A "video game" to reduce aggression

ResearchBlogging.orgOne of the most controversial topics here on Cognitive Daily is whether playing video games can lead to aggressive behavior or violence -- and one of the most dramatic demonstrations of the impact of violent video games was a 2000 study by Craig Anderson and Karen Dill. In that study, participants played violent or non-violent games, and then were asked to play another "game," this time against what they believed was a real person in a nearby room. In fact, there was no human opponent, and the game was rigged so that the player "won" half the time. The gamers were wearing headphones, and were allowed to administer a painful noise blast whenever they "won." When they lost, the computer produced a noise in the player's own headphones. Players who had previously played violent video games administered what they believed to be human opponents with significantly louder noise blasts than players who had played non-violent games.

But the Anderson and Dill study also made it clear that not all games are created equal: if some games led to more aggression than others, then perhaps some games could actually decrease aggression. A team led by Brian Meier designed a simple game to test this concept. 81 volunteers were shown words that randomly appeared in a corner of the computer screen. They had to click on each word, causing a new word to appear in its place. They were told to memorize these new words for a test later on.

In fact there was no test: what mattered was the sequence of words they were shown. For some players the words they clicked on were aggressive words like "hate" and "murder" half the time. These were nearly always followed by helpful words like "promise" or "share." The rest of the time the words they clicked on were neutral, and half the time these words were followed by helpful words, and half the time they were followed by neutral words.

The rest of the players played the same game, with one difference -- the aggressive words were replaced by random strings of the same letter, like "ssss" or "llll". So some players were trained to expect calming, helpful words after aggressive words, while others never saw the aggressive words. Did any of this have an impact on aggression?

After playing this game, everyone played the same game as in the Anderson and Dill study, blasting what they believed to be a human opponent with a noise as "punishment" for losing. Here are the results:


The players who had clicked on aggressive words and were then asked to memorize helpful words chose significantly lower levels of noise to blast their "opponents." A key to this study is that everyone saw just as many helpful words -- the only difference between the two groups is that for one group, the helpful words followed aggressive words. So it appears that training people to expect helpful words after seeing aggressive words somehow influences them to behave less aggressively when confronted with real-world hostility.

The aggressive/helpful group also took significantly longer to set the noise level compared to those who saw neutral/helpful words. Could this mean they are stopping to consider the consequences of their actions?

The researchers suggest that a game like this might be used in therapy for people with aggression or anger-management problems. It makes some sense -- if a game can train you to become aggressive, then a game could probably also train you to be less aggressive and more deliberative.

MEIER, B., WILKOWSKI, B., & ROBINSON, M. (2008). Bringing out the agreeableness in everyone: Using a cognitive self-regulation model to reduce aggression Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 44 (5), 1383-1387 DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2008.05.005

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What bothers me about these tests in general isn't whether video games lead to behavior changes, it's whether it is any more or less harmful than other activities involving violence including movies, reading, sports, or general play.

By David Wile (not verified) on 13 Apr 2009 #permalink


Sure, that's a concern. But it's pretty complicated to do that type of comparative work. There has been a lot of research on movies and TV, which fall pretty much in line with the video game research. In all these cases, the *content* of the activity probably matters more than the medium -- e.g. some sports are good, others are bad; same with general play.

Extrapolating from what I know about games research, I suspect you'd find similar results for sports: If antisocial behavior is rewarded in the sport, then it will adversely affect social behavior outside the realm of the sport.

But of course most sports are social; there are rules to follow and precautions to minimize injury. That's different from video games where anti-social actions don't always have direct consequences on the gamer.

I've never understood the aggressive video games make you aggressive. In college (in the dark ages) we had two video games in the activity room. When I'd feel particularly stressed and murderous I'd go and play the blow-em-up video games for about 1/2 hour and feel much less stressed and murderous afterward. When the blow-em-up game was busy and I'd have to play the game that required cooperating with three other players I'd still feel murderous after 1/2 hour, unless I sabotaged the game and went on a rampage killing off my teammates' characters. Then I felt better.

