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Risk-Glorifying Video Games Impact Real-World Behavior

• June 27, 2013 • 4:00 AM

Ford Mustang: The Legend Lives. (SCREENSHOT: COURTESY OF 2K GAMES)

German researchers find students who play video games that encourage risk-taking are less likely to take a free health screening.

Every parent wants to shield their child from harm, which in part means teaching them not to take unwise or unnecessary risks. Newly published research raises the possibility that this message is being negated by one of kids’ favorite forms of entertainment: Video games.

In a first-of-its-kind study, German researchers report playing “risk-glorifying video games actually increases real-life, health-related risk-taking behavior.” They found the mental and emotional attitudes created by such games can subsequently influence real-world decisions.

The question of whether violent video games are a catalyst to aggressive behavior has been studied so extensively that it’s easy to forget that this form of entertainment can influence users in other ways.

In the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture, psychologists Andreas Kastenmueller and Peter Fischer of the University of Regensburg and Julia Fischer of the University of Munich describe an experiment featuring 82 university students (43 women and 39 men).

Participants began by spending 25 minutes playing one of two “risk-glorifying video racing games” (specifically, Need for Speed ProStreet or Ford Mustang: The Legend Lives), or one of two video games that do not glorify risk-taking, but are nevertheless designed to be exciting (Tetris Worlds or the soccer simulation game UEFA Euro 2008).

After taking a word test designed to measure whether risk-taking was on their minds, the students were asked whether they were interested in taking a saliva test that “would identify a rare but important metabolic disorder.” There was no charge, but they were informed that they’d have to wait for 20 minutes while the saliva sample was analyzed.

Only 12 of the participants who played one of the racing games agreed to take the saliva test, compared to 28 who blew it off. Among those who played the other games, a majority (24) agreed to take the test, while 17 opted out.

“To the best of our knowledge,” the researchers write, “this is the first study showing the negative effects of risk-glorification in video games on actual health-related behavior.” What’s more, they add, the risk-is-good attitude is not “content-specific,” as it apparently slops over from its original context (driving) to an entirely different one (health checkups).

The question of whether violent video games are a catalyst to aggressive or violent behavior has been studied so extensively that it’s easy to forget that this extremely popular form of entertainment can influence users in other ways, not all of them negative. (Previous studies have found certain games promote altruistic behavior.)

These findings suggest you might want to monitor your kids’ video games not just for violence, but also for whether they encourage risk-taking. While the take-a-chance mindset they implant in users’ minds is welcome in certain situations, it’s probably not the attitude you want your teenager to have when you hand him the car keys.

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.

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