Cognitive Daily

[originally posted on April 20, 2006]

i-1ed58c0386526b018a8748302ccd11a9-braindrugs.jpgIf you’re older than about 20, you’ll probably recognize the image to the left from an anti-drug campaign from the 1980s. The image was supposed to represent the effects of drugs on the human brain. While the effectiveness of the campaign is debatable, the fact that it now seems a quaint relic of a bygone era begs the question: are we repeating the same mistakes in the war on violent video games?

While there are many correlational studies and even some experiments showing the relationship between playing violent video games and aggressive behavior, there have been comparatively few neurological studies of violent games.

It’s well established that playing violent games is associated with aggressive behavior, but it’s difficult to determine whether violent games cause aggression. After all, people who are predisposed to aggressive behavior might seek out violent games. But a team led by René Weber did realize that a neurological study could provide another link between violent games and aggression.

Research in the past few years has found that adolescents with antisocial and aggressive behavior disorders tend to have the same type of activity in certain regions of their brain as normal individuals do when they are imagining aggressive behavior. The key brain regions are the amygdala and the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), which is divided into the dorsal and rostral parts (dACC and rACC). For normal individuals, brain activity increases in the dACC and decreases in the rACC and amygdala when imagining aggressive acts. For those with aggressive and antisocial disorders, these patterns remain even in nonviolent situations.

Weber’s team wanted to compare the brain activity of experienced violent gamers to adolescents with behavior disorders. So they recruited gamers in Tübingen, Germany to play the M-rated game Tactical Ops: Assault on Terror while their brain activity was monitored by an fMRI scanner. Next a panel of two judges analyzed recordings of the game play on a frame-by frame basis, to determine the level of violent content at each instant of game play, rating each scene on a scale ranging from 1 (passive/dead) to 5 (active/fighting and killing). When the two judges disagreed, they worked with a supervisor to resolve the difference and come upon a compromise. Rating the 13 hours of video took about 120 hours per judge. Judges also monitored instances when a player committed arbitrary acts of violence such as shooting an already-dead or non-threatening person. Here is a chart summarizing the results:

i-37829d0373c850c7190602a9ee6daf80-video.jpg

The time 0 on the chart is the moment of a violent act, and the three plots show the correlation of activity in the specified brain region with the level of violence at that time. The nature of the fMRI instrument means that results are delayed by about 5 seconds, so you can see that at the time of the violent act, amygdala and rACC activity are low, and dACC activity is high. This corresponds exactly to the brain activity of adolescents with antisocial and aggressive behavior disorders, and is the same as normal individuals’ brain responses to imagining aggressive behavior.

Weber’s team points out that it’s possible to have the same brain activity, but still be conscious of the fact that a video game is not real behavior. It’s not necessarily true that die-hard video gamers are rewiring their brains to behave aggressively in the real world. However, what can be said is that the fear and fight responses are strikingly similar to those found in real-world aggressive and antisocial individuals. We know from other studies that the rewards system of video games is highly effective, and while this experiment does not prove the case that violent games cause aggressive behavior, it’s certainly another piece of evidence which supports that contention. The team also points out that the levels of brain activity they have observed here are much more intense than what is observed in other experiments, such as biofeedback. There’s no doubt that these games have a powerful influence on the brain.

How we should address this influence remains a subject of contentious debate.

Weber, R., Ritterfield, U., & Mathiak, K. (2006). Does playing violent video games induce aggression? Empirical evidence of a Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study. Media Psychology, 8, 39-60.

Comments

  1. #1 Aaron Couch
    June 19, 2007

    This post generated a lot of great (and intense) reader feedback when it first went up on the site last year. I’m interested to see what new research has cropped up in the field over the last year and what new experiences readers have had with violent video games. Speak your mind in the comments.

  2. #2 Rob Knop
    June 19, 2007

    Has anyone ever done a neurological study of catharsis?

    That is, what sort of brain activity is triggered when watching a tragedy like Hamlet (or more modern varieties that may be accessible to modern audiences), and how does it compare to “interacting with the real world” states?

    -Rob

  3. #3 Bob
    June 19, 2007

    You write: …the fact that it now seems a quaint relic of a bygone era begs the question: are we repeating the same mistakes in the war on violent video games?

    Please, it does not beg the question; it raises the question. “Beg the question” is the name of a fallacy in logic.

