequent gamers (participants in this study who play four or more hours a day) had a propensity for exhibiting significantly diminished proactive attention.
From a press release: While admitting that the study did have a few limitations, the researchers hoped that our results may serve to constrain the claims of some scholars, game manufacturers, and journalists who have suggested that playing
action video games 'improves attention.'
The study is being published in the October 2009 issue of Psychophysiology.
Did you know that playing violent multiplayer games will make you more aggressive against strangers than friends? That's the conclusion of a new study published in the latest issue of the Evolution and Human Behavior science journal.
The study, conducted by psychologists from the University of Missouri, observed 42 young men divided into 14 teams of three. The players played Unreal Tournament 2004 within their team and against other teams. When playing against teammates, the
mode was Deathmatch. When playing against other teams, the mode was Onslaught. Before and after each match, the testosterone and cortisol levels of each player was tested.
According to the study's abstract from the journal's web site:
For 14 teams of three young men, salivary testosterone and cortisol were assessed twice before and twice after competing in within-group and between-group video games that simulated violent male-male competition. Men who
contributed the most to their teams' between-group victory showed testosterone increases immediately after the competition, but only if this competition was played before the within-group tournament. High-scoring men on losing teams did not show
this immediate effect, but they did show a delayed increase in testosterone. In contrast, high-ranking men tended to have lower testosterone and higher cortisol during within-group tournaments. The results are consistent with the hypothesis that
men's competitive testosterone response varies across ingroup and outgroup competitions and is muted during the former. The testosterone response during the between-group competition also suggests that violent multiplayer video games may be
appealing to young men because they simulate male-male coalitional competition.
The Researchers at the Mind Research Network found that playing Tetris for three months had increased efficiency and beefed up the amount of gray matter in the brains of a group of adolescent girls.
The results, which will be published in BMC Research Notes later this week, showed that focusing on a challenging visuospatial task such as a video game could not just increase brain activity but alter the structure of the brain as well by
thickening the cortexes.
So, what benefit does a fatter, more efficient brain offer? According to one of the study's authors, Dr. Richard Haier, it may be a way to help combat the mental decline that occurs with age.
A report published in the current issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin maintains that playing pro-social games
increases helping behavior by participants while playing violent games increases hurtful behavior.
GamePolitics has previously reported on the research, which combines the results from three separate studies conducted in the U.S., Japan and Singapore. But a press release issued today by the University of Michigan offers new insight about the
methodologies used by the researchers involved.
UM's Brad Bushman said:
These studies show the same kind of impact on three different age groups from three very different cultures. In addition, the studies use different analytic approaches---correlational, longitudinal and experimental. The
resulting triangulation of evidence provides the strongest possible proof that the findings are both valid and generalizable...
[The research] suggests there is an upward spiral of prosocial gaming and helpful behavior, in contrast to the downward spiral that occurs with violent video gaming and aggressive behavior...
Taken together, these findings make it clear that playing video games is not in itself good or bad for children. The type of content in the game has a bigger impact than the overall amount of time spent playing.
Perhaps the most interesting experiment involved 161 U.S. college students. From the press release:
After playing either a prosocial, violent, or neutral game, participants were asked to assign puzzles to a randomly selected partner. They could choose from puzzles that were easy, medium or hard to complete. Their partner
could win $10 if they solved all the puzzles. Those who played a prosocial game were considerably more helpful than others, assigning more easy puzzles to their partners. And those who had played violent games were significantly more likely to
assign the hardest puzzles.
Multiplying unrelated long odds reveals that violent games provoke aggressive thoughts
Thanks to Chris
My favourite line is: Does that mean playing violent videogames is going to create a school shooter? No, not if there aren't any other risk factors. But in kids who have a lot of other risk factors, can it contribute to the
likelihood of some sort of extreme violent behaviour occurring? Probably, it can. More so than other risk factors? We don't know. There's no data on it.
Don't let that lack of data get in the way of a good opinion there Professor.
In a guest lecture at Macquarie University, Sydney, Professor Anderson, Director of Centre of the Study of Violence
at Iowa State University spoke of the risks of violent videogames.
Research was clear by 1975 that media violence caused aggressive behaviour, Prof. Anderson said: We know that short term exposure to violent media can lead to aggressive behaviour and aggressive thinking within five minutes of watching a
violent film or playing a violent game, while long term exposure can lead to aggression into early adulthood.
To highlight this connection, Prof. Anderson examined the likelihood of violent videogames leading to aggressive behaviour by drawing on well-known examples of cause and effect. Such examples included the chances of regular consumption of aspirin leading
to heart attacks, the chances of asbestos causing cancer, and the chances of condom use reducing the risk of contracting HIV. In all these examples, violent videogames proved to be a higher risk factor, going as far as being approximately three times
more likely to happen than asbestos exposure leading to cancer.
On the scale of youth violence risk factors, violent videogames were more likely to increase aggression than substance abuse, poverty, and anti-social peers. Violent games are more likely to provoke aggressive thoughts in players.
Anderson was careful to point out that this did not necessarily mean that everyone who played violent videogames would begin committing violent acts. Rather, violent games made players more prepared to think aggressive thoughts.
He cited another study where college students were asked to play a pro-social, neutral, and violent game, after which each was tested to see how willing they were to help their peers solve puzzles. The study showed that those who played non-violent,
pro-social games were more inclined to be helpful by choosing easier puzzles for their peers to complete, whereas those who had just played violent games chose difficult puzzles to impede on their peers' ability to complete the challenge.