Hi David. But video games don't make children aggressive.
(just kidding - re: twitter comment).

>>Could this mean they are stopping to consider the consequences of their actions?

Similarly, the results could suggest that the pairing of aggressive-helpful triggered some sort of compensatory mechanism, as if focusing attention on "alternatives to aggression". The applicability to therapy, however, may be a bit controversial, since it implies that the kids have to be exposed to aggressive content (likely hard to get an IRB approved for such a treatment trial!)

However, and this also speaks to the applicability to therapy, one thing I often wonder about video and media impact in general (both negative and in this case positive) is how permanent are the observed changes. I know that researchers have controlled for the level of excitement of the games. But some have argued that the behaviors observed immediately after aggressive game are due to increased arousal in conjunction with the aggressive content of the game, so that if these children came a day later they would not find the same results.

I wonder if the same effects would apply to this specific game. That is, I wonder for how long you may see these aggression-blunting effects. I guess they could argue that with repeated exposure the kids start to deploy the compensatory mechanism in other settings. Although that made it sound a bit Clockwork Orange!

The problem with TV and video games is more dissociation than aggression.

The main complaint against violent video games is that players repetitively practice shooting at human-like targets without any feelings of remorse because it's "just a game", then in an actual situation they may be more likely to use violence without really thinking about it.

This is similar to military training, in battle a soldier can "automatically" fire on another human without thinking about it. This is called "dissociation" of emotions, thought, and action, well-studied by military psychologists.

Teaching Kids To Kill: Operant Conditioning,
"In World War II we taught our soldiers to fire at bullseye targets, but that training failed miserably because we have no known instances of any soldiers being attacked by bullseyes. Now soldiers learn to fire at realistic, man-shaped silhouettes that pop up in their field of view. That's the stimulus. The conditioned response is to shoot the target and then it drops. Stimulus-response, stimulus-response, repeated hundreds of times. Later, when they are in combat and somebody pops up with a gun, reflexively they will shoot and shoot to kill, 75 to 80 percent of the shooting on the modern battlefield is the result of this kind of training (Grossman & Siddle, 1999)."

Have any studies been conducted on whether the superman comic books triggered a surge within the adopted people community of willingness to try out whether they could fly ?

Have we ever tested the influence of Super Mario Bros on athletic jumper on believing that they could catch gold after jumping ?

In short why is it always about violence ??

It's always about violence because that links with a "we have to do something" mentality about the perceived increase in violence.

This is also why there is very little push for studies that actually bother to look at the direction of causation. None of the people who like to trumpet the link between violent media and violent behaviour want another study that says "violent kids prefer violent cartoons".

As for video games, last year the CBC Radio program _Spark_ interviewed a guy from the FBI who said that they had found two video game based indicators of antisocial behaviour:

Playing extremely violent games for more than 30 hours a week.
Teenage boys who do not play video games at all.

By Rick Pikul (not verified) on 14 Apr 2009 #permalink

People can continue to conduct all the tests in the world. The only guarantee outcome is job security (for the testers, not testees, sorry folks). ...no pun intended...

Everyone is different. Everyone has their own personality. Every human is raised differently. From these interactions, trials and tribulations of life, every human evolves their own unique morality. (Sure, there is such a thing as "socially moral", but that's a democratic twist on self-morality. Everyone has the ability to stay within the rules and boundary of their self morals, whatever they may be, and what one may perceive as being within their self moral bounds may be outside the guidelines of the social moral network.

The funny thing I like about statistics is it takes the actions of many (people) to justify a consensus/conclusion to enact on one (individual). How defunct! If one strives to be a computer engineer, why would he go off and expel his efforts on the study of drywall? Same analogy applies, if one wants to study a particular human, study just that particular human and for the duration of the study, with all focus on the unique human factors affecting only that person.