  4. #4 Andrea
    June 19, 2007

    I cannot understand. The study says that the brain reacts in a similar way in two different situations:

    1. Imagining violent/aggressive acts,

    2. Playing violent video games.

    So what? A violent video game is exactly (a collection of) fictitious violent acts, so the study shows that people playing violent video games are not so different from normal people.

    Where am I wrong?

  5. #5 Roy Huggins
    June 19, 2007

    So what I’m getting from this is that people committing imaginary violent acts in a video game have similar brain activity to people contemplating violent acts and to personality disordered people who are prone to violence.

    I’m not sure this study provides much to boost the argument that violent video games cause violent acts. It certainly doesn’t do anything to diminish the argument, of course. But if one makes the logical leap from seeing this data to assuming it means there’s a causal or even correlational link between violent video games and violent acts requires this assumption: imagining violence leads to acting out violence.

  6. #6 Gork
    June 19, 2007

    Has anyone studied speed chess? It is very violent and aggressive. Does it lead to real-world violence? I very much doubt it. It would hard to play speed chess with bruised knuckles.

  7. #7 Tony Jeremiah
    June 19, 2007

    Rob: I’m not familiar with any neurological study on catharsis, but in general, the idea of catharsis (i.e., that engaging in activities that presumably release aggression–watching, reading, singing about anger–reduces anger; now called venting) has been debunked (Bushman, 2002). This is primarily owing to many studies that show acting aggressively increases aggression (e.g., Anderson & Carnagey, 2003).

    Andrea: The study shows that (normal) persons playing violent video games have brain activity similar to that of (abnormal) adolescents known to have antisocial and aggressive behavioral problems, who also show this same brain activity even in nonviolent situations. So I think its most important implication is for future research concerning the relationship between the developing brain and video game playing. For example, if a normal person plays video games for a number of years, will that lead to antisocial and aggressive behavioral problems (primarily owing to conditioning the brain to think in hostile ways in both violent and nonviolent situations)? I think it’s an important question in light of the fact that a good portion of high school shooters (and the rise in this phenomenon itself) appears to correlate with the rise in the realism and violent content of contemporary video games.

    Aaron: What I find interesting about the brain activity reported here, is that it has striking parallels with a brain study concerning retrieval-induced forgetting that you mentioned in an earlier posting. Anderson et al. (2004) showed a rise in activity in the dACC and reduced activity in the hippocampus. I’m wondering if the parallel here is rather than suppressing memory (i.e., reduced hippocampus activity), participants are actively suppressing emotion (i.e., reduced amygdala activity) via the dACC. I believe Bandura (the Bobo Doll guy) refers to this as moral disengagement–probably something one would need to do in order to carry out violent acts against others (assuming their conscience is still intact).

    References

    Anderson, C.A., & Carnagey, N.L. (2003). Exposure to violent media: The effects of songs with violent lyrics on aggressive thoughts and feelings. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 960-971.

    Anderson, M.C., Ochsner, K.N., Kuhl, B., Cooper, J., Robertson, E., Gabrieli, S.W., Glover, G.H., Gabrieli, J.D.E. (2004). Neural systems underlying the suppression of unwanted memories. Science, 303, 232-235.

    Bushman, B.J. (2002). Does venting anger feed or extinguish the flame? Catharsis, rumination, distraction, anger, and aggressive responding. Personality and SOcial Psychology Bulletin, 28, 724-731.

  8. #8 Dave Johnson
    June 19, 2007

    Lets approach this question from the perspective of Behavior Theory. Humans learn in at least two basic ways, operant conditioning, perhaps the most available to cognition, and classical conditioning, least accessible to cognition. To approach this question, we need to separate out the effects of these two kinds of learning. By playing violent video games, do we condition our emotional responses to exposure to violence? Do we habituate to violent stimuli? Research I’m aware of says yes. Certainly habituation would make violent behavior more likely if we generalize the video game environment to real life.

    The other question from an operant point of view, do we learn ways to cope with life playing violent games that might be applied outside of the video game environment? Certainly the first questions about conditioned emotional responses are testable. The second set of questions about operant conditioning is not so easily tested, other than longitudinally, by following violent gamers over time. I think there is enough evidence about conditioned emotional responses to violent games to warrant longitudinal exploration of real world generalization of violent behavior.

    Seems to be I read somewhere that gamers make good fighter pilots. Perhaps similar comparisons could be made, but the most important answers can only be had by longitudinal study. But I believe there is plenty of evidence to say that habilituating ourselves to violence is not good for us.

