Menus Subscribe Search
call-of-duty-2

Call of Duty 2. (IMAGE: COURTESY OF ACTIVISION)

Violent Video Games May Exacerbate Ethnic Bias

• October 10, 2013 • 4:00 AM

Call of Duty 2. (IMAGE: COURTESY OF ACTIVISION)

An Austrian researcher finds a link between playing violent video games and increased ethnocentrism, at least among young men.

The link between violent video games and aggressive thoughts and behaviors is firmly established. But newly published research finds such games may also produce another troubling effect: Boosting players’ bias against minority groups.

In his latest look at this contentious topic, psychologist Tobias Greitemeyer of the University of Innsbruck in Austria presents preliminary evidence that the popular games may exacerbate ethnocentrism, at least among male players.

“Violent video game play may not only increase aggression on a societal level, but, as the present research suggests, it may also contribute to intergroup hostility,” he writes in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Greitemeyer describes two experiments. In the first, the participants—231 Austrians, most in their 20s—filled out two questionnaires: one measuring aggressiveness, another ethnocentrism. In the first, they responded to statements such as “Given enough provocation, I may hit another person.” In the second, they expressed their level of agreement with such assertions as “Most other cultures are backward compared to my culture.”

“Overall, there was a clear trend that intergroup bias displayed by males was more strongly affected by violent video game exposure (compared to females).”

They also named their three favorite video games, the amount of violence they contained, and how many hours per week they spent playing each. The answers were averaged to provide a measure of exposure to violent video game content.

The results: “violent video game exposure was positively related to ethnocentrism,” Greitemeyer reports. What’s more, this held true even when the participants’ general level of aggression was taken into account.

Of course, that experiment showed correlation, not causation; It’s possible people who are more ethnocentric also, coincidentally, spend more time playing violent video games. To test whether the gameplay itself had an impact on beliefs, Greitemeyer conducted a second experiment, which featured 99 students from an Austrian university.

For 15 minutes, participants played one of two video games: the non-violent Flipper (a pinball game), or the violent Call of Duty 2, in which the player takes on the role of an Allied soldier during World War II, shooting enemies in combat.

They then switched to what they were told was an unrelated task: A series of 25 trials in which “they would compete with an opponent to see who can press a mouse button faster after hearing an auditory cue.” After a winning round, participants could “punish” their opponents by blasting white noise at them. The loudness and length of the sound were measured as an indicator of the players’ aggressiveness.

Half of the participants were told their opponent (which was, in fact, a computer) was a fellow Austrian; the others were told he was a native of Serbia. That ethnicity was chosen because Serbians are heavily represented among immigrants in Austria.

The key result: The most aggressive group consisted of men who played the violent video game, and then competed against a “Serbian.” Compared to men who played the non-violent game, or those who played the violent game and then competed against a fellow Austrian, they blasted the noise louder and longer following a win.

Importantly, this effect was limited to males. Regardless of which game they played, female aggressiveness did not increase when their opponent was described as an outsider.

“Overall, there was a clear trend that intergroup bias displayed by males was more strongly affected by violent video game exposure (compared to females),” Greitemeyer concludes. “Inasmuch as males are more attracted to playing video games than females, this tendency is of special concern.”

The reasons for this link aren’t entirely clear, but previous research suggests a possible mechanism. Since the 1950s, psychologists have noticed that frustrated or unhappy people often “displace aggression onto stigmatized out-groups,” Greitemeyer writes. A 2012 study confirms that anger leads to increased ethnic bias among men.

Meanwhile, a variety of studies have found playing violent video can evoke feelings of anxiety, anger, and hostility. Greitemeyer argues this cumulative evidence suggests “the effects of violent video game play would be more pronounced” when one comes into in conflict with an outsider.

That’s precisely what his experiments found.

Greitemeyer is careful to note this study provides only “initial evidence” for his thesis, and much more is needed. Nevertheless, it offers one more reason to be concerned about the popularity of violent video games, and the impact they may be having on players’ minds.

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

September 1 • 1:00 PM

Television and Overeating: What We Watch Matters

New research finds fast-moving programming leads to mindless overeating.



September 1 • 6:00 AM

Why Someone Named Monty Iceman Sold Doogie Howser’s Estate

How unusual names, under certain circumstances, can lead to success.



August 29 • 4:00 PM

The Hidden Costs of Tobacco Debt

Even when taxpayers aren’t explicitly on the hook, tobacco bonds can cost states and local governments money. Here’s how.