Don't try to combine everyone into one pot.

If 100 people were studied, it should read, "100 unique studies conducted, no 2 are alike, neither can be compared nor related in any fashion due to the circumstance that no two individuals studied are exactly alike to the atomic and metaphysical level."

The caveat however, is that there are many people who are ignorant enough to believe studies these inaccurate approximations, a consensus if you will, that the democratic demeaning twist on self-morality, aka social morality, is the all means by which one should live their life.

And then there are those just shrug.

I disagree with akira. Of course, one can interpret these studies as if they apply to individuals and that would be the wrong way to understand them. Akira is right to point out the problem with this kind of interpretation. However, the (in my opinion) proper way to interpret these kinds of studies is to see a link to propensities within the culture.

In the same way that smoking does not kill everyone who smokes, violence in the media does not make everyone violent. But we are rightfully concerned that a certain percentage of smokers will develop lung cancer. This is both a personal tragedy and it also has social costs. What these kinds of studies might be able to do is help us determine statistical probabilities of increased violence. If the probability is high enough and the social cost seems to be high enough then legislative measures might be deemed appropriate.

Or as a parent I might want to limit my children's violent media exposure in a way that might be similar to minimizing their exposure to second hand smoke. I'm not convinced that "my child" will become a mass murderer and I am not convinced that "my child" will get lung cancer. I just want to assess and minimize the risks. If I feel the risks are high enough then I will take appropriate action. So I want to see this issue studied more.

For my part, I do agree with Akira and I do not quite agree in the way you, Allan, link the subject of violence in the video game with the self inflicted scaring that smorkers are bringing upon themselves.

It was never argued that smoking can actually generate anti social behavior (though what with the willingness of the power that be to ban it, it may become a subject of studies in the years to come).

As you point it, the smoker is mainly harming himself and you underline that the cost to society is that it will have to pay, at some point, for the smoker lung cancer.

So using the smoker metaphor on a video game subject, would be more pertinent to illustrate the otaku syndrom.

Now if studies showed that because of their habit of lighting up cigarettes, smokers are more prone to becoming pyromaniac, well then this exemples would be perfect to illustrate the danger in video games.

I do not now what's the situation is in the US, but in France where I live, the violent crime rate has not surged with the advent of PC and game console. Meanwhile, one of the best selling video game is grand theft auto !

I think that a2lbd made a great point in that these same video games are being sold in other countries yet we only are focusing on US violence rates. If countries like France are not experiencing the same results as the US which may be the same case in several other countries that violent video games service, what we are looking at is a possible third variable in this equation. Although I do understand that by no means is the relationship between video games and violence a causal one, it should not be treated as it is. And it is difficult to control for so many other factors in conducting an experiment it is beneficial for people to understand that it may be something else.

By BSorensen (not verified) on 15 Apr 2009 #permalink

Thanks for the support, just hoping people will think out of the box.

"Or as a parent I might want to limit my children's violent media exposure in a way that might be similar to minimizing their exposure to second hand smoke."

Allan, I enjoyed the first part of your sentence. You hit the nail on the coffin. I really do believe the core of true self-morals of a human evolve through childhood and one's experiences. In today's world, "parents" are so quick to start pointing and blaming the outside world for influencing THEIR kid(s). For example, TV. You're the parent, you pay the bills, so just turn the darn tv off. Or stow it in the attic. Or not have one. Same with the radio. Why do all these "parents" start a hissy fit saying more FCC regs need to be put in place, thus affecting the priveledges and freedom of everyone else? ...all because he/she doesn't know how to 'parent' a child... And then the excuses start flowing, such as, "Well I'm at work all day so I can't monitor my kid 24/7, I've got other things to do, yadda yadda yadda." Well you know what, you shoulda thought of that before....

Note: I'm not specifically speaking to Allan, but rather in rhetoric.