  9. #9 Aaron Couch
    June 19, 2007

    It’s good to see so many great comments already, and I’m impressed by the amount of cognitive psychology in your feedback (although moral/political debate can be exciting too). Just to add my two cents from personal experience: I really enjoy playing violent video games (shooters/stealth genres), but I’ve never had violent tendencies in real-life by any means. I think that I just really enjoy the suspense you can feel when you’re immersed in the game, but for me the in-game experience has always seemed to be completely separate from reality. Though the data presented here does makes me wonder if those in-game experiences could subconsciously translate into real-world emotions. (I certainly hope not!)

    I think there are many unfortunate examples of how video games can correlate with real-life violence (the Columbine shooters for example), but does that necessarily imply that the video games caused the behavior, or rather that the already violent individuals enjoyed the games because of their personalities? From people I’ve talked to about this subject in the past, there seem to be many more cases of people playing violent games with no associated violent behavior.

    Gork: I’d love to hear more about the violence of speed chess!

  10. #10 Chris Crawford
    June 19, 2007

    I have always thought that attempts to correlate videogames with aggression are pointless. It’s obvious to any observer that videogames have lots of violence and these studies strike me as proving the analogue of the statement “Fat people weigh a lot.” We’re measuring the obvious.

    The study I have long suggested would compare the brain state of videogamers in “The Zone” with those of people who are drunk or using drugs. Most academics don’t seem to appreciate the experience of videogame play well enough to see this as the most interesting avenue to explore. A gamer deeply involved in gameplay enters a mental state that is profoundly different from normal consciousness. This is what is so addictive about these games, and this is what we should be looking at.

  11. #11 Tony Jeremiah
    June 19, 2007

    Yes it is important to consider trait x state interactions in video game research. As an example, if a young Gandhi (presumably having an agreeable trait) were to play violent video games for a long time (activates a hostile state), he might go from previously not raising his eyebrows, to raising his eyebrows when angry. Whereas if a young Hitler did so, he might go from harming small animals to plots to set of nuclear weapons. So here, it’s really a matter of degree of aggression, with the baseline being a person’s initial disposition.

    But there is quite a bit of longitudinal evidence showing what appears to be a causal link between exposure to violence and subsequent violent behavior. However, this has been done mostly with television watching. For example, Johnson et al. (2002) showed that amount of television watching during adolescence and childhood predicts amount of aggressive acts in adulthood after controlling for individual differences in child and parent aggression, IQ, parental education, family income, and neighborhood crime. A similar study should be done (but this time, examining time spent playing video games), to see what impact this has on # of aggressive acts in adulthood.

    References

    Johnson, J.G., Cohen, P., Smailes, E.M., Kasen, S., & Brooks, J.S. (2002). Television viewing and aggressive behavior during adolescence and adulthood. Science, 295, 2468-2471.

  12. #12 Bruno Campello de Souza
    June 19, 2007

    I do not believe that humanity is at a point where we know enough about neuropsychology to determine causal links between brain states and aggression, let alone to establish a clear game->brain->behavior causal chain. Besides, the only way to conceiveably identify causal links is by means of controlled experiments, which, in the present case, could be both impractical and ethically questionable.

    I am not highlighting this to state that all the research onn the matter is useless or that we should stop trying (far from it). It is just a word of caution against jumping to conclusions, especially regarding an issue where questions of morality (e.g., “Is imagined violence objectionable?”) are so deeply involved.

    Think of the following hypothetical situation. Consider that a diverse group of human beings starts playing violent video games from a tender young age. Then imagine that, on some Sci-Fi alternate Universe, the exact same individuals do NOT play violent video games. Now, assume that both groups differ only regarding their interaction, or lack thereof, with such games. Given all of that, one can ask:

    - Is the violent video game group more prone to violent behavior and to negative consequences from it in their lives?

    - If there is such an effect, how does it work exactly? Is it inevitable or dependent on random factors?

    - If there is such an effect, is it homogeneous accross all people or does it vary according to age of interaction, sex, cultural background, specific experiences and/or other factors?

    - If there is such an effect, does it differ, and how, from those of other forms of “pretend” or “play” aggression such as competitive sports, make-believe games (e.g., “cops and robbers”), or even depiction of violence in books, comics, theather plays, and movies?

    These are the kinds of questions whose answers we are pursuing here.

    Perhaps some clue could be derived from other types of effects associated to video games, such as cognitive impacts, for instance. Indeed, I myself have been able to investigate the manner to find some positive links between gaming and cognition, particularly logical and numerical skills, while others have found positive associations with hand-eye coordination and spatial abilities. Are all these findings absolutely irrelevant for issues regarding aggressive behavior?

