Violent Video Games: More Play Time, More Aggression

Megan Brooks

December 19, 2012

The more people play violent video games, the more aggressive they become, hints a novel study that looks at cumulative effects of playing violent video games.

The study found that college students who played a violent video game for 3 consecutive days showed an increase in aggressive behavior and in hostile expectations each day they played, whereas those who played nonviolent games showed no meaningful changes in aggression or hostile expectations during that period.

Dr. Brad Bushman

"Theoretically, we predicted an increase over time, so nothing was too surprising," study investigator Brad J. Bushman, PhD, professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University in Columbus, told Medscape Medical News.

"Violent games may not be benign, and 'moderation' in life is key, as is parents knowing what their kids are really doing and watching for any changes in behavior," Don Hilty, MD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of California-Davis in Sacramento, told Medscape Medical News. He was not involved in the study.

The study was published online November 20 in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

Games Not Benign

Dr. Bushman, with coinvestigators Youssef Hasan and Laurent Bègue of the University Pierre Mendès-France, in Grenoble, France, and Michael Scharkow of the University of Hohenheim, in Germany, had 70 French university students play a violent or nonviolent video game for 20 minutes on each of 3 consecutive days. After each game play, participants took part in exercises that measured their hostile expectations and aggression.

The researchers found evidence that both hostile expectations and aggressive behaviors increased over time for violent video game players but not for nonviolent gamers.

"People who have a steady diet of playing these violent games may come to see the world as a hostile and violent place," Dr. Bushman commented in a statement. "These results suggest there could be a cumulative effect."

"After playing a violent video game, we found that people expect others to behave aggressively. That expectation may make them more defensive and more likely to respond with aggression themselves, as we saw in this study and in other studies we have conducted," he added.

Kids Desensitized?

This study lasted only 3 days, and Dr. Bushman said it is impossible to know for sure how much aggression may increase for those who play video games for months or years, as many people do.

"I would expect that the increase in aggression would accumulate for more than 3 days. It may eventually level off. However, there is no theoretical reason to think that aggression would decrease over time, as long as players are still playing the violent games," Dr. Bushman said.

Dr. Hilty said the fact that young people may spend hours playing violent video games "begs a question: Do kids 'get used' to the violence (desensitized), or do they or would they be more aggressive with hours per day, which most kids spend? The researchers would probably say they are more likely to act aggressively; hard to argue with that."

Overall, Dr. Hilty said that the study is "interesting [and] broadly fits in a general way with watching TV, doing too much on the computer, etc [in terms of] low mood, worries, and other disruptive behaviors [not specifically aggression]."

The authors and Dr. Hilty have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

J Exp Soc Psychol. Published online Nov. 20, 2012. Abstract