It’s Video Game Competition, Not Violence, That Sparks Aggression

It’s Video Game Competition, Not Violence, That Sparks Aggression

Do violent video games cause aggressive behaviour? According to a recent report published in the journal Psychology of Violence, the competitive aspect of gaming is more likely to generate aggro than mere violence. All this from a bunch of university students, some video games, and some hot sauce. Science is an amazing thing.

In the report The Effect of Video Game Competition and Violence on Aggressive Behavior: Which Characteristic Has the Greatest Influence?, researchers at Brock University in Canada mix a proven method for determining aggression — Lieberman’s Hot Sauce Paradigm — with a different way to characterise violent and non-violent games. Rather than simply measuring the amount of violence, Paul J. C. Adachi and Teena Willoughby further separated games by the level of competition.

Here’s how it worked. A series of students were told they were participating in two different studies, one to study eye tracking while playing video games, the other a food study. In the first experiment the participants were asked to play two games: bloody hack and slasher Conan and Codemasters’ open world racer Fuel, both for the Xbox 360. The games were chosen during a previous study, in which they were measured similar in terms of pacing, competitiveness, and difficulty. After a brief play session, participants were then asked to create a dish using hot sauce for an imaginary test subject that had indicated distaste for hot and spicy foods.

That’s the Hot Sauce Paradigm. The hotter the sauce is made, the more aggression is displayed. It’s also fun at parties.

The results of the first experiment showed no difference in the level of aggressiveness, despite one game being violent and the other not.

So a second experiment was conducted, this time adding Mortal Kombat Vs. DC and Marble Blast Ultra and replacing Conan with Valve’s co-op shooter Left 4 Dead. This made for two violent and two non-violent games, one competitive and one not.

Using the same Hot Sauce Paradigm, the researches noticed a strong increase in aggression from those that played the competitive games, while those that played the non-competitive games went easier on the sauce.

The researchers’ conclusion?

Some researchers believe that they have already shown that violent video games are a risk factor for aggressive behaviour and that this effect stems from the violent content in the games . On the contrary, results from the present study indicate that video game competitiveness, not violent content, is responsible for elevating aggressive behaviour in the short-term. The present findings lead to a new direction in video game and aggression research and should encourage researchers to continue to critically examine this issue.

Now that makes a whole lot more sense, doesn’t it?

Now our course of action is clear. We have to make sure no one ever plays Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe or Fuel ever again. It’s a long row to hoe, but we’re just the Joes to hoe it.

Video game competitiveness, not violence, spurs aggression, study suggests [The Washington Post]


  • An interesting result. I have always thought that competitiveness is also the reason to internet flame wars and the ever popular “first” post.

  • It makes a lot of sense, bordering on the obvious.

    I’ve always found people playing sports games to be more aggressive compared to those that play other games. The ‘aggression’ displayed between players in FPS matches is just the sign of assholery. Nothing more.

  • I’ve been trying to get this across to a few aggression researchers in Australia for 4+ years now (I’m doing research in psych, but unrelated to aggression). There are major methodological issues with almost all video game aggression studies, which compare gamers on violent and non-violent games. The problem is, they are never matched on difficulty, genre or competitiveness. You can’t compare ten minutes of Doom, which is hard and likely to frustrate (both of which predict aggression), to ten minutes of Myst, in which you’ll just walk around. And yet this is the predominant research design.

  • Doesnt that just show they become arseholes not aggressive? Putting hot sauce on someones food who hates spicy things means your a douche not aggressive.

    • Kind of. Aggression has a broader definition in psychology research than common use, partly because we can’t encourage participants to actually harm each other for ethical reasons.

      • Couldnt they put sensors on the peoples heads to read their brain waves to see how they react on a higher level to gauge their aggression rather than use hot sauce. they way they have done it seems a little inconclusive to me. dont get me wrong i totally agree with the study i grew up with younger siblings that we used to play lots of games together and we would get more aggressive playing mario kart together than doom by ourselves but if these guys are going to go to all the effort of studying it they should have done something better than using hot sauce to gauge aggression

        • They have used sensors in other studies, however, all that tells them is that the person is aroused. You get similar readings from being hot/cold, horny, surprised. It really doesn’t tell you much in isolation.

          Aggression is a behaviour. The hot sauce is one of several approaches, whereby the participants are given the opportunity to engage in trivial but intentional harm to another person. The person putting hot sauce on the food may (also) be a douche, but by using random sampling, the douches should be spread evenly across the competitive and non-competitive scenarios. Therefore, if one group is generally more likely to put the hot-sauce on the food (which is problematically described as aggression a priori), then that behaviour is probably due (literally 95% likelihood) to the type of game played before hand.

  • I agree with this study. It seems very obvious to me, so I’ll use myself as an example.

    I still play a lot of COD4 multiplayer, and I find myself feeling very competitive and becoming unreasonably upset/angry/violent when I feel I’ve been beaten unfairly (which is almost all the time because I’m egotistical and a sore loser lol).

    I’m not sure why this is. I mean it’s logical to expect to be killed/beaten at least a few times in a game, and no matter how good you are, there is always someone better. And, it’s just a game. Why get so wound up about it?

    I think it’s combination of my inherent competitiveness and some other frustration/anger/stress issues, non-related to video games, being brought to the surface because of the competitive nature of the game.

    That’s my ‘not a psychologist’ view of it.

    • to use myself for some similar ‘not a psychologist’ examples:

      I play mostly co-op Xbox shooters (Gears of War, Halo Reach, Kane & Lynch etc.), and have only really become angry or aggressive in a couple of particular cases; the truck battle in K&L (obvious to anyone else who has played it), and playing games like L4D and Dead Rising 2 with meat-heads who shoot more humans than zombies and/or constantly run into hordes instead of listening to the instructions from their flustered co-op partner who has already finished the game previously and is getting sick of needing to do food/medkit runs every thirty seconds to pick up crippled players.

      Competitive party games (eg. Mashed, Blur, Bomberman, Raskulls, Altitude, etc.) I find are also mostly non-aggressive, despite being highly stressful with a well balanced set of players.

      Meanwhile there are quite a few PC games where I become extremely frustrated and irritable due to installation procedures – whereas violent and gory games like L4D and DR2 are delightfully silly diversions, the DRM on less violent shooters like Section 8 as well as titles like From Dust, Settlers 7 and now Gattling Gears mean I don’t even need to own the games to start raging and wanting to throw things and hurt people!
      (perhaps because there is a significant aspect of competition between the publisher and their consumers and developers)

  • I think there’s a lot of dumb mums out there that need to shut their mouth after they apologize for talking lies all these years.

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