    There is a whole can of worms to be sorted out here.

  13. #13 MattXIV
    June 19, 2007

    Tony,

    The study shows that (normal) persons playing violent video games have brain activity similar to that of (abnormal) adolescents known to have antisocial and aggressive behavioral problems, who also show this same brain activity even in nonviolent situations.

    Yes, but the study also shows that while playing violent videogames normal people exhibit the same mental state that adolescents with behavioral problems do all the time. This is also the sort of activation that is displayed by normal people while thinking about violence. Since playing a violent video game pretty much intrinisically involves thinking about violence, this make that conclusion pretty trite.

    I think it’s an important question in light of the fact that a good portion of high school shooters (and the rise in this phenomenon itself) appears to correlate with the rise in the realism and violent content of contemporary video games.

    This is completely ahistorical. Violent crime rates have dropped across the board since the early 90s, including in schools, which was around the time that “realistic” violent video games were becoming popular (Wolfenstein 3D was released in 1992, Doom and Mortal Kombat were released in 1993). School shootings are not a recent phenomenon either – this article includes an example of an incident from 1985 that fits the supposedly novel school shooting template (student of the school targetting other students and staff) and there are probably earlier incidents I could find if I wanted to spend more time digging.

  14. #14 MattXIV
    June 19, 2007

    It’s time to call a spade a spade – the concerns about violent video games encouraging real-life violence is a moral panic that has no grounding in serious social science. This has been studied for years and a large body of work has been created without any studies demonstrating a causitive linkage, despite the fact that studies that would demonstrate the phenomenon if it is extant are not particularly difficult to implement and would get plenty of high-profile attention. Instead, like various moral panics before it, the leaders of the panic, the usual combination of lazy reporters, professional scolds, and, politicians willing to applify the public’s fears to gain more by exploiting them, abetted by the willing spinning of study results by scientists predisposed to agree with the conclusion that video games cause violence, have built a myth of school violence and video games that has little to do with reality, but effectively taps into the elder generations’ fear of youth culture to get the soccer mom vote, fill out that last 15 min of the show, or kill a few inches of column space.

  15. #15 Tony Jeremiah
    June 19, 2007

    “Yes, but the study also shows that while playing violent videogames normal people exhibit the same mental state that adolescents with behavioral problems do all the time. This is also the sort of activation that is displayed by normal people while thinking about violence. Since playing a violent video game pretty much intrinisically involves thinking about violence, this make that conclusion pretty trite.”

    It’s only trite if one believes the study’s conclusion is that there’s a link between thinking about violence and playing violent video games. It’s not so trite if one shows that the brain activity (not technically the same as mental states) of normal persons playing violent video games, is the same as the brain activity of adolescents known to engage in antisocial and aggressive behavior. It’s not really possible (nor scientific) to conclude that the brain activations in these two groups would be similar just based on “common sense”. Science requires proof and not speculations. I assume the novelty of the study is in its demonstration of similar brain states in both groups.

    I think the study could be improved by doing a longitudinal investigation asking the question if normal persons continued to play video games, would their brain eventually maintain the same hostile state as the aggressive adolescents over time–even outside of a video game context? Furthermore, do these brain states translate into aggressive behavior in non-video game contexts?

    “This is completely ahistorical. Violent crime rates have dropped across the board since the early 90s, including in schools, which was around the time that “realistic” violent video games were becoming popular (Wolfenstein 3D was released in 1992, Doom and Mortal Kombat were released in 1993). School shootings are not a recent phenomenon either – this article includes an example of an incident from 1985 that fits the supposedly novel school shooting template (student of the school targetting other students and staff) and there are probably earlier incidents I could find if I wanted to spend more time digging.”

    Yes you’re right on all counts. The problem with correlations though, is that there could be any number of reasons to explain particular data patterns. For example, obesity rates have also gone up. So one could possibly suggest that violent crime has gone down because the percentage of people capable of engaging in the very physical nature of violent acts has gone down. So if the data were actually expressed as the percentage of persons in a particular population designated as being normal weight and physically healthy rather than just a raw #, I wonder what the crime statistics would look like expressed in this way. This sounds like a joke, but that’s the problem when we make any references to correlative data.