While Anderson believes that this increase in aggressive behaviour is a cause for concern, he doesn't think that violent games are solely to be blamed for anti-social behaviour.
Extreme acts of violence always require multiple risk factors being present. You just don't ever have a school shooter, for example, who only has one risk factor. It just doesn't happen. There's usually four, five, six, seven risk factors, sometimes
more. Media violence is one of those risk factors. he said.
Does that mean playing violent videogames is going to create a school shooter? No, not if there aren't any other risk factors. But in kids who have a lot of other risk factors, can it contribute to the likelihood of some sort of extreme violent behaviour
occurring? Probably, it can. More so than other risk factors? We don't know. There's no data on it.
If you want to make blood-and-gore video games less appealing to minors, toss those restrictive age and violent-content warnings. The lure of
something off-limits only increases demand, a new study says.
In the study, researchers tested 310 Dutch children ranging in age from 7 to 17. Participants read fictitious game descriptions and rated how much or how little they wanted to play each game. In every group, the more objectionable the content, the more
kids clamoured for the controller— forbidden fruit, the researchers called the games.
The findings are published in the March issue of Pediatrics.
While research has found that ratings increase the attraction to raunchy TV shows and movies, the hypothesis had never been tested with video games, reported two of the study's authors, Brad Bushman of the University of Michigan and Elly Konijn of VU
They suggest that youth should not be allowed to buy their own games, that parents and physicians be aware of risk factors (such as a drop in grades) and that policy-makers rethink the classifications (such as M, appropriate for those 17 and older),
which will only make the games "unspeakably desirable."
A just-released research report claims that playing violent video games makes players comfortably numb to the pain and suffering of others.
The study, conducted by University of Michigan professor Brad Bushman and Iowa State University professor Craig Anderson, appears in the March 2009 issue of Psychological Science.
A press release describes the research methodology employed in the new report:
320 college students played either a violent or a nonviolent video game for approximately 20 minutes. A few minutes later, they overheard a staged fight that ended with the victim sustaining a sprained ankle and groaning in pain.
People who had played a violent game took significantly longer to help the victim than those who played a nonviolent game---73 seconds compared to 16 seconds. People who had played a violent game were also less likely to notice and report the fight. And
if they did report it, they judged it to be less serious than did those who had played a nonviolent game.
In the second study, the participants were 162 adult moviegoers. The researchers staged a minor emergency outside the theater... The researchers timed how long it took moviegoers to help. Participants who had just watched a violent movie took over 26%
longer to help than either people going into the theater or people who had just watched a nonviolent movie.
Bushman commented: These studies clearly show that violent media exposure can reduce helping behavior. People exposed to media violence are less helpful to others in need because they are 'comfortably numb' to the pain and suffering of others, to
borrow the title of a Pink Floyd song.
Among young college students, the frequency and type of video games played appears to parallel risky drug and alcohol use, poorer
personal relationships, and low levels of self-esteem, researchers report.
This does not mean that every person who plays video games has low self-worth, or that playing video games will lead to drug use, Laura M. Padilla-Walker told Reuters Health. Rather, these findings simply indicate video gaming may cluster with a
number of negative outcomes, at least for some segment of the population, said Padilla-Walker, an associate professor at the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.
She and colleagues examined the previous 12-months' frequency and type of video game and Internet use reported by 500 female and 313 male undergraduate college students in the United States. The students also recounted their drug and alcohol use,
perceptions of self-worth and social acceptance, and the quality of their relationships with friends and family.
The findings, reported in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, showed stark gender differences in video game and Internet use, Padilla-Walker said. However, regardless of gender, clear correlations were seen between frequent gaming and more
frequent alcohol and drug use and lower quality personal relationships, as well as more frequent violent gaming and a greater number of sexual partners and low quality personal relationships.
The investigators linked similar negative outcomes with Internet use for chat rooms, shopping, entertainment, and pornography, but a contrasting plethora of positive outcomes with Internet use for schoolwork.
Volunteers who played a simple cycling game learned to favour one team's jersey and avoid another's. Days later,
most subjects subconsciously avoided the same jersey in a real-world test.
As video games become more immersive and realistic, all involved ought to realise the potential, says Paul Fletcher, a neuroscientist at Cambridge University, UK, who led the study
I don't think this is evidence that video games are bad, says Fletcher, a former gamer: We just need to be aware that associations formed within the game transfer to the real world – for good or bad.
Fletcher and several colleagues recruited 22 volunteer subjects and told them they were testing an experimental sports drink delivery system. Volunteer played a bicycling game on a laptop with two straws attached to their mouths.
If cyclists from their same team – as indicated by a jersey design – passed by, participants received a slurp of their favourite juice. However, if a cyclist from the rival team passed the participant, he or she got a swig of salty tea.
Three days later, the same volunteers came back for a follow-up brain scan and a surprise test. Before the scan, Fletcher and his colleagues asked each subject to sit in a waiting room with two chairs, both with small towels dangling on one arm. One seat
corresponded to the insignia of the juice-giving jersey, the other to the symbol for salty tea.
Three-quarters of the subjects sat in the chair that reminded them of juice, though most participants said they did not notice the towel design.
Our research suggests whatever you've learned in the computer game does have an effect on how you behave toward the stimulus in the real world, Fletcher says.
A researcher at Texas A&M International University has concluded
that there is no significant relationship between school shootings and playing violent video games.
Writing for the Journal of Investigative Psychology and Offender Profiling, Prof. Christopher Ferguson criticizes the methodology used in earlier research linking games to violence and aggression. He also points out that no evidence of violent game play
was found in recent high-profile incidents such as the Virginia Tech massacre, the Utah Trolley Stop mall shooting and the February, 2008 shooting on the campus of Northern Illinois University.