"If you don't have the time, money or love to care for it, you shouldn't have it in the first place." That was my parent's response when I was a kid and wanted a pet puppy. And it stuck in my head. So can you guess what I think before an inkling of thought of having a kid pops into my head?! You betcha. Why? Because I'm not going to drag down society and the others around me for my inadequate, thoughtless, selfishiness stupidity. If I'm not ready for the responsibility and devotion of raising another human life, I'm just not ready. Plain and simple. There's no higher math involved, no higher education, no special formula or special pill to take. Just common sense. I'd like to think this is one of the very few remaining free commodities in this world...but with kids dying on the roads with their cellphones in-hand b/c they were in the process of texting, etc, common sense sure doesn't seem to be "free" anymore.

And so now what? Now cellphone records are being used in the court of law to help determine the cause of accidents. Along with the internal GPS and car computer sensors that track speed, acceleration, braking (driving habits), etc. Do you see where all this loss of common sense is leading us as a society? Leading us right into the hands of Big Brother. Because of the complaints, FCC example above, and loss of common sense in mainstream society members, Big Brother has no choice but to watch over little brother (you, me, your kid/s, neighbors, everyone).

Parents are so quick to blame fault elsewhere but to look good and hard in the mirror and say, "Darn, what am I doing wrong? What am I not doing?" Rather, they like to point, shout and tell everyone there needs to be more protective measures to prevent their kid in getting into 'trouble', aka sensorship. But guess what, it's not our kid. But the catch-22 is that your "condemned" if take such a stance.

What a bunch of flak. It just makes everyone else's life restrictive and difficult for such 'parental' inadequacies of others.

Heck, maybe once the moon is terraformed and colonized, make it a single/couples only habitat. Sort of like now, how we have an option to go on adult only cruises. I'm not a anti-kid person, just an anti-inadequate-parent person; however in many cases, they both compliment each other. How about that food for thought? Vice the video game.

as far as kid are concerned, i have observed the following in mine. My wife and I never bought them any plastic gun or played them any "violent" movie and even less bought them a game console prior to their asking for it.

I was stunned one day, to see them,when at age 5, use their thumb,index and middle finger to mimic a gun.

Surely they picked this in kindergarten...My hasty conclusion was that the main factor in encouraging violent habit was society itself.

I have a few questions that may affect the Internal Validity of this study. We know there were 81 volunteers, but, who were they? Were they in the same age bracket, gender, and/or of similar IQ's? These could be confounding variables. (Note: I haven't had the opportunity to examine the Journal and see the data myself, it is just that the article didn't report on any of this and it made me wonder.)

This being said, I'm more concerned with External Validity, (Essentially being able to externalize the results to other populations from the lab to real life etc.) I wonder if they considered the temporal factors involved. Did they have them watch words and immediately have them play the game? What if they waited x minutes? Would we have seen less violent behaviors from all of them after and hour, ten minutes, or five?

At any rate, these are just a few of the preliminary questions that came to mind when I saw this article. Thank you for your time in reading this-Greenlight

By Greenlight (not verified) on 17 Apr 2009 #permalink

To Akira and a2lbd
Please pick up a copy, any copy, within the 2000 years of Experimental Psychology. Once you understand the preliminary foundation for scientific research than discuss how pertinent the results of a single study are, if at all. Also, when you are reading a summary of results always look at the original published scientific article, as most of these questions are answered already.
They are conducting studies in other countries. However most research is focused in the U.S regarding video games and violence as Anderson who heads a lot of that research is here, and Americans have the highest violence rates in industralized nations, as well as a youth-- prior to the age of 25 that spends the majority of their free time using some form of media entertainment.
As far as parents and children after puberty the most influential people in a child's life is generally their peers. Also, how does it help a parent to blame them completely for how their children are? There are various social psych. studies conducted regarding these issues. I recommend you read Social Animal.
Take Care