  16. #16 Zef
    June 19, 2007

    I have enjoyed reading all of the comments to this post, however they harken back to my college professors’ stern warnings about assigning causal relationships to data that shows nothing of the sort. While it may be fun to speculate about the long-term effects of violent videogame play on real-world behavior, it seems an act of utter futility to make such speculations based on data that only shows the immediate brain activity at the instance of virtual violence (plus or minus 30 seconds.) There is no data here on brain activity over time beyond the initial act, so there is no way to correlate subsequent gamer brain activity with that of people with social disorders. There is no indication that the gamers’ brain activity was in any way different than any other person’s, healthy or disordered, during the instance of violent behavior or thought. They reacted perfectly normally. Had this study shown long-term correlation to social disorders or, perhaps, some sort of long-term potentiation effect on brain activity during subsequent virtual acts or violent thoughts, or compared hours of game play to number of real-world violent acts, then perhaps there would be something to base an educated opinion on, but, as it stands, this data gives us absolutely no insight into any long-term effect of violent video games on behavior, and all we’re left with for fodder are any beliefs or information we had before we read the article.

  17. #17 otakucode
    June 19, 2007

    Studies such as this one are fundamentally flawed. It is a very good study, but it’s conclusions are extrapolated entirely too far. For instance, there are no comparisons to the brain activity of persons actually witnessing real violence. There are no comparisons to brain activity of people actually perpetrating violence. There are no comparisons to brain activity of people reading a violent passage in a book, watching a violent scene in a movie, participating in a play in which they act out violence, etc. If violent video games can condition the brain as extensively as is argued, it would be a very important detail to see if over the past several thousand years plays, books, radio, and every form of entertainment ever invented, has the exact same effect.

  18. #18 Paul
    June 19, 2007

    I don’t think it’s surprising that someone playing a violent video game is going to experience aggression. It’s natural that you react to what you see and that’s reflected here. For example, if you watch a scary movie, you will be scared for the time being, but you know it isn’t real. No one argues that watching a scary movie will make you paranoid. Most well-adjusted people who watch scary movies are no different after watching it. It’s the same thing with video games. We need more studies to see whether or not this temporary aggression actually affects the day to day lives of the majority of those who play violent video games.

  19. #19 christopher
    June 19, 2007

    im surprised at all the speculation about long-term affects of gaming. isn’t 15 years enough? there have been thousands of gamers (including myself), playing violent 1st-person shooters since wolfenstein came out in 92. where’s the rise in violent behavior that should have manifested itself in all these gamers?

  20. #20 mick grierson
    June 19, 2007

    My two penneth…

    I can’t see a causal link. The simulation is not good enough to even begin habituation in my view – although I am certainly not an expert.

    I am wondering (as a kind of thought experiment) – if the simulation was as close as possible to the physical world in every way, how many players would experience a state of shock upon committing acts of violence? Does extreme violent activity occur amongst ordinary (‘normal’) subjects without a degree of distance or dehumanisation? Dehumanisation would, by default, need to involve humans, not images of them. Social interaction, psychological differentiation etc. There’s such a massive difference between clicking a button and stabbing a person or firing a gun. Seeing the effect of violence is similarly very different from looking at some polygon giblets flying all over a tessellated landscape.

    I’m not sure that stylised representations of violence (simulations) or other extreme activity has been shown to have any ‘negative’ effect for more than a very short length of time. If it were that simple, training soldiers to kill would be a lot easier, would it not? And they would be more likely to hit their targets..which they consistently refuse to do in close combat as I remember.

  21. #21 JO
    June 19, 2007

    “There’s no doubt that these games have a powerful influence on the brain.” Well *of course* violent video games (as well as faces, numbers, and puppies) have an effect on the brain! How else could we experience mere pixels as if they were real? With our kidneys? I simply don’t understand the breathlessness with which this research is described.

  22. #22 David
    June 20, 2007

    #20: “If it were that simple, training soldiers to kill would be a lot easier, would it not? And they would be more likely to hit their targets..which they consistently refuse to do in close combat as I remember.”

    Well… I’ve read that after WWII the Americans took note of this little fact and started researching it in earnest. It seems that certain forms of training do significantly boost the shoot-to-kill behavior of soldiers. The WWII numbers were in the 15-20% range; Vietnam was over 90%. The difference is training: During WWII, they practiced against bulls-eye targets; in Vietnam, the targets were man-shaped silhouettes that pop-up. Today, training is also done with simulators or, even better, the military version of laser tag, with the gear fitted on actual rifles. This is one reason why the kill rate between the soldiers of developed to developing nations is running around 20:1. Our soldiers do shoot to kill, because they’ve been trained to.