Ferguson examines the notion of moral panic as it relates to the supposed relationship between violent video games and school shootings:
Moral panics may emerge from culture wars occurring in a society... politicians, news media and social scientists, arguably [have] motives for promoting hysterical beliefs about media violence, and video games specifically.
Actual causes of violent crime, such as family environment, genetics, poverty, and inequality, are oftentimes difficult, controversial, and intractable problems. By contrast, video games present something of a straw man by which politicians can
create an appearance of taking action against crime...
Ferguson, who cites GamePolitics among his numerous sources, notes that many video game critics are unfamiliar with the medium:
It has been the observation of this author, for instance, that the majority of individuals critical of video games are above the age of 35 (many are elderly) and oftentimes admit to not having directly experienced the games. Some
commentators make claims betraying their unfamiliarity, such as that games like Grant Theft Auto ‘award points’ for antisocial behaviour... despite that few games award points for anything anymore, instead focusing on stories.
Ferguson also points out what he sees as design flaws in a number of studies relating to video games and aggression. He also examines school shooting research conducted by the FBI and Secret Service before concluding:
School shootings, although exceedingly rare, are an important issue worthy of serious consideration. However, for our understanding of this phenomenon to progress, we must move past the moral panic on video games and other media and
take a hard look at the real causes of serious aggression and violence...
the wealth of evidence... fails to establish a link between violent video games and violent crimes, including school shootings. The link has not merely been unproven; I argue that the wealth of available data simply weighs against any causal
While video games are often slammed over violent content, a new study suggests that it is the challenge presented by a game rather than graphic violence which attracts players.
The research, which appears in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin , was conducted at the University of Rochester.
A press release quotes Andrew Przybylski, the study's lead author: For the vast majority of players, even those who regularly play and enjoy violent games, violence was not a plus. Violent content was only preferred by a small subgroup of people that
generally report being more aggressive.
Immersyve president Scott Rigby commented on potential ramifications for the video game industry: Much of the debate about game violence has pitted the assumed commercial value of violence against social concern about the harm it may cause. Our study
shows that the violence may not be the real value component, freeing developers to design away from violence while at the same time broadening their market.
Researchers incorporated the popular Half-Life 2 and House of the Dead III into their study, using both high and low gore scenarios.
Violent Video Games as
A Conceptual Analysis
Douglas A. Gentile
Institute of Science and Society
Iowa State University
National Institute on Media and the Family
J. Ronald Gentile
University at Buffalo
State University of New York
This article presents conceptual and empirical analyses of several of
the “best practices” of learning and instruction, and demonstrates how
violent video games use them effectively to motivate learners to
persevere in acquiring and mastering a number of skills, to navigate
through complex problems and changing environments, and to experiment
with different identities until success is achieved.
These educational principles allow for the generation of several
testable hypotheses, two of which are tested with samples of 430
elementary school children (mean age 10 years), 607 young adolescents
(mean age 14 years), and 1,441 older adolescents (mean age 19 years).
Participants were surveyed about their video game habits and their
aggressive cognitions and behaviours.
The first hypothesis is based on the principle that curricula that
teach the same underlying concepts across contexts should have the
highest transfer. Therefore, students who play multiple violent video
games should be more likely to learn aggressive cognitions and
behaviours than those who play fewer.
The second hypothesis is based on the principle that long-term
learning is improved if practice is distributed more across time.
Therefore, students who play violent video games more frequently across
time should be more likely to learn aggressive cognitions and behaviours
than those who play the same types of games for equivalent amounts of
time but less frequently.
Both hypotheses were supported. We conclude by describing what
educators can learn from the successful instructional and curriculum
design features of video games.
The Good, The Bad and the
A Meta-analytic Review of
Positive and Negative Effects of Violent Video Games
By Christopher John Ferguson
Department of Behavioral, Applied Sciences and Criminal Justice, Texas A&M
International University, Laredo, TX 78045, USA
Objective Video game violence has become a highly politicized
issue for scientists and the general public. There is continuing concern
that playing violent video games may increase the risk of aggression in
players. Less often discussed is the possibility that playing violent
video games may promote certain positive developments, particularly
related to visuospatial cognition.
The objective of the current article was to conduct a meta-analytic
review of studies that examine the impact of violent video games on both
aggressive behavior and visuospatial cognition in order to understand
the full impact of such games.
A detailed literature search was used to identify peer-reviewed
articles addressing violent video game effects. Effect sizes r (a common
measure of effect size based on the correlational coefficient) were
calculated for all included studies. Effect sizes were adjusted for
observed publication bias.
Results indicated that publication bias was a problem for studies of
both aggressive behavior and visuospatial cognition. Once corrected for
publication bias, studies of video game violence provided no support for
the hypothesis that violent video game playing is associated with higher
aggression. However playing violent video games remained related to
higher visuospatial cognition.
Results from the current analysis did not support the conclusion that
violent video game playing leads to aggressive behavior. However,
violent video game playing was associated with higher visuospatial
cognition. It may be advisable to reframe the violent video game debate
in reference to potential costs and benefits of this medium.
Ferguson also commented:
It is not hard to ‘‘link’’ video game playing with violent acts if
one wishes to do so, as one video game playing prevalence study
indicated that 98.7% of adolescents play video games to some degree with
boys playing more hours and more violent games than girls.
However is it possible that a behavior with such a high base rate
(i.e. video game playing) is useful in explaining a behavior with a very
low base rate (i.e. school shootings)? Put another way, can an almost
universal behavior truly predict a rare behavior?
