Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Findings

gta-iii

Grand Theft Auto III. (Photo: Rockstar Games)

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

October 22 • 4:00 PM

The Last Thing the Women’s Movement Needs Is a Heroic Male Takeover

Is the United Nations’ #HeForShe campaign helping feminism?


October 22 • 2:00 PM

Turning Public Education Into Private Profits

Baker Mitchell is a politically connected North Carolina businessman who celebrates the power of the free market. Every year, millions of public education dollars flow through Mitchell’s chain of four non-profit charter schools to for-profit companies he controls.


October 22 • 12:00 PM

Will the End of a Tax Loophole Kill Off Irish Business and Force Google and Apple to Pay Up?

U.S. technology giants have constructed international offices in Dublin in order to take advantage of favorable tax policies that are now changing. But Ireland might have enough other draws to keep them there even when costs climb.


October 22 • 10:00 AM

Veterans in the Ivory Tower

Why there aren’t enough veterans at America’s top schools—and what some people are trying to do to change that.


October 22 • 8:00 AM

Our Language Prejudices Don’t Make No Sense

We should embrace the fact that there’s no single recipe for English. Making fun of people for replacing “ask” with “aks,” or for frequently using double negatives just makes you look like the unsophisticated one.


October 22 • 7:04 AM

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.


October 22 • 6:00 AM

How We Form Our Routines

Whether it’s a morning cup of coffee or a glass of warm milk before bed, we all have our habitual processions. The way they become engrained, though, varies from person to person.


October 22 • 4:00 AM

For Preschoolers, Spite and Smarts Go Together

New research from Germany finds greater cognitive skills are associated with more spiteful behavior in children.


October 21 • 4:00 PM

Why the Number of Reported Sexual Offenses Is Skyrocketing at Occidental College

When you make it easier to report assault, people will come forward.


October 21 • 2:00 PM

Private Donors Are Supplying Spy Gear to Cops Across the Country Without Any Oversight

There’s little public scrutiny when private donors pay to give police controversial technology and weapons. Sometimes, companies are donors to the same foundations that purchase their products for police.


October 21 • 12:00 PM

How Clever Do You Think Your Dog Is?

Maybe as smart as a four-year-old child?


October 21 • 10:00 AM

Converting the Climate Change Non-Believers

When hard science isn’t enough, what can be done?



October 21 • 8:00 AM

Education Policy Is Stuck in the Manufacturing Age

Refining our policies and teaching social and emotional skills will help us to generate sustained prosperity.


October 21 • 7:13 AM

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you’ve (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.


October 21 • 6:00 AM

Fruits and Vegetables Are About to Enter a Flavor Renaissance

Chefs are teaming up with plant breeders to revitalize bland produce with robust flavors and exotic beauty—qualities long neglected by industrial agriculture.


October 21 • 4:00 AM

She’s Cheating on Him, You Can Tell Just by Watching Them

New research suggests telltale signs of infidelity emerge even in a three- to five-minute video.


October 21 • 2:00 AM

Cheating Demographic Doom: Pittsburgh Exceptionalism and Japan’s Surprising Economic Resilience

Don’t judge a metro or a nation-state by its population numbers.


October 20 • 4:00 PM

The Bird Hat Craze That Sparked a Preservation Movement

How a fashion statement at the turn of the 19th century led to the creation of the first Audubon societies.


October 20 • 2:00 PM

The Risk of Getting Killed by the Police If You Are White, and If You Are Black

An analysis of killings by police shows outsize risk for young black males.


October 20 • 12:00 PM

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they’re motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.


October 20 • 11:00 AM

My Dog Comes First: The Importance of Pets to Homeless Youth

Dogs and cats have both advantages and disadvantages for street-involved youth.


October 20 • 10:00 AM

Homophobia Is Not a Thing of the Past

Despite growing support for LGBT rights and recent decisions from the Supreme Court regarding the legality of same-sex marriage, the battle for acceptance has not yet been decided.


October 20 • 8:00 AM

Big Boobs Matter Most

Medical mnemonics are often scandalous and sexist, but they help the student to both remember important facts and cope with challenging new experiences.


October 20 • 6:00 AM

When Disease Becomes Political: The Likely Electoral Fallout From Ebola

Will voters blame President Obama—and punish Democrats in the upcoming mid-term elections—for a climate of fear?


Follow us


My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you've (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they're motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.

How to Water a Farm in Sandy Ground

Physicists investigate how to grow food more efficiently in fine-grained soil.

Unlocking Consciousness

A study of vegetative patients closes in on the nature of consciousness.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

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