    Of course, this doesn’t prove that playing violent video games makes people more violent, but it does demonstrate that certain behaviors, repeated often enough, do make people more willing to kill or at least engage in lethal behavior, in certain situations. Of course, it may very well be that these people are not in the mental state this blog describes; they may just be aiming at targets.

    While I think this kind of research is important, the sheer volume of possibilities makes conclusions very tentative. The “too fat to kill” remark may seem silly at first glance, but when you consider that the aggravated assault rates have risen dramatically even though actual murder rates have fallen – being too fat to kill just might be plausible. Then again, maybe more attempted murders are being reported, or maybe ambulance attendants are getting better, or maybe… There are still too many variables.

    David…

  23. #23 Tommy
    June 20, 2007

    I fully agree with comment #17 otakucode .

    This study tells me that a lot of people experience aggresssion through games, movies etc. But don’t become violent in real life. So the question is what is preventing that from happening? And why do other people do become violent?

    Since most incidents involve people between 12 and 18 is the conclusion that sometimes puberty -> hormone inbalance causes some people not to properly cope with aggression?

    Also this shows for me that all forms of aggressions have a huge impact on the brain. So blaming it purely on games would not be sensible.

    Since we cannot ban aggression, and some people have problems coping with that, I suggest looking into that instead of looking at an easy scapegoat.

  24. #24 Tony Jeremiah
    June 20, 2007

    To really appreciate the article cited here, one must take into consideration other studies concerning the relationship between violent video games and aggression. One study did establish a causative link between VIOLENT video games and aggressive behavior (Anderson and Dill, 2000). This study involved comparing aggressive behavior (operationally defined as the intensity of a noise blast delivered to a competitor), after participants were randomly assigned to playing a violent (Wolfenstein 3D) or non-violent (Myst) video game for 30 minutes. The study showed that participants playing the violent video game blasted their (real-life) opponents with longer noise bursts than those playing a non-violent game.

    As I mentioned in an earlier post, to fully understand the impact of video games on behavior, one must consider trait x state factors (i.e., the initial personality of persons playing such games), and environmental factors (e.g., the actual content of video games–not all video games, such as Tetris, contain content involving violence against others; the extent to which parents monitor their children when they play such games). Essentially, this discussion is a variation of the nature-nurture controversy.

    The other issue concerns what real-life aggressive acts might be connected to violent video games. It could be anything from impacting divorce rates, to domestic violence, to bullying, to high school shootings, to flying planes into buildings.

    Another thing to consider is that perhaps the games are not connected to increasing the frequency of violence. Instead, the game might impact the type and magnitude of a particular person’s act of violence. It’s true that high school shootings aren’t new. However, the Virginia Tech incident is unique in that it apparently represents the the greatest massacre in the history of such incidences.
    So one must examine why some acts of violence are becoming increasingly over-the-top.

    Let’s hope some high school kid doesn’t decide to outdo Virgina Tech and devise a way to blow up an entire school.

  25. I appreciate the focus on research in this discussion, and want to point readers to other studies on video games. At the Center on Media and Child Health we are building a database of all existing research on how media positively and negatively affects the social, emotional, and physical health of children and adolescents.

    Previously this research was available only by searching databases from as many as 10 different academic disciplines, but we are aggregating it into one comprehensive and free online database. Though we do not have the ability to post the full text of articles, we do offer both a plain-language summary and scientific abstract for every record. The database is a work-in-progress, but you can already view 188 studies on video games.

  26. #26 roseindigo
    June 20, 2007

    I don’t think human behavior can be put into a neat little box and tied with a ribbon, which this study seems to do. Our brains react to every stimulus that comes our way and is stored away there, either consciously or subconsciously. So it seems only natural that if one spends a lot of time thinking about violence (whether reading, watching a movie, playing a video game, etc.) that violence would become incorporated into ones reactions. I think that might be especially so with video games because they don’t just involve watching, but involve physical action, which “fixes” the violence into the subconscious.

    Isn’t that what “positive thinking” is all about? You “imagine” the outcome as you want it to happen, and it may just happen that way. In the case of violent thinking it has a negative effect, but it’s the same principle.

    For myself, I’m not worried so much about a “normal” person playing violent video games (although I doubt that a really normal person would spend much time at such an activity), but I am worried about those who are “borderline personalities” playing those games, because a borderline personality can go in either direction, positive or negative. And I worry about young minds that are still unformed and incomplete playing these games, because they are completing their minds with a lot of violence instead of constructive or creative thoughts.

