Psychology Study Blames Games for Aggressive Behavior

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Psychology Study Blames Games for Aggressive Behavior

Psychologists "prove" that violent games incite aggression with a strangely designed experiment.

Academia's battle against videogames continues apace. While there are many studies that point out that games have no effect on the psyche of players, there always seem to be pop-pyschologists who want to play the aggression card and pass that off as encouraging violence. These scientists sound like disgruntled parents who have never had fun playing games, and feel compelled to prove that their kids play them too damn much. At least that's how associate professor Bruce Bartholow from the University of Missouri sounds when he describes his experiment that attempts to prove the correlation between violent games and aggression. The aggressive behavior that Bartholow measures is the volume of sound used in friendly competition between test subjects. Bartholow's study will be published in the "Journal of Experimental Social Psychology."

The experiment Bartholow conducted exposed some young adults to violent games like Call of Duty and Killzone (not sure which versions) while others played non-violent games. Bartholow then showed subjects violent images and neutral images - the examples given were a dude with a gun in his mouth and a man on a bike - and measured their brainwaves to gauge their reaction. The group of subjects who played the violent games had a demonstrably lower reaction to the violent image, which Bartholow said proves they were "desensitized" to violence.

In the next phase of the experiment, subjects engaged in a competition where they could blast noises at each other at whatever decibel level they chose. The group who played the violent games employed louder noises than the control group, which Bartholow believes proves that games cause aggression.

"More than any other media, these videogames encourage active participation in violence," said Bartholow. "From a psychological perspective, videogames are excellent teaching tools because they reward players for engaging in certain types of behavior. Unfortunately, in many popular videogames, the behavior [rewarded] is violence."

While I encourage people like Bartholow to design experiments to test whether there is a link between violence and games, I think he missed the mark with this one. First off, blasting more sound at someone is hardly an accurate measure of aggression and probably speaks more to the sound design of the games played. Call of Duty is likely way louder than whatever game the control group played and probably affected the experiment more.

The only thing that does give me pause is Bartholow's claim there is a statistical correlation to the lack of response in violent images and the blast of sound given. The fact that he was able to predict just how loud the subject was going to blast his opponent based on the reaction to violent images is a bit troubling.

Bartholow also mentioned that subjects who already play a lot of violent games had less reaction to the violent imagery, which apparently means something more significant than mere familiarity. "Those individuals are already so desensitized to violence from habitually playing violent video games that an additional exposure in the lab has very little effect on their brain responses," he said.

I'm sorry, this makes no sense to me. If someone watches a lot of CSI, and then is shown a picture of a dead body, of course they are going to have less of a reaction than those who have never seen anything like that. That doesn't mean that these people are "desensitized" to violence, it just means there is a basic familiarity with those kind of images.

To his credit, Bartholow admits that violent games are not the sole reason that humans can become aggressive, but he is ready to claim victory nonetheless. "Many researchers have believed that becoming desensitized to violence leads to increased human aggression. Until our study, however, this causal association had never been demonstrated experimentally," he said.

I suggest that Associate Professor Bartholow keeps working on it.

Source: Missouri University

Permalink

Video games can potentially cause desensitization to violence and a temporary increase in aggression? Gasp! This is me trying to sound surprised.
EDIT: Also, I found this article terribly nonprofessional. Could you sound any more defensive?

Bitch please. De-sensitized to virtual violence is not the same thing as being de-sensitized to real life violence. Just ask Penn and Teller.

My lawnmower makes me violent its a piece of crap. THey should study my brainwaves while trying to mow the lawn, they would be frghtened to death.

I have a question for him.

How many movies don't involve at least one death?

I mostly see video games as interactive movies, so yeah. Anyway, I agree with Greg's point about CSI. Bartholow should try the same experiment again, but this time with violence in movies (and sex on TV!) and see if the subjects become 'desensitized' from that.

Yeah, as a former psych major, I'm calling BS on this one. Unless you show real violence happening to real people, and their reaction is the same to videogames, I'm not buying that it's a direct coorelation.

Sure, it does desensitize to violence to a certain degree, but I don't really think it'd be any more so than movies would. I'm not even sure that the fact that you're the one dishing out the pain in videogames has any more effect that watching a movie. I find it amusing that some people say, "They're disassociating themselves from people by playing as this character." and some of the same people turn around and say, "They're becoming more violent because they play these games." People need to make up their minds.

This test is BS, the results are BS, and this is exactly why I want to do sociology and social psychology, so that I'll be able to come up with better and more comprehensive tests than these. Ever think about looking into someone's background before allowing them to participate in the tests? For instance, someone that came from an abusive household might internalize it more than someone that comes from a "normal" family? There are so many outside variable here that it sickens me that this was allowed to be published.

Seriously? Come on. Being desensitized to violence doesn't make you do violent things. What about horror/gore flicks? You're not controlling what happens, but you're still exposed to it.

