Cognitive Daily

With every new generation of violent video game, there seems to be a new outcry about the damage it may be doing to young minds. Yet there has been comparatively little research detailing exactly how video game violence actually corresponds to behavior in the real world. While Grand Theft Auto makes the headlines today, in the early 1990s, Wolfenstein 3D was the violent game of choice. That’s when Craig Anderson of the University of Missouri-Columbia and Karen Dill of Lenoir-Rhyne College began the first major study to specifically address the issue of violent video games and aggression (“Video Games and Aggressive Thoughts, Feelings, and Behavior in the Laboratory and in Life,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2000).

Anderson and Dill were frustrated with previous studies, which had yielded conflicting results about the correlation between video game playing and aggression. While there were several studies which did find a correlation between games and aggression, some did not, and none of them could demonstrate a link specifically between violent games and aggression: the link may have been due to other factors present in video games, such as excitement or competition.

Anderson and Dill’s model of the process of developing aggressive behavior suggested that long-term exposure to violent video games should lead to more aggressive behavior. As players play the games and repeatedly are rewarded for choosing violent behavior rather than non-violent behavior, this should lead to an inclination toward aggressive behavior in real life.

They conducted two studies to test their model. The first was a survey of 227 college students. Students were asked to complete a test measuring the level of aggression in their personality, as well as their actual aggressive behavior, such as whether they had ever hit or threatened to hit someone, or attacked someone with the intent of hurting them. The same students were asked how much time they spent playing video games over the past several years, and which games they preferred. They were also asked to rate the level of violence for each game they listed.

Anderson and Dill found a strong correlation between video game violence (as rated by the study’s respondents) and aggressive behavior, aggressive personality, and even nonagressive delinquency. Even after accounting for time spent playing video games, gender, and aggressive personality, exposure to video game violence still accounted for a significant portion of aggressive delinquent behavior. However, since the study is only a correlation, Anderson and Dill recognized that it alone cannot confirm that violent video games cause delinquent behavior. But such a correlation does indicate the possibility of damaging effects of playing video games, and certainly suggests that further research is worthwhile.

So next Anderson and Dill conducted a simple experiment. They compared the effects of playing a violent video game, Wolfenstein 3D, with a comparable nonviolent game, Myst. In a pilot study, they found users rated Wolfenstein and Myst similarly in all respects (enjoyment, action, difficulty, etc.) except for “excitement.” Here’s a screenshot from Wolfenstein 3D:


Given how graphic video games have become in the intervening years, it’s rather surprising that people were concerned about a game like Wolfenstein 3D. But Anderson and Dill report that in the early 1980s, there were similar worries about Pac-Man chasing and gobbling up all those monsters!

In the actual study, participants were told they were in an experiment about video games and motor skills. They were led to believe that they were competing against another participant playing a different game in an adjoining cubical (after the experiment, participants were debriefed and the true purpose of the study was explained).

They played either Myst or Wolfenstein for 15 minutes, and then were asked to perform a competitive reaction-time test. If a player won, he or she got to choose the “penalty” for the other player. The penalty was a painful noise played through headphones. Players chose before each test how loud the noise would be, and how long it would be played. In reality, the “test” was rigged so that the participant won 13 times and the non-existent “competitor” won 12 times.

Anderson and Dill found that Wolfenstein players subjected their competitors to significantly louder and longer penalties than Myst players. Each time players “lost” a reaction-time test, they were penalized and told exactly how loudly and long their “opponent” had chosen to penalize them. In subsequent rounds, Wolfenstein players retaliated with more severe penalties than Myst players. Both sets of players believed they were inflicting their penalties on real people, doing real harm, but those who played the more violent game inflicted the most damage.

Anderson and Dill argue that this experimental evidence, combined with their survey data, provide compelling evidence of a link between violent video games and aggressive, delinquent behavior. They are careful to point out that their studies do have limitations: the sample population of the studies was exclusively students from a large state university, so other populations may respond differently to video games. They still have not documented that long-term exposure to violent games causes delinquent behavior, only that it is likely to be one cause.

