Does playing violent video games cause aggression? A longitudinal intervention study

The concern stating that violent video games increase aggression has been a widespread fear. There have been done experimental studies to test this hypothesis, but they have focused on short-term effects. This study, however, focuses on long-term effects. It uses questionnaires, behavioural measures of aggression, sexist attitudes, empathy and interpersonal competencies, impulsivity-related constructs (such as sensation seeking, boredom proneness, risk-taking, delay discounting), mental health (depressivity, anxiety) as well as executive control functions. Results will be compared before and after 2 months of gameplay. Participants played Grand Theft Auto V, the Sims 3, and a control group was not playing games at all. There were no significant results observed between any of the three groups. Therefore, it served as a strong argument against the hypothesis that playing violent video games causes aggression.

The statement that playing violent video games increases aggression has been largely debated upon. There are two camps: one states that such games, indeed, increase violence, while the other camp denies such statement. According to the latter group, there is minimal or no effect. However, there are some inconsistencies in the methods of research and majority of existing studies were mostly focused on children. The studies also focused on short-term effects, assessed participants’ states directly after gameplay and, thus, received mainly the results of priming effect. This means that exposure to violent content increased violent thoughts. This effect is unlikely to have long-term consequences. The General Aggression Model (GAM) assumes that repeatedly primed thoughts and feelings have an effect on the perception of ongoing events and causes aggressive behaviour as a long-term effect. Although, our reading of the literature is that priming effects are short-lived; suggested to only last for <5 minutes.

We believe that no increases of aggression or decreases in behaviour even after long-term use of violent video games will occur. This is because our reasoning that priming effects of violent video games are short-lived and should not influence aggression. We assessed changes in the following areas: behavioural and questionnaire measures of aggression, empathy and interpersonal competencies, sensation seeking, boredom proneness, risk taking, delay discounting, and depressivity and anxiety as well as control of behaviour. Ninety healthy participants (48 of them were female) – who have not played GTA V or Sims 3 within the last six months – were recruited and separated into three groups. People with psychological or neurological issues were excluded. The first group played GTA V, the second played Sims 3 and the third group did not play games at all. The participants were tasked to play the games assigned to them for a two month period. They were assessed using questionnaires before and after that period. The results of the two gaming groups were compared to each other and against the non-gaming group. In total, 208 tests had to be done to test the hypothesis.

The results have shown that participants’ sex and age had no effect on supporting the hypothesis. Overall, in the group that played the violent and non-violent game, no significant results were found before or after the intervention. This means that violent video games do not cause increased aggression and reduced empathy in people.


Reference: Springer Nature – Molecular Psychiatry – https://doi.org/10.1038/s41380-018-0031-7

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