Menus Subscribe Search

Findings

gta-iii

Violent Video Games and Bad Behavior: The Evidence Mounts

• February 10, 2014 • 4:00 AM

Grand Theft Auto III. (Photo: Rockstar Games)

New research from Italy and a meta-study from Austria both connect playing violent video games with antisocial behavior.

Still convinced that violent video games are harmless fun? You might want to put down that console and consider the findings of two new research papers.

The first, a meta-analysis of 98 studies with nearly 37,000 participants, concludes without equivocation that “violent video games increase aggression.”

The second, which describes new research from Italy, provides further evidence of that troubling dynamic, and indicates they also lead to “decreased self-control and increased cheating.”

“Many real-world decisions require self-regulation of moral behavior,” writes a research team led by psychologist Alessandro Gabbiadini. “Our study indicates that playing violent video games can interfere with this ability.”

“Participants who played a violent video game for only 35 minutes exhibited less self-control, cheated more, and behaved more aggressively than did participants who played a nonviolent video game.”

The Italian study, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, featured 172 high school students. After 10 minutes of practice, each played a violent video game (Grand Theft Auto III or Grand Theft Auto San Andreas) or a non-violent one (Pinball 3D or Mini Golf 3D) for 35 minutes.

Participants were told they could snack from a bowl of M&Ms placed next to the computer as they played. However, they were also warned that eating too much candy too quickly was unhealthy. Their level of self-control was measured by noting how much of the chocolate they consumed.

After finishing play, they completed a survey designed to measure their level of moral disengagement. On a one-to-seven scale (“completely agree” to “completely disagree”), participants responded to a series of statements indicating a tendency to think of moral behavior in relative terms.

Examples include “Compared to the illegal things people do, taking some things from a store without paying for them is not very serious” and “It is OK to insult a classmate, because beating him/her is worse.”

The experiment concluded with two tests designed to measure aggression and the tendency to cheat.

Participants were told they could earn one raffle ticket for each problem they solved on a 10-item logic test. They scored their own responses and took a lottery ticket from an envelope for each correct answer. Researchers measured cheating by comparing the number of tickets taken with the actual number of correct answers.

In addition, participants took part in a “competitive reaction time task” in which the winner of each round “could blast the loser with loud noise through headphones.” Researchers measured aggression by how loud and long participants blasted the unpleasant sound.

The results were consistent across the board: “Participants who played a violent video game for only 35 minutes exhibited less self-control, cheated more, and behaved more aggressively than did participants who played a nonviolent video game.”

Specifically, those who played the violent game ate more M&Ms, took more unearned raffle tickets, and gave their rivals a longer and louder blast of noise.

“Although very few teenagers were unaffected by violent video games,” Gabbiadini and his colleagues write, “individuals high in moral disengagement were far more affected than those low in moral disengagement.” This suggests a subset of players—those prone to find ways to justify their unethical behavior—are particularly susceptible to the effects of these games.

Given this new evidence, “it seems more appropriate to assess the consequences of violent video games on behavior in terms of a gradient of intensity of the effects, rather than just the presence/absence of such consequences,” they conclude.

That last point provides interesting context for the meta-study, which was conducted by researchers Tobias Greitemeyer and Dirk Mügge and published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. It finds “strong evidence that violent video games do affect aggressive outcomes.”

Aggressive behavior is multi-determined, with violent video game exposure being one source among many others (and some of them having a stronger influence than do violent video games).

On the other hand, even small effects—and the effect of violent video games is small to medium in its effect size—can have a negative impact on a societal level when many people are exposed to it, which certainly applies to violent video games.

Thus, in our view, violent video game play should be regarded as a risk factor for aggressive behavior.

The Italian researchers both expand on that notion—they find it’s actually a risk factor for several types of negative behavior—and narrow it somewhat, suggesting certain players are more susceptible to such effects than others. These findings, which need to be replicated, potentially add important nuance to the debate.

But they don’t change the fundamental equation: Violent video games can, and do, impact players’ attitudes and behaviors. And not for the better.

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 22 • 2:00 PM

The Alabama Judge Who Refuses to Let Desegregation Orders Go Ignored

A federal judge in Alabama says a local school board has failed to meet legal mandate to integrate.


July 22 • 12:00 PM

On the Destinations of Species

It’s almost always easier to cross international borders if you’re something other than human.


July 22 • 10:51 AM

The Link Between Carbs, Gut Microbes, and Colon Cancer

Reduced carb intake among mice protected them from colon cancer.