Yet the fact that these games have now been shown to affect real-world aggressive behavior is very much a cause for concern, and certainly reason enough to warrant significant additional research. One thing is certain: my 13-year-old son would be happy to participate!


  1. #1 Raemond
    April 1, 2005

    I would just like to put in my opinion because im an avid video game player and play lots of violent games, but I have never hit someone to deal real harm in my life and I am 18 years old. I do enjoy shooting people in games and stuff, but that’s all it is is a video game. The real problem is getting people to realize it before they start playing, and then make sure they remember it afterwards.

  2. #2 Corey
    April 6, 2005

    Anyone who commits a crime and claims the game made them do it is proably just searching for a way out of it. I and everyone I know are not violent at all and we al play violent and non- violent games. Games are rated for a reason. Maybe there are people out there who think its real or it would be cool to imitate, they are called the insane.

  3. #3 Dave Munger
    April 6, 2005

    Corey, you’re absolutely right: the “video game made me do it” defense is pointless. People are responsible for their own actions.

    But Raemond and Corey, I have a question for both of you: after you play a very violent game, do you feel different? Think about it a bit. Are you more likely to make an angry remark if someone says something that rubs you the wrong way? I don’t play a lot of video games any more, but I notice feeling more aggressive even after playing something as benign as computer golf.

    I’m not saying these games should be banned or anything, but it’s definitely something to be aware of: after playing games like this, this study indicates you probably are more likely to behave aggressively. If you’re aware of this tendency, you can probably do something to counter it, and keep yourself from doing something stupid.

  4. […] easingly realistic and violent content of many games. The Anderson and Dill study reported previously in Cognitive Daily is a good example of the type of results these studies have found. In 2004, Anderso […]

  5. #5 Sam Tank
    June 7, 2005

    I get a little angry playing games, but only when i lose. Just from playing it? no, i dont feel violent. Also, these games are an outlet for this behavior, so i dont have to go out and kill people. Its an ok way to live these lifestyles.

  6. #6 Alex Diviney
    June 23, 2005

    Video games are fun!!

  7. #7 Alex Diviney
    June 23, 2005

    Video games are violent, but they don’t make me violent. They don’t make me feel violent, I get angry when I lose but otherwise its a load of crap!

  8. #8 Allen Emory
    September 8, 2005

    This topic, and others like it, are missing (or perhaps trying to cover up) the point that parents should teach their kids right from wrong. If a child plays a game and then shoots a cop, can we really blame the game? Or should we focus on the lack of parenting, communication, trust, love and understanding at home that led to this youths lack of clarity between right and wrong. Parents need to suck it up, stop acting like selfish children and start taking responsibility for not only making the kids…but for making them into good people.

  9. #9 Dave Munger
    September 9, 2005

    “If a child plays a game and then shoots a cop, can we really blame the game?”

    Of course not. And you’re absolutely right that intervention starts with parents.

    Which brings up another point: don’t you think parents deserve to know if violent video games can make their kids more aggressive?

  10. #10 worth of me
    September 28, 2005

    To be honest they could well do. Now days games are developing very quickly. Soon it might be as real as it gets. It will be like killing people in real life and eventually people will get use to it.

  11. #11 Josh
    November 29, 2005

    “I get a little angry playing games, but only when i lose. Just from playing it? no, i dont feel violent.”

    Exactly. You feel angry after losing at ANYTHING. Of course I get mad when I get killed in Counter-Strike, but I’d say I’m even MORE angry if I’m getting beat in a game of basketball. And at least in a videogame you can outlet that anger by killing a bunch of virtual players next round. I’ve seen kids elbow other people in the face because they’re getting beat bad at basketball…

    The most important question is, do violent videogames create violent people, or do already violent people just tend to play violent video games.

  12. #12 James Kelly
    January 2, 2006

    Personally i think it is all cercumstantial(please excuse my spelling) If a person feels the need to hurt someone than yes playing an aggressive game might escalate that feeling but at the same time it might they might vent that feeling into the game so that they dont do it in real life. It all depends on the person.