August 29 • 2:00 PM

Why Don’t Men and Women Wear the Same Gender-Neutral Bathing Suits?

They used to in the 1920s.


August 29 • 11:48 AM

Your Brain Decides Whether to Trust Someone in Milliseconds

We can determine trustworthiness even when we’re only subliminally aware of the other person.


August 29 • 10:00 AM

True Darwinism Is All About Chance

Though the rich sometimes forget, Darwin knew that nature frequently rolls the dice.


August 29 • 8:00 AM

Why Our Molecular Make-Up Can’t Explain Who We Are

Our genes only tell a portion of the story.


August 29 • 6:00 AM

Strange Situations: Attachment Theory and Sexual Assault on College Campuses

When college women leave home, does attachment behavior make them more vulnerable to campus rape?


August 29 • 4:00 AM

Forgive Your Philandering Partner—and Pay the Price

New research finds people who forgive an unfaithful romantic partner are considered weaker and less competent than those who ended the relationship.


August 28 • 4:00 PM

Some Natural-Looking Zoo Exhibits May Be Even Worse Than the Old Concrete Ones

They’re often designed for you, the paying visitor, and not the animals who have to inhabit them.


August 28 • 2:00 PM

What I Learned From Debating Science With Trolls

“Don’t feed the trolls” is sound advice, but occasionally ignoring it can lead to rewards.


August 28 • 12:00 PM

The Ice Bucket Challenge’s Meme Money

The ALS Association has raised nearly $100 million over the past month, 50 times what it raised in the same period last year. How will that money be spent, and how can non-profit executives make a windfall last?


August 28 • 11:56 AM

Outlawing Water Conflict: California Legislators Confront Risky Groundwater Loophole

California, where ambitious agriculture sucks up 80 percent of the state’s developed water, is no stranger to water wrangles. Now one of the worst droughts in state history is pushing legislators to reckon with its unwieldy water laws, especially one major oversight: California has been the only Western state without groundwater regulation—but now that looks set to change.


August 28 • 11:38 AM

Young, Undocumented, and Invisible

While young migrant workers struggle under poor working conditions, U.S. policy has done little to help.


August 28 • 10:00 AM

The Five Words You Never Want to Hear From Your Doctor

“Sometimes people just get pains.”


August 28 • 8:00 AM

Why I’m Not Sharing My Coke

Andy Warhol, algorithms, and a bunch of popular names printed on soda cans.


August 28 • 6:00 AM

Can Outdoor Art Revitalize Outdoor Advertising?

That art you’ve been seeing at bus stations and billboards—it’s serving a purpose beyond just promoting local museums.


August 28 • 4:00 AM

Linguistic Analysis Reveals Research Fraud

An examination of papers by the discredited Diederik Stapel finds linguistic differences between his legitimate and fraudulent studies.


August 28 • 2:00 AM

Poverty and Geography: The Myth of Racial Segregation

Migration, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or sexuality (not to mention class), can be a poverty-buster.


August 27 • 4:00 PM

The ‘Non-Lethal’ Flash-Bang Grenades Used in Ferguson Can Actually Be Quite Lethal

A journalist says he was singed by a flash-bang fired by St. Louis County police trying to disperse a crowd, raising questions about how to use these military-style devices safely and appropriately.


August 27 • 2:00 PM

Do Better Looking People Have Better Personalities Too?

An experiment on users of the dating site OKCupid found that members judge both looks and personality by looks alone.


August 27 • 12:00 PM

Love Can Make You Stronger

A new study links oxytocin, the hormone most commonly associated with social bonding, and the one that your body produces during an orgasm, with muscle regeneration.


August 27 • 11:05 AM

Education, Interrupted

When it comes to educational access, young Syrian refugees are becoming a “lost generation.”


Follow us


Subscribe Now

Your Brain Decides Whether to Trust Someone in Milliseconds

We can determine trustworthiness even when we’re only subliminally aware of the other person.

Young, Undocumented, and Invisible

While young migrant workers struggle under poor working conditions, U.S. policy has done little to help.

Education, Interrupted

When it comes to educational access, young Syrian refugees are becoming a “lost generation.”

No, Smartphone-Loss Anxiety Disorder Isn’t Real

But people are anxious about losing their phones, even if they don’t do much to protect them.

Being a Couch Potato: Not So Bad After All?

For those who feel guilty about watching TV, a new study provides redemption.

The Big One

One in two full-time American fast-food workers' families are enrolled in public assistance programs, at a cost of $7 billion per year. July/August 2014 fast-food-big-one

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.