Does This Experiment Prove Violent Games Increase Aggressive Behaviour?

In a University of Missouri study sure to be cited by anti-gaming pundits for years to come, researchers provide what could be considered solid proof of the link between violent video games, aggression, and wearing funny hats.

Associate professor of psychology at the University of Missouri Bruce Bartholow and his colleagues have seen studies claiming that violent video games led to an increase in aggressive behaviour, but they wanted to prove it once and for all. To do this they recruited 70 young adults to play a selection of violent and non-violent games for 25 minutes each. Then they slipped on the funny hats.

The hats measured the brain activity of the test subjects while they browsed through a collection of photos, some violent, some not. As a rule, players that had participated in playing violent games such as Call of Duty, Hitman, Killzone, and Grand Theft Auto showed reduced brain response to photos depicting violent scenes, indicating desensitization.

Interestingly enough, subjects that had indicated prior exposure to violent games also exhibit signs of desensitisation.

"The fact that video game exposure did not affect the brain activity of participants who already had been highly exposed to violent games is interesting and suggests a number of possibilities," Bartholow said. "It could be that those individuals are already so desensitised to violence from habitually playing violent video games that an additional exposure in the lab has very little effect on their brain responses. There also could be an unmeasured factor that causes both a preference for violent video games and a smaller brain response to violence. In either case, there are additional measures to consider."

Interesting results, but they don't prove that this desensitisation phenomenon leads to increase aggression. For that, we move on to testing phase three.

Round three of testing pitted two players against each other in a competitive task, with the winner granted the ability to send a measured blast of noise to the loser. Who sent the loudest noises to their opponents? That's right, the violent game players. Researchers say this dick move is an indicator of increased aggression.

Bartholow isn't pointing to video games as the sole culprit in creating an increasingly violent society; just one factor in a large sea of factor. With more and more children spending more time gaming than any other activity besides sleeping, he and his team will now focus their efforts in determining a way to moderate the effects of violent media on those regularly exposed to it.

"More than any other media, these video games encourage active participation in violence," said Bartholow. "From a psychological perspective, video games are excellent teaching tools because they reward players for engaging in certain types of behaviour. Unfortunately, in many popular video games, the behaviour is violence."

Is this concrete proof that video games increase aggressive behavior? I guess it all depends on how you measure aggression. Blasting loud noises into your opponent's ears is an act of aggression. Blasting louder sounds than others the sign that the player is an asshole.

Do violent video games make us arseholes? Probably.

Look for the full report, "This Is Your Brain on Violent Video Games: Neural Desensitization to Violence Predicts Increased Aggression Following Violent Video Game Exposure", in a forthcoming edition of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. Ask for it by name.


    Yet again another person blaring on about the evils of computer games. We always see these articles pop up all the time yet how many articles are publicized as much about violent movies or books that describe violence.

    "Round three of testing pitted two players against each other in a competitive task, with the winner granted the ability to send a measured blast of noise to the loser. Who sent the loudest noises to their opponents? That’s right, the violent game players. Researchers say this dick move is an indicator of increased aggression."

    There are so many other factors that could affect this, and with a sample size of only 70, this is a total joke. I would expect it to get thrown out after any serious scientific enquiry, if not for the fact that people want to believe this tripe.

      Wait for the ACL to use this study in their next press release.

      The sample size isn't the issue with this study, 70 is fine for this fairly basic research design. Also, their statistical techniques would have been scrutinised very closely to be published in that journal, which is peer reviewed by experts in the field and has a pretty decent impact rating.

      The problem is that they are (potentially, I haven't read it yet) inferring cause and effect from what is merely a correlation. As has already been stated by someone else below, it's more likely that the personality types who are attracted to habitually playing violent games are more likely to be competitive, aggressive, hyper-masculine and will blast their opponent with noise as a way of asserting this.

        Actually, the study is a causal design. The pre-existing gamer component, whilst correlational, was an additional post-hoc analysis of the results, to reduce the influence of potential bias within the sample.

          Yep, I stand corrected. I've since read the report and their factoring of previous exposure is pretty solid.