...and that's what's so wonderful about psych and those who major in it...study study study study. nothing from psych will ever be conclusive. it reminds me of that statue with the dude just sitting there, his arm curled, right elbow on his knee, his hand is in a fist positioned and supporting his head underneath his chin. ...but with a frown on his face. deep in thought. forever. read & study psych, social psych, pysch etc, sure, it may be interesting of the least, but it will never be scientific fact in its basic definition. psych is not science or a science. it's a philosophy. show me evidence of one conclusive piece of information psych has provided in the last 6 googooplex years, in comparison to physical science observation, say for instance if a person drops a rock from 6ft off the ground or 2000 feet off the ground on this planet it will always fall at a velocity of 32.2ft/sec. That's scientific study. LOL, psych observation will study, "why would such a person drop a rock in the first place? what was the rock thinking? did it have a say in what height to be dropped? how does the person drop the rock? nicely? with contempt? open palmed? palm facing down? did he/she have a smile on their face? if so, why? what would prompt such a smile? ....video game!"

yadda yadda yadda.

That's psych: "Why?"

Real science differs: "This is why."

By imapsychmajor (not verified) on 24 Apr 2009 #permalink

When it comes down to it, a lot of the other sciences don't deal in absolute facts either. Yes, simple children's physics experiments like dropping a rock follow nice predictable rules, but have you looked at the kinds of things physicists are actually studying these days? Cutting edge physics is mostly just intelligent speculation; yes, you can measure constructs more easily in physics, but the explanations for these phenomena are just as inscrutable. Just because we don't have nice neat explanations doesn't mean we're not a science! If you used that as your criteria then lots of the so-called "hard sciences" wouldn't be sciences either.

One of the fundamental things that psychology has established is the fact that the human mind is an unfathomably complex thing. Psychology is never going to produce simple findings like your "dropping a rock" example because human beings are far too complicated, and to attempt to reduce the human mind to this level will always fail to accurately reflect reality.

I completely agree with you in so much that those who attach a blanket statement "Video games causes aggression" after doing some generic "research" is contradicting and naive. Every person was subject to the same "controls", if you will. It's just pathetic that we are so easily, and can just as easily, skew observations to favor bias.

By imapsychmajor (not verified) on 28 Apr 2009 #permalink

A problem I have with this study is the relevance. So some people are louder than others. Is this harmful? This study proves nothing about physical agression which is the actual contraversy. You could make any arguement about violent video games. You could suggest that people play violent video games to relieve stress. Maybe the people are already quite aggressive and simply channel that aggression into the game so as to not be so aggressive toward actual people. Really, there are a lot of variables here and you could make a number of inferences from the results i think. However, I enjoyed reading this article. It was interesting and generally easy to follow.

Although I found this article interesting, I have a hard time believing that calming games would help people with aggression. Games with aggression probably make them happier while these games that are supposed to "calm" them will probably make them more aggressive. If they don't have a problem with who they are and are made to play these games, they will probably sit there the whole time in anger. If people believe that something will help them then they let it happen. But how long could this game help them stay calm? Another thing I thought was interesting was how being loud was seen as aggression. They're not going to hurt anyone by yelling at a video game. Unless someone is already aggressive, I don't think a video game is going to make them become aggressive. I know people who just use video games as a calming game or a confidence booster.

ALthough I agree with this article, I don't think it gives clear information about th link between the two above mention subjects. According to the book Inside the Brain, by Ronald Kotulak, aggression is formed by a chemical imbalance of serotonin and noradreniline. This can be genetic defect or by a large amount of violence pressing on your mind. In the site http://www.apa.org/science/psa/sb-anderson.html, myths about aggression and videogames are linked but not strongly and aggression only forms from this only after a great ideal of time has gone by, unlike what is said above. So, my question to you is why don't you actually talk about how aggression is formed and link that to your article instead of having very inconclusive and potentially worng information. (that you got from only one (quesstionable) source)