  13. #13 Max Kimlin
    January 10, 2006

    I think that these “studies” are really taking one major factor of a childs life out of concideration. I am 17 years old. I play video games as much as possible probably about 5-8 hours a day. Can anyone name a child that left to there own divisis will not be disruptive in some way? i know that in 8th or 9th grade i would so some stupid studd(ie fighting be disruptive and argure with teachers) but when i was in 8th and 9th grade i didnt play video games. i was still just a average kid. Now i play Lineage 2 online counterstrike, and Grand theft auto. I have not goten in a fight since i got into high school. I do get angery at video games and i get really pissed if i loose but saying that there making me more violent is wrong. Another point i would like to make is that there is a divide between thoughts and actions. If someone makes me mad, picks on me, makes fun of somthing i say im going to think how much i hate him and how i would love to show him that i can beat him up but really its if you act on thoughs feeling. I know i think like that if i play video games that day or not, and certanly i dont think to myself “im going to pull out my asault rifle and kill him like that video game i was playing.” These studys dont show anything in my opinion. If a child shots people at his school or other activitys he is a CHILD he made a rash dicition that he should not have made. What you have to start thinking is there other factors, Partents. for a child to have access to guns shows that the parents are not parenting correctly, for a child to have thoughs kind of thoughts shows that that parent is not doing what there supose to do. Children are not adaults and studying them as adaults is wrong, wich is what you are doing. Are children alowed to vote? are they alowed to drive? are they alowed to have jobs? the ansure is no. They are not alowed to do these things becuase there mind is not developed enough to make these dicitions. they are not at an age where making dicitions is easy.
    The real reason in my mind is the exposure to these kind of games at the wrong age without the supore of real moral values. Children are playing these games a to young an age. How do these children get the money to pay for these games? there 50$ each i know that even at my age i cant buy them anytime i want. how do children get them? parents buy them for there kids. look back. PARENTS, parents acting with blatent disregard to how these games will affect there kids. If i child plays these games dont study the child study the parent and how the parent thinks. What is the parent thinking when they buy these games for there kids. What is causeing the irasionality that they have showed in the raising of there child.
    Now seeing as you have side tracked me on my research essay about how video games affect children i will return to my work. Just i would like people to think about what i have just said and please reply to it.

    ~Max Kimlin~

  14. #14 Max Kimlin
    January 10, 2006

    “Which brings up another point: don’t you think parents deserve to know if violent video games can make their kids more aggressive?”

    -Dave Munger

    don’t you think that maybe if video games can make there children violent than maybe the parent should not be buying the game in the first place and this artical would then be pointless? This just goes back the imaturity in the parenting structure of the world. If there is a need to “inform” parents of the obviouse affects of a VIOLENT video game then parents are obviously the reason for this problem. Mr. Munger i would really like to see a response to this. and would you next time leave a website seeing as your web site is curently /// i and clueless to know when you will respond to this post. Best regards. look what your doing! this paper is dude tomorow! ArrrrrgGGGGGggg my teacher is going to show some violent behavior is this is not done!

    ~Max Kimlin~

  15. #15 Max Kimlin
    January 11, 2006

    “Federal Trade Commission to investigate the validity of the accusations.”
    “It reported that, “Of the 118 electronic games with a Mature rating for violence the Commission selected for its study, 83, or 70 percent, targeted children under 17 in their target audience.” ”
    “industry were promoting products they themselves acknowledged warrant parental caution. ”
    (Walsh, David)

    I would also like to point out that arent tabaco companys doing the same thing in targeting people under the age of 18? The government doesent do anything about that becuase the Sin tax on the taboco makes a huge profite. so again it rounds down to money.
    this has nothing to do with the topic at hand its just im tired and its 12:00 and this essay is no where near done and i dont like these articals im reading. i need to talk to one of the writers.

    ~Max Kimlin~
    Walsh, David ¡°Video Game Violence and Public Policy.¡± . 11 Jan 2006. .

  16. #16 Christian
    May 16, 2006

    ya, im doing a speech on it, and as far as everyone has said so far in my reasearch, there is no causal link between playing violent video games and expressing violent behaviors. I have always been a violent person, but not because of video games. they provide me with an outlet to calm myself, get my mind away from school and release the anger. i have thoughts of shooting and killing people all the time, but because i have good parents and school and church, i know these are wrong and can hold myself from doing them. video games probably make me less aggressive because being a teenage male (15) i have lots of aggression, but i release it in video games, stopping me from beating the crap out of someone at school. and of course people with violent behavior play violent video games, it’s their personality. my incomplete speech to follow.

