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Playing Violent Video Games May Cause A Cumulative Increase In Aggression

NES_Zapper.jpg
I'm running out of entertaining "violence" images for these research articles.

A recent study out of Université Pierre-Mendès-France, conducted with researchers from Ohio State University and the University of Hohenheim suggests that there may be a cumulative effect in aggression and the expectation of hostility among players of violent video games.

The researchers assigned 70 undergraduate students to play either violent video games (Condemned 2, Call of Duty 4, or The Club) or non-violent video games (S3K Superbike, Pure, or Dirt 2) for twenty minutes on three consecutive days. After each session, participants were asked to read the beginning of a story and then come up with twenty possible actions for the main character to take. Researchers then coded participants' responses, counting how many aggressive or violent actions were included. Subsequently, participants were told they would engage in a competitive task with an unseen other participant (there was no other participant); participants were told they could send the "other player" a noise blast through their headphones, and that they could choose how long and loud it would be.

The researchers found that those who played the violent video games gave more aggresive/violent actions for the story's main character, and gave the fake other participant a louder, longer blast of noise. Brad Bushman, one of the lead researchers, holds that:

People who have a steady diet of playing these violent games may come to see the world as a hostile and violent place...These results suggest there could be a cumulative effect.

And:

Playing video games could be compared to smoking cigarettes. A single cigarette won't cause lung cancer, but smoking over weeks or months or years greatly increases the risk. In the same way, repeated exposure to violent video games may have a cumulative effect on aggression.

Unfortunately, none of the reports linked above mentions the size of the effect, only that it is statistically significant. But a statistically-significant increase can be anywhere from a fraction of a percent, to a thousand-fold, or more. Data from the study's publication in the Journal of Experimental Social Science suggest the violent-video-game group was about twice as hostile and twice as aggressive on the study's measures as the non-violent-game group after three days. What happens after three days, however, is anybody's guess.

Interestingly, the results of this study contradict earlier research that suggests the degree of competitiveness a game, rather than the degree of violence, is responsible for the increase in aggression.

5 Comments

discchord said:

An increase in aggression can be healthy. Our Western culture is philosophically opposed to the idea, but I think we have far too many people who let themselves get pushed around. Dualistic concepts like "turn the other cheek" suggest that any aggression is inherently "evil," but with an ounce of maturity I think it can be seen as a motivator for positive behavior.

"I'm not letting you push me around, so I'm pushing back."

Rather than, as is too often the case: "I've let you push me around for too long and now I'm going to explode."

Acg said:

Hmmmmmmm, going by what's been repeated here, the effect seems to be more on the subjects imagination than on any level of actual aggression. You're first asking them to imagine a scenario, then to imagine the reaction of a person they cannot see.

The first result should be particularly obvious, ask anyone to make up a story on the spot and it's going to be based on things they have most recently seen and done.

Hal said:

That's a good point, Acg. It'd be interesting to see how much the recency effect and the availability heuristic had to do with the hostile actions the violent-game participants wrote.

Sam said:

I read it and I'm not convinced.
Its very interesting that all of their non-violent games were racing games and you can complete 'levels' very quickly whereas all of their violent games have relatively long levels (afaik) and stories. There's a theory of aggression they don't mention that has some literature to support it, the frustration–aggression hypothesis which essentially states preventing someone from completing a goal (for example completing a level or finishing the story) leads to frustration which can get displaced on to someone else and lead to aggression. So I think it's possible to argue that this could be evidence for frustration-aggression hypothesis.
Finally, I'm also skeptical because they played for just 20minutes each day and it's hard to believe this was the only media (or even video game play) they were exposed to over the three days and then there's a sudden increase on the third day. Definitely think its something about the study causing their effect.
I actually did a simple correlational study on aggression and video games in first year and we found the competitiveness thing too; doesn't mean much as it was just a basic crappy undergrad study but was pretty cool to find that I thought.

Heedless Horseman said:

What would be interesting is if they repeated the study, but with movies, and compared the results. I assume the results would be very similar.

Anyway, this is not because of the medium, but because of human nature. There was a recent study that showed books influence a person's behavior: 'Losing Yourself' In A Fictional Character Can Affect Your Real Life. Incidentally, I just realized the same university was involved in both studies.

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Heedless Horseman on Playing Violent Video Games May Cause A Cumulative Increase In Aggression: What would be interesting is if they repeated the study, but with movies, and compared the results. I assume the...

Sam on Playing Violent Video Games May Cause A Cumulative Increase In Aggression: I read it and I'm not convinced. Its very interesting that all of their non-violent games were racing games and...

Hal on Playing Violent Video Games May Cause A Cumulative Increase In Aggression: That's a good point, Acg. It'd be interesting to see how much the recency effect and the availability heuristic had...

Acg on Playing Violent Video Games May Cause A Cumulative Increase In Aggression: Hmmmmmmm, going by what's been repeated here, the effect seems to be more on the subjects imagination than on any...

discchord on Playing Violent Video Games May Cause A Cumulative Increase In Aggression: An increase in aggression can be healthy. Our Western culture is philosophically opposed to the idea, but I think we...

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