New study in Nature: playing a lof of violent games doesn’t make players more violent

It’s a very popular idea, dating back to the theories and studies by Bandura: seeing violence teaches people to act violently. And more recently there was an American president linking computer games to school shootings. This new study shows that this maybe unwarranted.

In this study by Kühn et al published in Nature the researchers did a randomized controlled trial with 3 groups

  • 1 group who played Grand Theft Auto intensively during 2 months
  • 1 group who played The Sims 3 intensively during 2 months
  • 1 group who didn’t play games at all.

And what did the researchers find?

Within the scope of the present study we tested the potential effects of playing the violent video game GTA V for 2 months against an active control group that played the non-violent, rather pro-social life simulation game The Sims 3 and a passive control group. Participants were tested before and after the long-term intervention and at a follow-up appointment 2 months later. Although we used a comprehensive test battery consisting of questionnaires and computerised behavioural tests assessing aggression, impulsivity-related constructs, mood, anxiety, empathy, interpersonal competencies and executive control functions, we did not find relevant negative effects in response to violent video game playing. In fact, only three tests of the 208 statistical tests performed showed a significant interaction pattern that would be in line with this hypothesis. Since at least ten significant effects would be expected purely by chance, we conclude that there were no detrimental effects of violent video gameplay.

Will this study end all discussions? No, I’m sure this won’t be the case even if this study is very relevant. It’s worth noticing that the average age of the participants was 28, on which I would suggest that a replication with younger participants would be a very good idea.

Abstract of the study:

It is a widespread concern that violent video games promote aggression, reduce pro-social behaviour, increase impulsivity and interfere with cognition as well as mood in its players. Previous experimental studies have focussed on short-term effects of violent video gameplay on aggression, yet there are reasons to believe that these effects are mostly the result of priming. In contrast, the present study is the first to investigate the effects of long-term violent video gameplay using a large battery of tests spanning questionnaires, behavioural measures of aggression, sexist attitudes, empathy and interpersonal competencies, impulsivity-related constructs (such as sensation seeking, boredom proneness, risk taking, delay discounting), mental health (depressivity, anxiety) as well as executive control functions, before and after 2 months of gameplay. Our participants played the violent video game Grand Theft Auto V, the non-violent video game The Sims 3 or no game at all for 2 months on a daily basis. No significant changes were observed, neither when comparing the group playing a violent video game to a group playing a non-violent game, nor to a passive control group. Also, no effects were observed between baseline and posttest directly after the intervention, nor between baseline and a follow-up assessment 2 months after the intervention period had ended. The present results thus provide strong evidence against the frequently debated negative effects of playing violent video games in adults and will therefore help to communicate a more realistic scientific perspective on the effects of violent video gaming.

2 Comments

Filed under Media literacy, Psychology, Research, Technology

2 responses to “New study in Nature: playing a lof of violent games doesn’t make players more violent

  1. I play quite a few violent videogames myself and I have never felt the urge to take violence any further.

    I agree that it would be interesting to see the study replicated with younger subjects. Unfortunately, the really interesting study would probably not be ethical: what is the effect of violent games on children, as we know that many children are playing age-inappropriate game.

    I am a teacher in a secondary school and many of my students play GTA4, even though the game clearly says 18+. For years I have noticed that students take no notice of age ratings and neither do many parents (probably out of ignorance, as these same parents do not allow their children to watch movies with strong language).

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