  17. #17 Christian
    May 16, 2006

    When walking down the hallway before school, you might see many acts of violence. What causes this? Is it hormones? Media influences? What? I am going to show why it is not video games. Violent video games do not cause people to commit violent acts. I am going to show you this first with a comparison between video game sales and the crime rate and second with an analysis of the studies.
    First we must look at what we are saying. Playing violent video games causes violent behavior. In order to show this, we must make an ordinarily non-violent person cause a violent act because he played a violent video game.
    Now, video games sales were recorded as 3.7 billion dollars in 1996, but in 2004, eight years later, the reached 7.3 billion dollars, nearly a 98% increase. Considering 6,040 games rated by the ESRB have violent content, this is a lot of violent video games being sold. This is in response to a violent crime rate of 5,078 violent crimes reported per 100,000 people in 1996 while in 2004 only 465.5 violent crimes were reported per 100,000 people; a 91% decrease. So if we are buying more and more violent video games that are supposed to be causing violent behavior, where are all the crimes resulting from this violent behavior? It is easy to see from this that there can’t be a causal link between violent video games and violent behavior because with more people buying and playing violent video games, there would be more crimes.
    Second, we look at the studies which have tried to prove a link between violent video games and violent behavior; however, they have trouble doing so because a cause is very hard to prove. The methods used are not the best, as taking a subject out of the natural environment and into the laboratory has effects. However, we will disregard this for a moment and look at the studies which have tried to find a causal link between playing violent video games and violent behavior. There are two kinds of studies: a survey study, and a laboratory study. A commonly referred to laboratory study is that of Anderson and Dill, where the two doctors had their subjects play either Wolfenstein3D (violent) or Myst (non-violent) for 15 minutes. They were then subjected to a “reaction test” against another person, where if they won; they got to blast a loud noise into their opponent’s headphones. It came out that the children who played Wolfenstein3D blasted a louder and longer noise than those who had played Myst. However, it was only 2 percent louder and imperceptibly longer, showing no real conclusion. They were not able to show that playing Wolfenstein3D had caused the subjects to make the sound longer and louder.
    The other method of finding out whether or not there is a correlation between playing violent video games and violent behavior is surveys. These however show only a link, and not a causal one, between the two. It however should be obvious that people with a more violent nature are more likely to play violent video games.

  18. #19 katharina val
    July 23, 2006

    yeah. ok. this is a response to someone who gave their opinion on video game violence. yes, i do think video games effect the way kids and even the way adults think. many of today’s video games are linked to agression upon many that play. violence is a major theme is most games. without violence and being able to kill things, the games would be uninteresting. i had a a boyfriend who at first played a minimal amount of video games. but as time progressed, he became almost depedent on it. after playing the game, he would often get madd very easily and when i confronted him about it, he openly admitted that it ws because something had gone wrong in the game. someone put up a post on here on january 11th about the tabacco industry. yeah, we all know smokings bad and the tobacco industry tries to target as many people as possible to buy their products, but that doesnt mean the people at the gaming industry dont do the same thing.

  19. #20 milica
    November 12, 2008

    Your study is not surprising. But I don’t think such an effect on behavior is exclusive to video games. I appreciate you studying this topic – it’s very interesting.
    To help understand aggressive behavior in young people, I think we’d make more progress focusing on psychological pharmaceuticles.

  20. #21 Daniel T.
    November 13, 2008

    I seem to have found the opposite of violent games corresponding with violent acts. I play First Person Shooters and card games. If I go in to each one feeling normal, With an FPS, I will feel calm. With a Card Game, we will argue constantly, and sometimes get into fistfights. And when I play Monopoly with my friends, we all will steal the money, lie about property, and then end up fighting each other.

  21. #22 NiroZ
    April 13, 2009

    If this is true, then why hasn’t the delinquency rate gone up since the advent of games such as doom and mortal kombat?

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