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

July 30 • 4:00 PM

Still the World’s Top Military Spender

Although declining in real terms, the United States’ military budget remains substantial and a huge drain on our public resources.



July 30 • 2:04 PM

The Rise of the Nuisance Flood

Minor floods are afflicting parts of Maryland nearly 10 times more often than was the case in the 1960s.


July 30 • 2:00 PM

The (Mostly Awful) Things You Learn After Investigating Unpaid Internships for a Year

Though the intern economy remains opaque, dialogue about the role of interns in the labor force—and protections they deserve—is beginning to take shape.


July 30 • 12:00 PM

Why Coffee Shortages Won’t Change the Price of Your Frappuccino

You’re so loyal to Starbucks—and the company knows it—that your daily serving of caffeine is already marked up beyond the reach of any fluctuations in supply.



July 30 • 10:00 AM

Having Difficult Conversations With Your Children

Why it’s necessary, and how to do it.


July 30 • 8:00 AM

How to Make a Convincing Sci-Fi Movie on a Tight Budget

Coherence is a good movie, and its initial shoot cost about the same amount of money as a used Prius.


July 30 • 6:00 AM

Are You Really as Happy as You Say You Are?

Researchers find a universal positivity bias in the way we talk, tweet, and write.


July 30 • 4:00 AM

The Declining Wage Gap for Gay Men

New research finds gay men in America are rapidly catching up with straight married men in terms of wages.


July 30 • 2:00 AM

LeBron James Migration: Big Chef Seeking Small Pond

The King’s return to Cleveland is a symbol for the dramatic shift in domestic as well as international migration.


July 29 • 4:00 PM

Are Children Seeking Refuge Turning More Americans Against Undocumented Immigrants?

A look at Pew Research Center survey data collected in February and July of this year.


July 29 • 2:00 PM

Under Water: The EPA’s Ongoing Struggle to Combat Pollution

Frustration and inaction color efforts to enforce the Clean Water Act.


July 29 • 12:40 PM

America’s Streams Are Awash With Pesticides Banned in Europe

You may have never heard of clothianidin, but it’s probably in your local river.


July 29 • 12:00 PM

Mining Your Genetic Data for Profit: The Dark Side of Biobanking

One woman’s personal story raises deep questions about the stark limits of current controls in a nascent industry at the very edge of the frontier of humans and technology.


July 29 • 11:23 AM

Where Should You Go to College?


July 29 • 10:29 AM

How Textbooks Have Changed the Face of War

War is more personal, less glorious, and more hellish in modern textbooks than in the past. But there’s still room for improvement.


July 29 • 10:00 AM

The Monolingual American: Why Are Those Outside of the U.S. Encouraging It?

If you are an American trying to learn German in a large German town or city, you will mostly hear English in return, even when you give sprechen your best shot.


July 29 • 8:00 AM

The Elusive Link Between Casinos and Crime

With a study of the impact of Philadelphia’s SugarHouse Casino, a heated debate gets fresh ammunition.


July 29 • 6:00 AM

What Are the Benefits of Locking Yourself in a Tank and Floating in Room-Temperature Saltwater?

After three sessions in an isolation tank, the answer’s still not quite clear.


July 29 • 4:00 AM

Harry Potter and the Battle Against Bigotry

Kids who identify with the hero of J.K. Rowling’s popular fantasy novels hold more open-minded attitudes toward immigrants and gays.


July 29 • 2:00 AM

Geographic Scale and Talent Migration: Washington, D.C.’s New Silver Line

Around the country, suburbs are fighting with the urban core over jobs and employees.


July 28 • 4:00 PM

Border Fences Make Unequal Neighbors and Enforce Social Inequality

What would it look like if you combined Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, demographically speaking? What about the United States and Guatemala?


July 28 • 2:00 PM

Are Patient Privacy Laws Being Misused to Protect Medical Centers?

A 1996 law known as HIPAA has been cited to scold a mom taking a picture of her son in a hospital, to keep information away from police investigating a possible rape at a nursing home, and to threaten VA whistleblowers.


July 28 • 12:00 PM

Does Internet Addiction Excuse the Death of an Infant?

In Love Child, documentary filmmaker Valerie Veatch explores how virtual worlds encourage us to erase the boundary between digital and real, no matter the consequences.


Follow us


Subscribe Now

The Rise of the Nuisance Flood

Minor floods are afflicting parts of Maryland nearly 10 times more often than was the case in the 1960s.

America’s Streams Are Awash With Pesticides Banned in Europe

You may have never heard of clothianidin, but it's probably in your local river.

How Textbooks Have Changed the Face of War

War is more personal, less glorious, and more hellish in modern textbooks than in the past. But there’s still room for improvement.

NASA Could Build Entire Spacecrafts in Space Using 3-D Printers

This year NASA will experiment with 3-D printing small objects in space. That could mark the beginning of a gravity-free manufacturing revolution.

The Most Popular Ways to Share Good and Bad Personal News

Researchers rank the popularity of all of the different methods we have for telling people about our lives, from Facebook to face-to-face.

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

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