Also, yeah, you're rewarded for smashing a guy's head in in a video game. The reward is points/money/upgrades, though... not real life things (yes, money is a real life thing, but not game money... you know what I meant). It scares me that psychologists think people are stupid enough to associate in-game rewards with real life situations. Stabbing someone is going to get your ass thrown in jail, not rewarded. People generally understand this.

Eri:
Bitch please. De-sensitized to virtual violence is not the same thing as being de-sensitized to real life violence. Just ask Penn and Teller.

...Damn it! Ninja'd by the second poster! Has to be that pony avatar...Giving some kind of poster bonus...

OT: Geez, It's not like this study has been done a couple of time with the same result. And as Eri here wrote that virtual and real life violence is DIFFERENT.

I think "blames" is a strong word to use in the headline.

Same as any sport, assholes, delays, annoyences. etc....

Well i ought to show em liars... if I could only get my hands on some sort of firearm, I'd kill them all!!! And then go back to playing violent videogames!!! Roar!

But in all seriousness, that's a interesting research, i suppose. But there are oh so many other things that can have the very same effect.

I don't see why this is still something that even needs investigating. Playing violent games can make violent imagery less shocking. Makes sense. Just as watching Bones every week makes me freak out a little less each time they show a rotting corpse. Etc. etc.

And I don't doubt for a second that violent games can act as triggers for violent behaviour, but again, so can a lot of things. All they do is trigger something that's already there. Give a man a brick, he may build a house. Give a different man a brick, he may bludgeon my face in. I'm not gonna blame the brick.

MasterOfWorlds:
Yeah, as a former psych major, I'm calling BS on this one. Unless you show real violence happening to real people, and their reaction is the same to videogames, I'm not buying that it's a direct coorelation.

Sure, it does desensitize to violence to a certain degree, but I don't really think it'd be any more so than movies would. I'm not even sure that the fact that you're the one dishing out the pain in videogames has any more effect that watching a movie. I find it amusing that some people say, "They're disassociating themselves from people by playing as this character." and some of the same people turn around and say, "They're becoming more violent because they play these games." People need to make up their minds.

This test is BS, the results are BS, and this is exactly why I want to do sociology and social psychology, so that I'll be able to come up with better and more comprehensive tests than these. Ever think about looking into someone's background before allowing them to participate in the tests? For instance, someone that came from an abusive household might internalize it more than someone that comes from a "normal" family? There are so many outside variable here that it sickens me that this was allowed to be published.

I'm sure the test sample was random. We don't know enough about the gathering methods to say for sure. Actually, that is my main argument. Of course video games desensitize people to violence to some degree. But so does every other medium. I've yet to see tests that cross examine this to see the varying differences between media.

The reason why there is less brain activity, I think, is because the subject violence has already been ''primed'' in the brain, because it has recently been activated. Thus, there is less activity upon seeing the images. What also means is that its more likely for someone who has been ''primed'' to resort to violence. This is very obvious in kids, I remember doing a lot of mock fights with friends after seeing the matrix and whatnot, they get all excited.

However, what I think is most important about this, is that the change isn't permanent. It's just a temporary state of mind which changes after some time, just like being angry. I don't think it has any big effects on ''violence in society''.

In before the people covering their eyes screaming "La, la, la" that show up in every thread like this.

Same with Watching The Expendables, listening to Eminem, Fox News, the list goes on.

If you address violence in ANY medium, you will desensitize those in your audience who see it a lot. I KNOW i'm extremely desensitized to violence and gore. due to all the violent movies, games and angry music i've consumed over my life. I like action and thrillers but its not all I enjoy. not even close.

My day so far; I played La Noire and avoided violence at all costs, then I played around for a few hours driving on the pavement trying to hit people haha.

What does that make me? not sure. This guy was mature about it though. He said that it wasn't the cause of society's downfall like Fox News or something.

All these scientists claiming video games increase agression, makes me want to bash their heads in with a crowbar.
...
Oh wait.
I get that they can increase aggression (over short periods of time) but I'm not buying the whole desensitizing thing. The mainstream media and Hollywood already saw to that a LONG time ago

Who said video games make people agressive! What a load of shit!

I'll kill them!

Why is it so hard for you (common gamers) to believe that seeing violent imagery in motion affects you senisitivity towards violence? Even more if you're actively causing it ("playing")...
Be rational. How could your subconscious possibly know the difference between real-life violence from virtual violence? Is it really that hard to admit? I also play violent videogames, and it doesn't bother me.

image

Latest study proves X affects Y. Z people are bored to tears and wish they'd get on with something like saving the world's resources, kicking the criminals out of high power or teaching our damn kids; rather than wasting pointless resources on re-affirming their own narrow little minds.