Games Cause Violence: But Not Much
Violent video games and anger as predictors
violent video games make players aggressive? The answer, according to
Professor Patrick Markey, is yes. But Markey is no bog standard game
basher. He likes shooters and he thinks the effects of violent games
have been taken way out of context by the media and by the industry’s
Image He says, When you look at the research there’s no question at
all. Violent video games do cause aggression. It’s so clear. You have to
be dishonest not to see it. However, and this is a huge however, the
effect is very, very small.
“It’s not as if this is a light switch that either video games do or do
not cause aggression. You have to think about the strength of that
effect. Most people assume it has a really big effect, but what we find
from research is it actually has a very tiny effect.
Markey conducted his research with Gary Giumetti at Villanova University
in Pennsylvania. 167 university undergraduates, participated in the
Two groups separately played violent and non-violent games (Mortal
Kombat: Deadly Alliance; Doom 3; or Return to Castle Wolfenstein against
Tetris Worlds; Top Spin Tennis and Project Gotham Racing).
Overall, players of the violent video games produced significantly more
aggressive responses than the non-violent games players. The mean number
of aggressive responses for the three non-violent video games did not
differ from each other. Nor did the mean number of aggressive responses
for the three violent video games.
This all looks like a clear case against violent games. However, when
the results were compared against the initial questionnaires, it turned
out that mild-mannered people were affected the least by the games while
‘angry people’ were affected the most.
A new research published in
American Journal of Forensic Psychiatry proposed that Eric Harris and
Dylan Klebold went on a killing rage at Columbine High School in 1999
because they were abruptly denied access to their M-rated games.
According to the study written by Jerald Block, a researcher and
psychiatrist in Portland, the two young men relied on the virtual world
of computer games to express their rage and to spend time, and cutting
them off in 1998 sent them into crisis. Very soon thereafter - a couple
of days - they started to plan the actual attack.
Block sifted through thousands of pages of documents released by
Columbine investigators and found that Harris and Klebold had each been
temporarily kept off computers at school or at home several times, and
after each incident, according to Block, the boys' writings or behavior
became more violent.
After the Colorado rampage, the Secret Service searched for common
threads in more than three dozen school shootings, said Cheryl Olson,
co-director of the Center for Mental Health and Media at the
Massachusetts General Hospital. The commonalities they found were male
gender and either being treated for depression or showing signs of
depression. Some of the shooters were good students, some bad; some
were bullies, some were bullied; and some played video games, but most
did not, she added.
Two-thirds of middle- school boys play M-rated games regularly, said
Cheryl Olson. They're not turning kids into killing machines. The
evidence just isn't there.
Video games tend to polarise opinions in a way that
other entertainment media do not. People who do not play them cannot
understand their attraction and that lack of understanding can lead to
some games being demonised. While there is research designed to show the
short term physical reactions of video games players, there is very
little information about why people play video games and what impact
they think playing games has on them. The BBFC today published the
results of a research project involving video games players ranging from
children as young as seven through to players in their early 40s;
parents of young games players; games industry representatives; and
The research set out to gain insights into a number of issues including:
the attractions of playing video games
what impact games players think playing has on them
and their behaviour
whether the interactivity element of games alters
what players think about the violence in some games
how they choose which games to play
what parents think about video games.
The key findings of the research were:
that children begin playing games at an
increasingly early age, but that the overall age of games players is
there is a sharp divide between male and female
games players in their taste in games and how long they spend playing
female games players tend to prefer ‘strategic life
simulation’ games like The Sims and puzzle games and spend less time
playing than their male counterparts
male players favour first ‘person shooter’ and
sports games and are much more likely to become deeply absorbed in the
younger games players are influenced to play
particular games by peer pressure and word of mouth, but negative
press coverage for a game will significantly increase its take up
people play games to escape from every day life and
to escape to a world of adventure without risk which is under the
control of the gamer, unlike the real world
games provide a sense of achievement and are
active, unlike television and films which are passive. However, games
are better at developing action than building character and as such
gamers tend to care less about the storyline than making progress in
gamers appear to forget they are playing games less
readily than film goers forget they are watching a film because they
have to participate in the game for it to proceed. They appear to
non-games players to be engrossed in what they are doing, but, they
are concentrating on making progress, and are unlikely to be
gamers claim that playing games is mentally
stimulating and that playing develops hand eye coordination
violence in games, in the sense of eliminating
obstacles, is built into the structure of some games and is necessary
to progress through the game. It contributes to the tension because
gamers are not just shooting, they are vulnerable to being shot and
most gamers are concentrating on their own survival rather than the
damage they are inflicting on the characters in the game. While there
is an appeal in being able to be violent without being vulnerable to
the consequences which similar actions in real life would create,
gamers are aware that they are playing a game and that it is not real
gamers are aware that violence in games is an issue
and younger players find some of the violence upsetting, particularly
in games rated for adults. There is also concern that in some games
wickedness prevails over innocence. However, most gamers are not
seriously concerned about violence in games because they think that
the violence on television and in films is more upsetting and more
gamers are virtually unanimous in rejecting the
suggestion that video games encourage people to be violent in real
life or that they have become desensitised. They see no evidence in
themselves or their friends who play games that they have become more
violent in real life. As one participant said: I no more feel that
I have actually scored a goal than I do that I have actually killed
someone. I know it’s not real. The emphasis is on achievement.
non-games playing parents are concerned about the
amount of time their children, particularly boys, spend playing games
and would prefer that they were outside in the fresh air. However,
they are more concerned about the ‘stranger-danger’ of internet chat
rooms. While the violence in games surprises them and concerns some of
them, they are confident that their children are well balanced enough
to not be influenced by playing violent games
while parents agree that there should be regulation
of games some are happy to give their children adult games because
they are “only games”.