I agree with this article, but it could use some more detail to express it's point better. It lays out the big ideas very well, and even backs up some of them with statistics which helps it get you interested. However more detail could really persuade readers to buy into what they are trying to say. The idea of how some games make people more aggressive or just more angry/ stressed is very true. I know this from playing some games and feeling angry after wards. I think that the point made about a game being made to make people be calmer and less aggressive is very do able. So their ideas are all good and make some sense, but this is only true for people who play games and it is only true if aggression can be truthfully linked to violent games. According to http://www.isil.org/resources/lit/causes-aggression.html aggression is caused by unfulfilled needs/ desires, envy, and neurosis none of these have anything to do with gaming. So as good as this article may be I would take it with a grain of salt because it has little to no detail and is unproven.

A lot of these studies are the same; âWe believe that video games make us more violent but further studies are needed to prove it.â Very few people try and look for the other side of this argument that is video games actually make us less aggressive. Iâve had an extensive relationship with videos games since I was about 4 and I can tell you that there is nothing better than working through a challenging game, violent or not. Being able to get out the pent up aggression we, children/teens, have from school, our parents, girl/boyfriends, etc, is the most important feature of any game, and again, violent or not. Iâm glad to see that views on video games are changing, even just a little and even just because they didnât expect the result they got. So long as they donât storm into my house and take my games then Iâm fine.


A video game to reduce aggression

This article is interesting, but it raises a lot of questions. There are many people who play video games that varies withing age and gender. Although many people say video games cause aggression, for some people I think it reduces it because its something they like doing.
Also, video games have other benefits as well. Just like everything, video games have good and bad points. Video games can help improve small motor skills, and problem solving skills. This article explains it study and how they performed it. They had the player win half the time which could cause more aggression. And in the article it states how all video games could be rigged like this you just don't know it. And i agree with it. But if the game sells then I don't think they would do that.
Overall, I disagree with the article. Although some games are more violent then others, there are so many things that cause aggression that I don't think video games is the main source. Video games can help relax people from their day especially if its something they like doing.

By Alison Berg (not verified) on 07 May 2009 #permalink

I don't think that a video game could reduce regression, only because there are alot of violent games that many people get into. Today you don't see many people getting into girly non-violent games. Another reason why I don't think that it would work is because Albert Bandura did a test on agression which envolved testing children. Bandura placed the child into a room and had them watch a video of another child beating up the blown up doll. Later that child was placed in a room with the same blown up doll. The child then started to act just like the video and started to beat up the doll. Therefore from seeing aggression the child responds and acts upon the aggression the way it was seen. Thats why I don't think that video games would help aggression beacuse they could respond the same way in the game. So I agree with this article.

By Jessica Kent-webber (not verified) on 11 Jun 2009 #permalink

Several theories predict that violent video game play will lead to various aggressive effects. Yet, some have argued that the opposite may occur: playing a violent video game may reduce aggressive effects

The only time that video games cause any remarkable amount of aggression is when someone has a bad link between reality and fantasy and when someone can't connect an action with a consequence. Sure sometimes I feel like I want to kill someone but I know that's wrong, it wouldn't feel very good afterward, and there would be a specific negative consequence; such as going to jail and taking it up the a$$ for the next 60 years. Also I'm 14 and I've been playing violent video games since I could hold a controller. Akira's right; it's a personal thing and you can't generalize it.

Well, this study seems odd cause it's really not determining anything with video games but really something that affects the mind and then correlating it back to video games.

As far as the topic goes, there's so much information that conflicts each other that it's really hard to make a sound judgment based on fact because different people will tell you different "facts". Scientists that support video games have studies that report that video games are in fact not detrimental and they do not lead to aggression where scientists that feel otherwise will get the complete opposite result.

But the argument could be made that already aggressive people would be apt to play aggressive games, or as someone else has mentioned, you could play them to relieve stress. While there may be some truth to video games leading to aggression, the same could hold true for different types of media, and to be quite honest, the violent crime rate in the US has decreased over the years even though video games have become more violent.