July 22 • 10:47 AM

Irrational Choice Theory: The LeBron James Migration From Miami to Cleveland

Return migrants to Cleveland have been coming home in large numbers for quite some time. It makes perfect sense.


July 22 • 9:32 AM

This Time, Scalia Was Right

President Obama’s recess appointments were wrong and, worse, dangerous.


July 22 • 8:00 AM

On Vegas Strip, Blackjack Rule Change Is Sleight of Hand

Casino operators are changing blackjack payouts to give the house an even greater advantage. Is this a sign that Vegas is on its way back from the recession, or that the Strip’s biggest players are trying to squeeze some more cash out of visitors before the well runs dry?


July 22 • 6:00 AM

Label Me Confused

How the words on a bag of food create more questions than answers.


July 22 • 5:07 AM

Doubly Victimized: The Shocking Prevalence of Violence Against Homeless Women

An especially vulnerable population is surveyed by researchers.


July 22 • 4:00 AM

New Evidence That Blacks Are Aging Faster Than Whites

A large study finds American blacks are, biologically, three years older than their white chronological counterparts.



July 21 • 4:00 PM

Do You Have to Learn How to Get High?

All drugs are socially constructed.


July 21 • 2:14 PM

The New Weapon Against Disease-Spreading Insects Is Big Data

Computer models that pinpoint the likely locations of mosquitoes and tsetse flies are helping officials target vector control efforts.


July 21 • 2:00 PM

Why Are Obstetricians Among the Top Billers for Group Psychotherapy in Illinois?

Illinois leads the country in group psychotherapy sessions in Medicare, and some top billers aren’t mental health specialists. The state’s Medicaid program has cracked down, but federal officials have not.



July 21 • 12:00 PM

What Makes You So Smart, MacArthur Genius?

Noah Davis talks to Yoky Matsuoka about youth tennis, wanting to be an airhead, and what it’s like to win a Genius Grant.


July 21 • 11:23 AM

People Are Clueless About Placebos

Doctors know that sometimes the best medicine is no medicine at all. But how do patients feel about getting duped into recovery?


July 21 • 10:00 AM

How Small-D Democratic Should Our Political Parties Be?

We need to decide how primaries should work in this country before they get completely out of hand and the voters are left out entirely.


July 21 • 8:00 AM

No, Walking on All 4 Limbs Is Not a Sign of Human ‘Devolution’

New quantitative analysis reveals that people with Uner Tan Syndrome don’t actually walk like primates at all.


July 21 • 6:00 AM

Sequenced in the U.S.A.: A Desperate Town Hands Over Its DNA

The new American economy in three tablespoons of blood, a Walmart gift card, and a former mill town’s DNA.


July 21 • 5:00 AM

Celebrating Independence: Scenes From 59 Days Around the World

While national identities are often used to separate people, a husband-and-wife Facebook photography project aims to build connections.


July 21 • 4:00 AM

Be a Better Person: Take a Walk in the Park

New research from France finds strangers are more helpful if they’ve just strolled through a natural environment.



July 18 • 4:00 PM

The Litany of Problems With the Pentagon’s Effort to Recover MIAs

A draft inspector general report found that the mission lacks basic metrics for how to do the job—and when to end it.


July 18 • 2:00 PM

Sure, the Jobs Are Back, but We Need a Lot More

We’re back to where we were before the 2008 recession, but there are now 12 million more people in the United States.


July 18 • 12:00 PM

What Are the Benefits of Government-Funded Research?

Congress wants to know.


Follow us


Subscribe Now

The Link Between Carbs, Gut Microbes, and Colon Cancer

Reduced carb intake among mice protected them from colon cancer.

The New Weapon Against Disease-Spreading Insects Is Big Data

Computer models that pinpoint the likely locations of mosquitoes and tsetse flies are helping officials target vector control efforts.

People Are Clueless About Placebos

Doctors know that sometimes the best medicine is no medicine at all. But how do patients feel about getting duped into recovery?

No, Walking on All 4 Limbs Is Not a Sign of Human ‘Devolution’

New quantitative analysis reveals that people with Uner Tan Syndrome don't actually walk like primates at all.

Why Didn’t California’s Handheld Phone Ban Reduce Motor Accidents?

Are handheld cell phones as dangerous as they have been made out to be?

The Big One

Today, the United States produces less than two percent of the clothing purchased by Americans. In 1990, it produced nearly 50 percent. July/August 2014

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