David Cooke, Director of the BBFC said:
The BBFC classified just under three hundred video games last year.
Most games in the UK are classified under a pan-European voluntary
system, but those with adult content are required to come to us. We take
this part of our responsibilities under the Video Recordings Act very
seriously. Our examiners actually play the games for up to five hours,
assessing all levels of the games and considering all the key issues.
Players and the parents of young players can be sure that all aspects of
the game have been taken into account before reaching a classification.
We require key issues to be flagged and aids such as cheat codes to be
supplied to us. We take context into account, and examine works in a way
which is as thorough and penetrating as anywhere in the world.
The element of interactivity in games carries some weight when we are
considering a video game. We were particularly interested to see that
this research suggests that, far from having a potentially negative
impact on the reaction of the player, the very fact that they have to
interact with the game seems to keep them more firmly rooted in reality.
People who do not play games raise concerns about their engrossing
nature, assuming that players are also emotionally engrossed. This
research suggests the opposite; a range of factors seems to make them
less emotionally involving than film or television. The adversaries
which players have to eliminate have no personality and so are not real
and their destruction is therefore not real, regardless of how violent
that destruction might be. This firm grasp on reality seems to extend to
younger players, but this is no reason to allow them access to adult
rated games, as they themselves often admit that they find the violence
in games like Manhunt very upsetting. Parents should not treat
video games in the same way they would board games. We will continue to
examine very carefully those games which come to us, to flag any
concerns we have and, if necessary, to use our statutory powers.
There is no question that video games are an important form of
entertainment for an ever increasing number of people. As the technology
improves the games will become more and more realistic and it is
important that games are properly rated to protect younger players from
the games with adult content, which the BBFC does. This research
provides some valuable insights into why people play video games and
what effect they think playing has on themselves and friends. It has
also highlighted parental attitudes to video games. We hope that it will
provide some food for thought for the industry, and everyone who has an
interest in the impact of games and we will be taking the research
outcomes into account as we review our games classification policies
over the coming months.
Research by Dr Vincent Mathews, of Indiana University School of Medicine
Presented to the Radiological Society of North
Based on an article from the
4th December 2006
Playing violent video games makes children lose their self-control.
An analysis of brain activity demonstrates they become more emotionally
charged after using the graphic technology.
At the same time there is a marked decrease in activity in parts of the
brain which are linked to self-control, focus and concentration.
The latest research from Indiana University School of Medicine, United
States, shows that violent video games stimulate activity in the region of
the brain governing emotional arousal in teenagers.
Researchers randomly assigned 44 adolescents to play either a violent or
non-violent video game for 30 minutes.
A scanning technique was then used to study the volunteers' brain functions
during a series of tasks measuring inhibition and concentration.
The group that had played the violent game showed less activity in the
prefrontal parts of their brains involved in inhibition, concentration and
There was more activity in the amygdala region, which helps govern emotional
Dr Vincent Mathews, professor of radiology, who led the research, said:
These findings raise concern that these types of video games are having
some sort of effect on the brain and likely an effect on behaviour as well.This is the first time that it has been demonstrated that violent
video games can affect brain physiology and the way the brain functions.
Our study suggests that playing a certain type of violent video game may
have different short-term effects on brain function than playing a
non-violent - but exciting - game. Additional investigation of the reasons for and effects of this difference
in brain functioning will be important targets for future study, but the
current study showed that a difference between the groups does exist.'
The findings were presented to the annual meeting of the Radiological
Society of North America (RSNA) in Chicago last week.
video games can 'desensitise' players to the horrors of real-life brutality
after just 20 minutes of playing
Published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
Based on an article from the
Daily Mail 18th August 2006
video games can 'desensitise' players to the horrors of real-life brutality
after just 20 minutes of playing, scientists have claimed.
A new study found that students who played graphic games for only a short of
period of time were less emotional when later confronted with scenes of real
violence, such as beatings, stabbings and shootings.
For the latest study, American psychologists carried out experiments on 257
college students, both male and female.
One group was given 20 minutes to play one of four violent games:
Carmageddon, Mortal Kombat, Future Cop and Duke Nukem.
The other group was given one of four "passive" games to play including
3D Pinball, Glider Pro, 3D Munch Man and Tetra Madness.
Both where then shown ten-minute videos of shootings, stabbings, prison
fights, courtroom outbursts, and confrontations with police - and tested for
their emotional response. This was measured by their heart rate and
perspiration. Those who had engaged in violent games had 'lowered
physiological responses'. In other words, their heart rates were lower and
they sweated less.
This supposedly showed they had become desensitised to the brutality of the
real world, said psychologist Professor Nicholas Carnagey, of Iowa State
University, who led the study.
The students who played the non-violent games had increased heart rates and
perspiration when they saw the video footage - meaning they were upset by
Professor Carnagey said he was 'surprised' at how quickly the games dulled
the players' response to real-life violence. He warned: It appears that
individuals who play violent video games get used to it. They eventually
become physiologically numb to it.
The study, published the findings in the Journal of Experimental Social
Psychology, said parents should be wary about the effect that violence in PC
games and on television has on their children.
Er, doesn't this *actually* only prove the difference between 30 minutes of
one type of imagery, vs 20 minutes of one type and then 10 minutes of a
In other words, the same effect you'd get from switching channels between,
say, a sitcom and a news channel, vs the effect of sticking with one channel
for the full half hour...