9Darksoul6:
Why is it so hard for you (common gamers) to believe that seeing violent imagery in motion affects you senisitivity towards violence? Even more if you're actively causing it ("playing")...

Because us common gamers long ago established the difference between fantasy violence and real-life violence. That's why we common gamers tend not to partake in real-life violence.

Be rational. How could your subconscious possibly know the difference real-life violence from virtual violence? Is it really that hard to admit? I also play violent videogames, and it doesn't bother me.

Simple. They're not real. Your brain has had millenia of practice working out that little nugget rationally.

Eri:
Bitch please. De-sensitized to virtual violence is not the same thing as being de-sensitized to real life violence. Just ask Penn and Teller.

This. Also has a nice avatar.

Frankly I'm surprised people are still DOING research like this, on either side of the fence. Video Games are art now, right? (legally I mean) Can the flak storm stop now? Shouldn't we be focusing the attention games keep getting and point it towards hating on the next new, say, Micheal Bay film? Something constructive and useful?

Not to say experiments and such isn't constructive and useful, but only when it's done by people haven't already made up their minds before they start warming the beakers.

I wrote an article in my high school paper and I talked to three different psychologists and they all said the same thing: Video games will only cause violence in people who have some sort of mental imbalance. People who play games won't just get up and kill someone.

I feel that unless these people are given ample opportunity to engage in real violence during testing, then their "heightened aggression levels" cannot be properly measured. At least it's not that sensationalist.

this reminds me of how "studies" have shown that coffee can both increase and decrease cancer rates.

9Darksoul6:
Why is it so hard for you (common gamers) to believe that seeing violent imagery in motion affects you senisitivity towards violence? Even more if you're actively causing it ("playing")...
Be rational. How could your subconscious possibly know the difference real-life violence from virtual violence? Is it really that hard to admit? I also play violent videogames, and it doesn't bother me.

Because my brain knows the difference between fictional violence and real violence.

The other day, I was chopping mutated humans into little pieces in Dead Space 2 without blinking an eye.

The other week, I saw a man with a broken leg, the bone sticking out of the skin and I almost threw up.

It's all about context.

I like how people complain about this guys science before watching the video. The flood of posts comparing the violence in game vs the violence in other media are evidence of this. He says at the end, games are not the issue its everything together.

9Darksoul6:
Why is it so hard for you (common gamers) to believe that seeing violent imagery in motion affects you senisitivity towards violence? Even more if you're actively causing it ("playing")...
Be rational. How could your subconscious possibly know the difference real-life violence from virtual violence? Is it really that hard to admit? I also play violent videogames, and it doesn't bother me.

I agree that my playing violent video games, or watching violent movies desensitizes me to violence on screen, and I can watch some pretty gruesome stuff on TV, but it hasn't desensitized me to real world violence. I still get light headed when I see open wounds in real life, but I'm fine with it on screen, so I would say that there is a difference, based on personal experience.

Greg Tito:
While I encourage people like Bartholow to design experiments to test whether there is a link between violence and games, I think he missed the mark with this one.First off, blasting more sound at someone is hardly an accurate measure of aggression and probably speaks more to the sound design of the games played. Call of Duty is likely way louder than whatever game the control group played and probably affected the experiment more.

...
...

I'm sorry, this makes no sense to me. If someone watches a lot of CSI, and then is shown a picture of a dead body, of course they are going to have less of a reaction than those who have never seen anything like that. That doesn't mean that these people are "desensitized" to violence, it just means there is a basic familiarity with those kind of images.

To his credit, Bartholow admits that violent games are not the sole reason that humans can become aggressive, but he is ready to claim victory nonetheless. "Many researchers have believed that becoming desensitized to violence leads to increased human aggression. Until our study, however, this causal association had never been demonstrated experimentally," he said.

I suggest that Associate Professor Bartholow keeps working on it.

I'm sorry, but was any of that even remotely necessary? Not only do you miss his point, you try to inject common sense into a field where that can easily be challenged. This is my main grievance when discerning between whether the Escapist wants to be an editorial site or a news one, and this is just demeaning to journalism. We don't care if any of this makes any sense to you, you're not a trained psychologist or cognitive researcher. You are an objective journalist, you are not in a position to say whether it makes sense or not and doing so is purely opinion based, making it not an objective news report. Not only that, but you clearly attempt to paint Mr. Bartholow as one of those "anti-game" radicals against all things fun, which is hardly what his point was. He even states that all media does the same and that it would be silly to think that video games are the sole factor. But it is a factor, and that is the crux of his research. And yes, familiarity with violent imagery is exactly what desensitization is. And in the end, you insultingly attempted to catch "victory" just as you claimed Dr. Bartholow had when he did no such thing. I suggest that you, Mr. Tito, keep working on this, and I say this with utmost sincerity.

