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Violent Video Games Produce Violent Behavior

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Read a summary of 2005 research that found more mixed results.

Research published in 2000 demonstrates that playing violent video games can increase a person's aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behavior.  Two studies by psychologists Craig Anderson and Karen Dill published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology looked at the effects of violent video games in the lab and in real life.  This powerful combination of two studies presents persuasive evidence that violent video games do indeed increase aggression in some players.  

Study 1: Video Game Violence in the Real World

In the first study the authors surveyed college students concerning their use of video games and their reported aggressive delinquent behaviors in the past.  They also measured the personality trait of aggressiveness to see how that related to the other variables.  Students who had played more aggressive video games had also engaged in more aggressive delinquent behavior.  Trait aggressiveness made this relationship even stronger.  The students who spent the most total time playing video games had the lowest academic grades in college.

Study 2: Video Game Violence in the Lab

The second study by the authors looked at the effects of actual video game violence.  Subjects were college students who played either a violent video game (Wolfenstein 3D) or a non-violent game (Myst).  These games had been chosen in a pilot study because they differed only in the degree of violence in the game and not on the amount of physiological arousal that they produced.  Following video game play the students took some tests and participated in a "Competitive reaction time task" where they were told that they were playing against another student.  They were told that they could blast the other student with a noise if they won, and that they could vary the intensity and duration of the blast.

Students in both groups blasted their opponent longer and louder following trials when they had lost and their opponent had just blasted them. Students who had played Wolfenstein 3D blasted their opponent longer and louder on such trials than students who had played Myst.  Female students blasted their opponents longer and louder on all trials than male students.

The authors final conclusions are best stated by quoting the article.  They state:

The present research demonstrated that in both a correlational investigation using self-reports of real-world aggressive behaviors and an experimental investigation using a standard, objective laboratory measure of aggression, violent video game play was positively related to increases in aggressive behavior. In the laboratory, college students who played a violent video game behaved more aggressively toward an opponent than did students who had played a nonviolent video game. Outside the laboratory, students who reported playing more violent video games over a period of years also engaged in more aggressive behavior in their own lives. Both types of studies–correlational—real delinquent behaviors and experimental—laboratory aggressive behaviors have their strengths and weaknesses. The convergence of findings across such disparate methods lends considerable strength to the main hypothesis that exposure to violent video games can increase aggressive behavior. (Anderson & Dill, 2000)

The authors note that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold enjoyed playing violent video games, and they speculate that these games played a role in their violent acts at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado in April of 1999.  Eric Harris had actually modified a version of the game Doom and placed it on his Website.  In his version there were two shooters, extra weapons, and the other people in the game couldn't shoot back.  He and Klebold essentially acted-out their version of Doom on innocent classmates.  

These studies should be of particular concern to parents of teenagers.  Playing violent video games may not be the innocent activity that many parents think it is.  Based on this new evidence I recommend that parents closely monitor their teenagers' video game play.  Violent video game play should be limited.  Maybe the next school shooting can be prevented. 

Read a summary of 2005 research that found more mixed results.

Reference: Anderson, Craig & Dill, Karen. Video Games and Aggressive Thoughts, Feelings, and Behavior in the Laboratory and in Life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, April 2000 Vol. 78, No. 4, 772-790.

Last edited 11/9/05

Updated: November 9, 2005
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