Video games such as Gun and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
might be at the top of many Christmas lists this year, despite their graphic
violent content and mature ratings. These games might be mere entertainment
to some, but a researcher at the University of Missouri-Columbia found that
playing these violent games changes a person's brain function and
desensitizes chronic players to real world violence.
Most of us naturally have a strong aversion to the sight of blood and
gore, said Bruce Bartholow, assistant professor of psychological
sciences at MU. Surgeons and soldiers may need to overcome these
reactions in order to perform their duties. But, for most people, a
diminished reaction to the effects of violence is not adaptive. It can
reduce inhibitions against aggressive behavior and increase the possibility
of inflicting violence on others.
Bartholow, along with Brad Bushman from the University of Michigan and Marc
Sestir at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, asked 39 male
undergraduate students how often they played their five favorite video games
and how violent the games were. Next, the researchers showed participants a
series of images on a computer screen, including emotionally neutral images,
such as a man raiding a bicycle; violent images, such as a man holding a gun
to another man's head; and negative, but nonviolent images, such as a dead
dog. As participants viewed these images, the researchers measured a type of
brainwave, known as P300, which is believed to reflect how people evaluate
images like these.
After viewing the pictures, participants were told that the last part of the
experiment involved a competition with another participant to see who could
press a button faster following a series of tones. Before each tone,
participants set the level of a noise blast that their opponent would
receive if the opponent lost. There actually was no opponent.
The researchers found that the participants who routinely played violent
video games showed less brain reactivity, measured by diminished amplitude
of the P300 brainwaves, when they viewed the violent images compared to the
equally negative, nonviolent image. They also found that the smaller a
participant's brain response to violent images, the more aggressively he
behaved during the final part of the experiment.
These findings are among the first to link chronic violent video game
play, diminished brain responses and aggressive behavior, Bartholow
said. People often assume that any negative effects of playing violent
games are short-lived, but these results suggest that repeated exposure to
violent video games has lasting negative consequences for both brain
function and behavior.
This study will be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of
Experimental Social Psychology.
But some experts still remain unconvinced of a link.
Jonathan Freedman, a psychologist from the University of Toronto in Canada,
said: All we are really getting is desensitisation to images. There's no
way to show that this relates to real-life aggression.
And Professor David Buckingham, an expert on the media and children at the
Institute of Education, added there was still no consensus on whether
violent games caused aggressive behaviour or were just played by violent
people:The debate we are seeing is very similar to the one that has raged
for years about TV. The truth is there are many factors that can lead to
violence, such as being withdrawn and isolated, so it is hard to say it is
because of one thing. In the absence of any proof, I think we have to be
agnostic about it. However, I think there is an argument about the morality
of some games. Some actually encourage amoral behaviour to win the game and
I think parents should be talking to their children to make sure they
realise this is a joke. Children are generally good at telling fantasy from
reality, but parents should be discussing this.
States: Violent video games alter brain's response to violence
The work will appear early in 2006 in the Journal of
Experimental Social Psychology.
A brain mechanism that may link violent computer games with aggression has
been discovered by researchers in the US. The work goes some way towards
demonstrating a causal link between the two - rather than a simple
Many studies have concluded that people who play violent video games are
more aggressive, more likely to commit violent crimes, and less likely to
help others. But critics argue these correlations merely prove that violent
people gravitate towards violent games, not that games can change behaviour.
Now psychologist Bruce Bartholow from the University of Missouri-Columbia
and colleagues have found that people who play violent video games show
diminished brain responses to images of real-life violence, such as gun
attacks, but not to other emotionally disturbing pictures, such as those of
dead animals, or sick children. And the reduction in response is correlated
with aggressive behaviour.
The brain activity they measured, called the P300 response, is a
characteristic signal seen in an EEG (electroencephalogram) recording of
brain waves as we register an image. The P300 reflects an evaluation of the
emotional content of an image says Bartholow, being larger if people are
surprised or disturbed by an image, or if something is novel.
The team recruited 39 experienced gamers, and used questionnaires to assess
the amount of violent games they played. They then showed them real-life
images, mostly of neutral scenes, but interspersed with violent or negative
(but non-violent) scenes, while recording EEGs.
In subjects with the most experience of violent games, the P300 response to
the violent images was smaller and delayed. People who play a lot of
violent video games didn’t see them as much different from neutral, says
Bartholow. They become desensitised. However, their responses are still
normal for the non-violent negative scenes.
This may not be surprising - video games have been used to desensitise
soldiers to scenes of war. But when the players were subsequently given the
opportunity to “punish” a fake opponent in another game, those with the
greatest reduction in P300 brain responses meted out the most severe
Even when the team controlled for the subjects’ natural hostility, assessed
by standard questionnaires, the violent games experience and P300 response
were still strongly correlated with aggressiveness. As far as I’m aware,
this is the first study to show that exposure to violent games has effects
on the brain that predict aggressive behaviour, says Bartholow.
But the study has failed to convince some critics.
We habituate to any
kind of stimulus, says Jonathan Freedman, a psychologist from the
University of Toronto, Canada, who has prepared several government-level
reports on media and games violence. All we are really getting is
desensitisation to images. There’s no way to show that this relates to
He says that stopping people playing violent video games would be like
preventing them from playing sports such as football or hockey.
Other researchers are more concerned. Craig Anderson of Iowa State
University in Ames, who has studied the effect, says:
THese brain studies
corroborate the many behavioural and cognitive studies showing that violent
video games lead to increases in aggression.