Instead of just simply stating your opinion, ask us our opinion. Go "So what do you think? Is this study bunk, or does it warrant some notice? What do our scientists thing about the write-up? Leave your comments below!" or something like that. Don't give us your (obvious biased, as this is a gaming site) opinion on whether it has merit or not as that just puts us in the unmovable mindset that "this man is wrong! He is doing everything wrong!"

On top of that, every single time we get some sort of "anti-game" research statement, all of a sudden we all get defensive. We always go "Dude, like, we already knew that! Of course games cause you to be more aggressive, that's, like, common sense yo!" and go on and demonize them because they're "wasting money on something so clearly obvious!". And every time there is a "pro-game" research, we all go "Oh ho ho! This proves that games aren't as bad as the naysayers say they are!" and completely disregard any negative effect that they may have. It's absolutely hypocritical of us. This study, while done before, was, as far as I can see, much less agenda driven and put forth with the data at interest, not because they wanted to prove something.

Here's the thing; games have both positive and negative effects, that is absolutely undeniable. When it comes to aggression and/or violent behavior, what we haven't found out is whether those effects are long- or short-term. Of course someone who has played Call of Duty 10x as much as someone else can become more aggressive, but the question is why does it affect him more than someone else? Other people play Call of Duty the same amount of time yet are totally chill. This is all a mystery to us, and the dramatic effects that video games, and all media, cannot be denied.

Now, when the politicians and agenda-driven researchers come in, they tend to blow things out of proportion. Those are studies try to push their own beliefs as to what video games can do, and this if prevalent on both the anti- and pro-gaming sides. Whenever there is a "video games cause aggression" research thing, we always get defensive and point out every single flaw it has while bemoaning the fact that they're "wasting time!" not researching about cancer or some bullshit, and yet when a "video games help eyesight" suddenly, and hypocritically, we're all for it and mock the others for even thinking that video games could somehow be negative in any way and we don't scrounge the experiment with the same amount of scrutiny as the previous one. It's disgusting, to be frank.

I don't mean to question your science but if you do manage to prove a significant correlation between how loud sound is played and types of games then the only thing you prove is that violent games make people play loud sounds. You have to link loud sound to increased violent tendency before you jump all the way over there. Also, brain wave activity is a subject with so many variables that trying to prover a link like this is kind of sketchy. It would take a very controlled test to positively prove anything and even then might not hold up to future research. The fact that nobody has been able to prove this either way should tell us something about the exercise as a whole.

I find it interesting how he starts with the statement that "scientists have known for years that playing violent videogames causes players to be more aggressive" and then goes on to use this conclusion to back up his later claim. Did I miss the part where this was actually established rather than being a very contentious issue?

Daystar Clarion:

9Darksoul6:
Why is it so hard for you (common gamers) to believe that seeing violent imagery in motion affects you senisitivity towards violence? Even more if you're actively causing it ("playing")...
Be rational. How could your subconscious possibly know the difference real-life violence from virtual violence? Is it really that hard to admit? I also play violent videogames, and it doesn't bother me.

Because my brain knows the difference between fictional violence and real violence.

The other day, I was chopping mutated humans into little pieces in Dead Space 2 without blinking an eye.

The other week, I saw a man with a broken leg, the bone sticking out of the skin and I almost threw up.

It's all about context.

No its because you though he was going to mutate into a necromorph and you have no plasma cutter.

Yes, thank you mister scientist.
You have been good, have a cookie.
Now go play with this ball.

No, not here. On the railroads.
No it's totally safe, I read it somewhere.

Now punch him in the face and see if THAT makes him temporarily aggressive.
Maybe rip the controller from his hands just before he beats the last boss see if he curses you.

Do we NEED to test the obvious?

What was the Control? or was one not defined .. some individuals have slow neurological responses to stimuli regardless of Medium

If you were playing Viva Pinata and all of a sudden somebody showed you a pic of somebody with a gun of course you are going to be more SURPRISED (which is a sensitive reaction) then if you were playing a game as gun-filled as Call of Duty. And CoD is neccesarily violent; just full of guns.

Its like showing a picture of a dead body to somebody who just watched CSI and somebody who just watched My Little Pony.

Or showing punching a Professional Boxer in the chest and punching a 12 year old in the chest.

And 25 minutes? Come on, there is no way you can get any fesible amount of data from almost anything after 25 minutes.

If I slapped you in the face for 5 minutes youd be much more "de-sensitized" to a slap at 5:01 minutes than somebody I had been giving hi-fives to for 5 minutes then slapped.

Edit: Plus, if you played a violent video game for 25 minutes (lets say mortal kombat 2011) if 5 hours later somebody whips off their face and yells "Toasty" you are probably just as likely to shit yourself as the person next to you.

Googooguru:
What was the Control? or was one not defined .. some individuals have slow neurological responses to stimuli regardless of Medium

Also, I'd like to know how many people they had in their study, you only see one.

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