          It's a bit worrying actually. Now I'd like to see some kind of meta-analysis which compares it with the effect of contact sports, alcohol and drug use, violent films, and hardcore porn....hmm.

            This is the clincher, the common arguement by the inflammatory conservative minded is that games are worse than other media because they are interactive simulators.

            There have been reports before that violent games cause desentisisation and increased violence levels, but compared to other stimuli, watching sports, violent news reports, heavy metal/rap music and violent movies, the average results are the same.

            Games do increase violence, but no more than any other media types we've been consuming for decades.



    Interesting study. Too bad I could not care less what something of such a small scale comes up with.

    Games and gamers will always have a stigma
    about them, no matter what.

    This study is complete bull****.

    They claim that those that play violent video games become desensitised to violent images? And let me guess, these violent images they were shown were probably from other violent video games...

    The increased aggression with the shocks? I do believe these 'scientists' are pretty stupid since they forgot the most important aspect of experimentation, the constant of all variables except for the variable being tested. They seem to be completely overlooking that violent video games are attractive to people who tend to be very competetive and would find it humorous to shock someone. Instead they draw the conclusion it is the video games that lead to this behaviour.

    A lot of it comes down to the individual. I've played and watched a great deal of violent games, not to mention watching a lot of violent movies and TV shows in my life but I still cringed this week when watching my husband play Fallout:New Vegas and watching a horse's head being lopped off in Game of Thrones, not to mention feeling sick every time I watch the news and see the unnecessary violence happening every day all over the world. I sometimes wish I was desensitised.

    As far as this study goes it could just be 'proving' that non-violent games calm people down, they just choose to see it the opposite way.

    Did the paper actually say that they 'set out to prove it' because, if that's the case, thats just bad science. You don't set off on an experiment to prove something, to set out to test it. Beginning the experiment with a set goal like that sabotages the process from the start, and cannot be said to be unbiased.

    Unless Mike was editorialising... then its acceptable!

    I often wonder about the validity of this kind of testing, simply because they fail to consider the broader picture.

    Sure aggressive behavior rises when you place two people together to play a competitive violent video game, but I've seen aggressive behavior rise from two people playing a simple board game like Monopoly or Jenga where there's no violence at all.

    I don't think it's violent material raising the people's aggression, I think it's simply competitive human nature.

    When are people going to figure out the games are just the chosen outlet, and these people would favour other violent/dicky/rude/etc past times if the game was not available?

    I'd be interested to see how anyone fresh out of a competition based activity - even something like a cooking competition - would act in the noise test.

    I'm not saying they study was poorly constructed, but I'm not about to say it brought anything new or not obvious to the table. Wasted study, imo.

    That noise blast test sounds like what is otherwise known as the Modified Taylor Competetive Reaction Time Test.

    In 2009, Christopher Ferguson and Stephanie Rueda studied that test, to see how applicable it was in studies like this one. Basically, it wasn't:

    "It is recommended that this measure not be adopted clinically as a behavioral measure of aggression and that other similar measures be more rigorously tested. Its use in research should be undertaken under advisement that results should not be generalized to serious acts of aggression or violence."

      Study link:

    run the noise test first up then ask each subject to choose between playing a violent and non-violent game

    I don't see how this study validates anything without testing first for a correlation between pressing a button to inflict a loud noise upon your "opponent" and pressing buttons to virtually inflict violence on real or virtual opponents. I suspect the only results to be attained are that some people are more prone to combative/competitive behaviour than others

    It seems like these so called "scientists" have forgotten some of the basic rules of a study: you MUST control every variable except for the one being tested. Otherwise any of the variabes could have been the cause.

    I can play violent video games like Battlefield and Call of Duty all day long...

    ...yet I clench and feel uneasy watching movies like Inglorious Basterds.

    Being desensitized is not a final measure of aggressiveness.

    What's important is how much an individual is educated about morality. People ignorant of morality would be more prone to mindless aggression I'd think.

    To be clear, when I say morality I don't mean morality derived from any religion. I mean morality in the sense of inducing and preventing suffering in living beings.

    A Clockwork Orange?

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