Henry Jenkins is the director of comparative studies at MIT.
1. The availability of video games has led to an epidemic of youth
According to federal crime statistics, the rate of juvenile violent crime in
the United States is at a 30-year low. Researchers find that people serving
time for violent crimes typically consume less media before committing their
crimes than the average person in the general population. It's true that
young offenders who have committed school shootings in America have also
been game players. But young people in general are more likely to be gamers
— 90 percent of boys and 40 percent of girls play. The overwhelming majority
of kids who play do NOT commit antisocial acts. According to a 2001 U.S.
Surgeon General's report, the strongest risk factors for school shootings
centered on mental stability and the quality of home life, not media
exposure. The moral panic over violent video games is doubly harmful. It has
led adult authorities to be more suspicious and hostile to many kids who
already feel cut off from the system. It also misdirects energy away from
eliminating the actual causes of youth violence and allows problems to
continue to fester.
2. Scientific evidence links violent game play with youth aggression.
Claims like this are based on the work of researchers who represent one
relatively narrow school of research, "media effects." This research
includes some 300 studies of media violence. But most of those studies are
inconclusive and many have been criticized on methodological grounds. In
these studies, media images are removed from any narrative context. Subjects
are asked to engage with content that they would not normally consume and
may not understand. Finally, the laboratory context is radically different
from the environments where games would normally be played. Most studies
found a correlation, not a causal relationship, which means the research
could simply show that aggressive people like aggressive entertainment.
That's why the vague term "links" is used here. If there is a consensus
emerging around this research, it is that violent video games may be one
risk factor - when coupled with other more immediate, real-world influences
— which can contribute to anti-social behavior. But no research has found
that video games are a primary factor or that violent video game play could
turn an otherwise normal person into a killer.
are the primary market for video games.
While most American kids do play video games, the center of the video game
market has shifted older as the first generation of gamers continues to play
into adulthood. Already 62 percent of the console market and 66 percent of
the PC market is age 18 or older. The game industry caters to adult tastes.
Meanwhile, a sizable number of parents ignore game ratings because they
assume that games are for kids. One quarter of children ages 11 to 16
identify an M-Rated (Mature Content) game as among their favorites. Clearly,
more should be done to restrict advertising and marketing that targets young
consumers with mature content, and to educate parents about the media
choices they are facing. But parents need to share some of the
responsibility for making decisions about what is appropriate for their
children. The news on this front is not all bad. The Federal Trade
Commission has found that 83 percent of game purchases for underage
consumers are made by parents or by parents and children together.
4. Almost no girls play computer games.
Historically, the video game market has been predominantly male. However,
the percentage of women playing games has steadily increased over the past
decade. Women now slightly outnumber men playing Web-based games. Spurred by
the belief that games were an important gateway into other kinds of digital
literacy, efforts were made in the mid-90s to build games that appealed to
girls. More recent games such as The Sims were huge crossover successes that
attracted many women who had never played games before. Given the historic
imbalance in the game market (and among people working inside the game
industry), the presence of sexist stereotyping in games is hardly
surprising. Yet it's also important to note that female game characters are
often portrayed as powerful and independent. In his book Killing Monsters,
Gerard Jones argues that young girls often build upon these representations
of strong women warriors as a means of building up their self confidence in
confronting challenges in their everyday lives.
Because games are used to train soldiers to
kill, they have the same impact on the kids who play them.
Former military psychologist and moral reformer David Grossman argues that
because the military uses games in training (including, he claims, training
soldiers to shoot and kill), the generation of young people who play such
games are similarly being brutalized and conditioned to be aggressive in
their everyday social interactions. Grossman's model only works if:
we remove training and education from a meaningful cultural context.
we assume learners have no conscious goals and that they show no resistance
to what they are being taught. we assume that they unwittingly apply what they learn in a fantasy
environment to real world spaces.
The military uses games as part of a specific curriculum, with clearly
defined goals, in a context where students actively want to learn and have a
need for the information being transmitted. There are consequences for not
mastering those skills. That being said, a growing body of research does
suggest that games can enhance learning. In his recent book, What Video
Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy, James Gee describes game
players as active problem solvers who do not see mistakes as errors, but as
opportunities for improvement. Players search for newer, better solutions to
problems and challenges, he says. And they are encouraged to constantly form
and test hypotheses. This research points to a fundamentally different model
of how and what players learn from games.
Video games are not a meaningful form of expression.
On April 19, 2002, U.S. District Judge Stephen N. Limbaugh Sr. ruled that
video games do not convey ideas and thus enjoy no constitutional protection.
As evidence, Saint Louis County presented the judge with videotaped excerpts
from four games, all within a narrow range of genres, and all the subject of
previous controversy. Overturning a similar decision in Indianapolis,
Federal Court of Appeals Judge Richard Posner noted: "Violence has always
been and remains a central interest of humankind and a recurrent, even
obsessive theme of culture both high and low. It engages the interest of
children from an early age, as anyone familiar with the classic fairy tales
collected by Grimm, Andersen, and Perrault are aware." Posner adds, "To
shield children right up to the age of 18 from exposure to violent
descriptions and images would not only be quixotic, but deforming; it would
leave them unequipped to cope with the world as we know it." Many early
games were little more than shooting galleries where players were encouraged
to blast everything that moved. Many current games are designed to be
ethical testing grounds. They allow players to navigate an expansive and
open-ended world, make their own choices and witness their consequences. The
Sims designer Will Wright argues that games are perhaps the only medium that
allows us to experience guilt over the actions of fictional characters. In a
movie, one can always pull back and condemn the character or the artist when
they cross certain social boundaries. But in playing a game, we choose what
happens to the characters. In the right circumstances, we can be encouraged
to examine our own values by seeing how we behave within virtual space.