    But all of my above thoughts are intuitive with nothing to back them up. It just seems logical that if an unformed young person spends a lot of time at a violent activity (either real or imagined) that it would have a negative effect. Same for a borderline personality that could go either way.

    As for the general crime rate going down, that may be so, but violent crimes have certainly gone up, and crimes have become more vicious.

    On the other hand, my brother and I have discussed this subject when we were raising children. He insists that the hand-eye coordination of a video game, violent or otherwise, makes for great fighter pilots (as someone above already mentioned). I agree, but only if the person playing the game is “normal” and has a lot of other positive input too.

  27. #27 otakucode
    June 20, 2007

    Tony Jeremiah: The Anderson and Dill study from 2000 did not show a causal link, only a correlation. It was a very interesting study but suffered from similar problems as this one. It did not involve a control group of people who had never played videogames, it did not address their consumption of other forms of media, etc. The conclusions are very limited in their applicability. I realize that it is difficult in the social sciences. Other areas of science have much fewer ethical concerns and many more sources for data. That means social science will be slow-going and painstaking. It is dangerous and disingenuous to test one thing and claim that it proves something far different. Anderson and Dill also regularly make the mistake of not differentiating between a person sitting in a chair pressing a button and a person discharging a firearm into the face of a fellow human being. They equate the two throughout their paper.

    And don’t worry about some kid “pulling a Virginia Tech”. Cho was one of the only people in the dorm who didn’t play videogames, at least according to his suitemates.

  28. #28 Tony Jeremiah
    June 20, 2007

    okatucode: I don’t think we are talking about the same study (Anderson & Dill, 2000). The evidence from that study is not correlative because it was an experiment (which by definition, establishes cause-effect relationships). In this instance, the study showed that when a group of individuals were randomly assigned to an experimental (violent video game) and control (non-violent video game) condition, those exposed to the violent game showed higher levels of aggression (as defined by a task called the Competitive Reaction Time task which allows participants to blast competitors with noise) than those assigned to the non-violent game.

    The Virigina Tech shooter had a host of problems, one of which apparently involved a mental disorder (possibly schizophrenia)history. There must have been additional factors that tipped him over the edge (not all schizophrenics are violent), and I’m wondering if his viewing of particular types of video and/or movies played a role. It would be quite intriguing to see if constant use of violent video games actually contributes to the development of a sociopathic/psychopathic brain (e.g., brain that essentially becomes desensitized to violence).

    If watching Sesame Street can have an impact on a child’s learning, I’m not to sure it’s wise to assume that violent video game playing isn’t having an impact on behavior (whether visible or not). The question is probably not about whether it has an impact, but specifically, what consequences it does have. And I think post #25 can speak to that.

    Reference

    Anderson, C.A., & Dill, K.E. (2000). Video games and aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behavior in the laboratory and in life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 772-790.

  29. #29 christopher
    June 20, 2007

    i find tony’s choice of language disturbing. for instance:

    “it was an experiment (which by definition, establishes cause-effect relationships)”

    that’s the first i’ve heard of that.

    “those exposed to the violent game showed higher levels of aggression (as defined by a task called the Competitive Reaction Time task which allows participants to blast competitors with noise)”

    so if you do well in a “competitive reaction time” “task” that “allows” participants to “blast competitors” with noise, you’re now negatively aggressive?

    i know im adding the term “negatively,” but it seems an important distinction as it seems that’s tony’s meaning.

    using the whole sesame street vis-a-vis is another inaccurate use of comparison. there may indeed be a impact from violent video games – but who says it’s negative? perhaps it’s as simple as heightened awareness of ones surroundings, improved ability to maintain clarity in potentially dangerous situations, etc. there are many possibilities.

    however measuring the post-video game ability of participants in a competitive game of noise blasts would not seem to be any indication of predilection for criminal or sociopathic behavior.

  30. #30 Tony Jeremiah
    June 20, 2007

    Christopher,

    (1) An experiment is one that tests a cause-effect hypothesis (i.e., the impact of an independent variable on a dependent variable); different from a correlation study which only shows you two things are related (but not necessarily causally)…see Wikipedia or ask an intro psych student

    (2) An important point about any study conducted is that it is never a perfect study (i.e., answers all questions about a particular topic). That’s why the common phrase in science is “More research needed”.

