Game Play Increases Aggression
by Barbara R. Sarason, University of Washington
© 2000 Peregrine Publishers, Inc., All Rights Reserved
Violence seems to sell video games. The more the user is able to spray body parts of the "bad guys" across the screen, the more popular the game seems to be. Parents have expressed concern, but most seem to believe that their child can distinguish between fantasy and reality so that the games do no harm. Two new studies question this belief.
Past research findings about video games and violence are conflicting and hard to interpret, especially with regard to cause and effect for older children and adults. For young children, either viewing or playing violent video games results in more violence in later play, but it is not clear how long this effect lasts (2). For older children, especially boys, playing violent video games tends to increase aggressive behavior. This association, however, may be due to the fact that young males, who are already aggressive, are simply more likely to choose these games (3). Use of violent video games is also associated with less prosocial behavior as well as violence (4).
Craig Anderson and Karen Dill of Iowa State University recently published two studies that tested the relationship between video games and violence. One study looked at the effects of real-life violent video game play; the second, a laboratory study, observed students watching video games (1). Using both real life and laboratory study approaches is important in addressing the effects of these violent games.
In the first study, Anderson and Dill found that real-life violent video game play was positively related to aggressive behavior and delinquency. This relationship was stronger for men than women, and stronger for people who generally behaved in an aggressive way. Poorer academic performance was also related to time spent on video games, but whether or not the games were violent made no difference. Of course, one problem with this kind of study, as Anderson and Dill point out, is that, perhaps, aggressive people are more likely to choose aggressive video games. Which is cause and which is effect are unclear.
In their second study, Anderson and Dill used a laboratory setting to get away from this cause-and-effect problem. They exposed study participants to violent video games and measured their thoughts, feelings, and behavior after the exposure. Again, men were more affected than women. Overall exposure to violent video games in the laboratory increased aggressive thoughts and behavior when measured after the session, although feelings were not changed.
Although this study does not answer the question of how long these effects might last, it does raise troubling questions about the effect of the current craze for violent video games. Participation in fantasized aggression changes the degree of aggressive thoughts and behaviors, especially for men. The findings from both these studies help support a belief that exposure to violent video games will increase aggressive behavior in both the short and long term.