7. Video game play is socially isolating.
Much video game play is social. Almost 60 percent of frequent gamers play
with friends. Thirty-three percent play with siblings and 25 percent play
with spouses or parents. Even games designed for single players are often
played socially, with one person giving advice to another holding a
joystick. A growing number of games are designed for multiple players — for
either cooperative play in the same space or online play with distributed
players. Sociologist Talmadge Wright has logged many hours observing online
communities interact with and react to violent video games, concluding that
meta-gaming (conversation about game content) provides a context for
thinking about rules and rule-breaking. In this way there are really two
games taking place simultaneously: one, the explicit conflict and combat on
the screen; the other, the implicit cooperation and comradeship between the
players. Two players may be fighting to death on screen and growing closer
as friends off screen. Social expectations are reaffirmed through the social
contract governing play, even as they are symbolically cast aside within the
transgressive fantasies represented onscreen.
Video game play is desensitizing.
Classic studies of play behavior among primates suggest that apes make basic
distinctions between play fighting and actual combat. In some circumstances,
they seem to take pleasure wrestling and tousling with each other. In
others, they might rip each other apart in mortal combat. Game designer and
play theorist Eric Zimmerman describes the ways we understand play as
distinctive from reality as entering the "magic circle." The same action —
say, sweeping a floor — may take on different meanings in play (as in
playing house) than in reality (housework). Play allows kids to express
feelings and impulses that have to be carefully held in check in their
real-world interactions. Media reformers argue that playing violent video
games can cause a lack of empathy for real-world victims. Yet, a child who
responds to a video game the same way he or she responds to a real-world
tragedy could be showing symptoms of being severely emotionally disturbed.
Here's where the media effects research, which often uses punching rubber
dolls as a marker of real-world aggression, becomes problematic. The kid who
is punching a toy designed for this purpose is still within the "magic
circle" of play and understands her actions on those terms. Such research
shows us only that violent play leads to more violent play.
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has weighed into the
ongoing debate regarding a possible link between violent video games and
The University says the findings of the first long-term study into
exposure to video games and subsequent stroppy behaviour may be
"surprising", given that they show "robust exposure to a highly violent
online game" did not cause any substantial increase in said aggression.
The findings will indeed suprise attorney Jack Thompson who has vowed to
prove the link between Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and the 2003
murder of two police officers and a civilian police worker in Fayette,
As we recently reported, after being arrested for the triple homicide,
20-year-old perpetrator Devin Moore was alleged to have said: Life is
a videogame. Everybody has to die some time. Moore is known to have
spent many hours playing GTA:VC, dubbed a "murder simulator" by
Thompson declared: Moore rehearsed, hour after hour, the cop-killing
scenarios in that hyper-violent video game. The makers, distributors,
and retailers of that murder simulator equipped Moore to kill as surely
as if they had handed him the gun to do it. Blood is on the hands of men
in certain corporate board rooms from Japan to New York.
While the eventual outcome of Thompson's campaign in uncertain, the
Illinois findings will do little to further his cause. Report lead
author Dmitri Williams said researchers found "no strong effects
associated with aggression caused by this violent game", referring to
Asheron's Call 2 (AC2) which guinea pigs played an average 56 hours over
the course of a month.
Williams explained: Players were not statistically different from the
non-playing control group in their beliefs on aggression after playing
the game than they were before playing. Nor was game play a predictor of
aggressive behaviors. Compared with the control group, the players
neither increased their argumentative behaviors after game play nor were
significantly more likely to argue with their friends and partners.
Williams did, however, warn: I'm not saying some games don't lead to
aggression, but I am saying the data are not there yet. Until we have
more long-term studies, I don't think we should make strong predictions
about long-term effects, especially given this finding.
In fact, the issue is rather more complicated than critics and defenders
of video games might suggest. Williams noted: This game featured
fantasy violence, while others featuring outer space or even everyday
urban violence may yield different outcomes.
Williams admitted that because the test didn't centre solely on younger
teenagers, he could not say that teenagers might not experience
different effects. Older players in their study were perhaps more
strongly influenced by game play and argued with friends more than their
Williams summarised: If the content, context, and play length have
some bearing on the effects, policy-makers should seek a greater
understanding of the games they are debating. It may be that both the
attackers and defenders of the industry's products are operating without
enough information, and are instead both arguing for blanket approaches
to what is likely a more complicated phenomenon.
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's findings appear in the
June issue of Communication Monographs in an piece entitled Internet
Fantasy Violence: A Test of Aggression in an Online Game.
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's test was conducted as
The new study involved two groups of participants: players – a
"treatment" group of 75 people who had no prior MMRPG [massively
multiplayer online roleplaying game] play and who played AC2 for the
first time; and a control group of 138, who did not play. The
participants were solicited through online message boards and ranged in
age from 14 to 68, the average age being 27.7 years.
Self-reported questionnaires were completed pre- and post-test online
and included a range of demographic, behavioral and personality
variables. Aggression-related beliefs were measured with L.R. Huesmann’s
Normative Beliefs in Aggression (NOBAGS) scale. Aggressive social
interactions were measured with two behavioral questions: in the past
month, did the participant have a serious argument with a friend, and in
the same time period, did they have a serious argument with a spouse,
boyfriend or girlfriend.
Because of the study's design, only moderate or large effects caused by
exposure to the game were capable of being detected.