Click on the “Video Games / Technology” category over to the left and you’ll see that we’ve covered many, many studies on the subject of video game violence, almost all of them demonstrating a link between playing violent games and real-world aggressive behavior. Nearly every time we do, we receive an influx of comments from gamers claiming that video games don’t make them more aggressive. Quite the contrary, they argue, the games help them wind down, releasing pent-up anger harmlessly in a virtual world rather than causing real harm.
Offering counterexamples (such as the fact that games seem to make both me and my son Jim more aggressive, or even this Slashdot thread discussing “comfort games” players use to wind down after frustrating violent gaming sessions) doesn’t seem to dissuade the die-hard defenders of violent games.
But recently, one of Greta’s students located a study which attempts to answer the question of whether playing violent games can be an outlet for aggression in people who might otherwise behave aggressively in real life. A team led by Patrícia Arriaga recruited 87 unpaid volunteers to play violent and non-violent games while attached to heart rate and skin conductivity monitors.
The volunteers first completed a pen-and-paper survey designed to measure aggressiveness, anxiety, and hostility. They were then divided into roughly equal groups and devices to measure heart rate and skin conductivity were attached (heart rate is associated with both arousal and hostility, while skin conductivity is seen as a “pure” measure of arousal). To warm up and set a baseline arousal level, everyone played Tetris for two minutes. Two groups played non-violent games: either an action-packed racing game (Lotus) or a non-action-oriented board-type game called Flowers. The other two groups played either a standard or a virtual-reality version the extremely violent game, Doom.
After the gaming session, everyone completed an additional questionnaire in which they rated the game for action, violence, enjoyment, and several other measures. They also assessed their current levels of anxiety and hostility.
As expected, Doom was rated as significantly more violent than Lotus or Flowers. There was an interesting result for gender and the physiological measures. Women had significantly higher heart rates and skin conductance levels while playing violent games, but men did not:
This result has been found in other studies, and it’s unclear whether the disparity between men and women is a true gender difference, or related to the fact that women tend to play fewer video games than men (I wish Arriaga et al. had provided some analysis in this regard: I’d be interested to know if less-experienced men were similarly aroused by the games).
The researchers found no significant differences between players of the standard version of Doom and the virtual reality version.
The study’s most dramatic result, however, correlated game content with hostility levels after the gaming session. For gamers who had previously indicated a high level of aggression, there was a significant positive correlation (β=.49) between violent game content and hostility. But for gamers who were not aggressive, there was no correlation between violent content and hostility level after playing the game.
This is quite strong evidence that violent games (or at least this particular game) do not act as a “release” for aggressive or hostile emotions. Indeed, the most aggressive individuals are most likely to have elevated levels of hostility after a gaming session.
The news isn’t all bad for game defenders: There’s also evidence for the converse — if you’re not an especially aggressive person, then this study shows no relationship between playing violent games and hostility.
Finally, I’d like to add a poll to this post. Since discussions on video game violence often end up trading off anecdotes, why don’t we collect responses from all of our readers:
Arriaga, P., Esteves, F., Carneiro, P., & Monteiro, M.B. (2006). Violent computer games and their effects on state hostility and physiological arousal. Aggressive Behavior, 32, 146-158.