    (3) The study cited only focuses on the possible “negative” impact of watching VIOLENT video content on subsequent aggression (defined by the Competitive Reaction Time [CRT] Task–which is an accepted measure of aggression in social psychological research. You can find out about the specifics of the CRT, but it does involve sound blasts from speakers (although there’s some deception involved in order to conform to APA ethics of research).

    (4) In this instance, the Anderson and Dill (2000) study specifically shows that violent video game playing (perhaps temporarily) enhances aggression as measured by a standard measure of aggression [CRT], relative to persons assigned to play a non-violent video game. This is how we can deduce that violent content causes aggression in the instance of this study. Again, more research needed to see if this could transfer into real-life aggressive behaviors.

    (5) I am aware of research showing positive effects of video game playing such as a recent study showing that surgeons who have had an extensive video game history have better dexterity than surgeons with a less extensive video game history (something like that anyway).

    (6) The discussion in this post began with a focus on violent video games. My responses are geared towards the particulars of this discussion. Mentioning positive consequences just happens to be another topic that arises from this. Again, see post #25 for a more balanced view.

    (7) I’m sure there must be a positive impact of video games in general, such as that suggested in #5. But the focus here is really on the impact of violent content on video games. Surely Tetris and Doom can improve manual dexterity. But the difference in violent content between these two games must have an additional consequence that might not be great from a social standpoint. For example, consider another poster’s comment that video games (likely containing violent images) are used to train soldiers. Surely there must be a difference in “performance” between soldiers who train for combat by playing Tetris, and those training for combat playing Doom.

  31. #31 MattXIV
    June 20, 2007

    The other issue concerns what real-life aggressive acts might be connected to violent video games. It could be anything from impacting divorce rates, to domestic violence, to bullying, to high school shootings, to flying planes into buildings.

    Or the rise and fall of Limp Bizket, or hurricanes, or the rising influence of the religious right (In 1976, Death Race hit the arcades; in 1979, the Moral Majority was founded – coincidence?). Violent video games just have to be responsible for something.

  32. #32 Tony Jeremiah
    June 21, 2007

    MattXIV: Although sarcasm doesn’t count as scientific counterargument, humor is always good for an intense discussion:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Video_Killed_The_Radio_Star

    Not too sure that we can yet conclude that violent video games are responsible for nothing.

  33. #33 Tristan
    February 19, 2008

    Now let’s study people playing puzzle games. So much focus goes to violence in games, but there are many other types of games. Study people playing Guitar Hero.

  34. #34 Mother Against Gaming
    January 2, 2009

    Gaming – whether violent video games or tame games are a problem on the rise not only because of their content but because of the time that is spent in that activity. Do you know of someone that spends more than 6 consecutive hours gameing? I do and I find the hobby to have grown to an addiction because of the behaviors exhibited while gaming and the time spent itself. Except for an occasional run to the bathroom the player’s hands are continously clicking the keys on the keyboard; moving the mouse and now there is verbal communicaiton with other team members who the gamer believes they “know” — virtually knowing someone is definitely not the same as knowing someone live; I suspect that gamers are under the illusion of having relationships that really are only as real as the game being played. I also feel that maturity is morphed; the natural maturity process that enables teens to grow into independent adults is drawfed because of the lack of time thinking through how to get from the teenage level to the true adult level. Time does not wait though; the physical growth occurs but the mental maturity does not and this will have long term effects on society. Please point me to any studies that can educate me further on this issue. Thanks.

  35. #35 hillbilly
    January 24, 2009

    The initial premise is flawed with a logic fallacy. Aggressive people are drawn to violent games. Why would a person chose to play a “shooter game” if they were not aggressive in the first place.

  36. #36 Emerald
    February 5, 2009

    I think whether violent video games is bad or good i think they still should have them. Video games maybe a bad thing in the country or state, but they shouldn’t be blammed for wat the kids, or people should do. Violent behavior between video games, are some kinda educated, but then again can be unsuitable for kids. So if you have any issues about wat i have mentioned about the behavior of video games educate me more on this issue. Thanx

  37. #37 Anonymous Guy
    August 28, 2009

    personally video games are not whats making good kids bad its the parents
    as a young kid i wanted to play violent games
    but my parents stopped me saying it would make me a bad kid
    so whenever they werent around i would act out any violent game i saw on a comercial
    not the best i dea but it was the closest to it
    it may sound stupid but i took a survey and 7 out of 10 percent of kids WILL do the same
    its not all the time but it will cause your kid to be rebel
    other people will disagree but thats the way we are

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