Video Violence

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Craig A. Anderson, Ph.D., and Karen E. Dill, Ph.D.

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

April 24, 2000, Vol 78, No. 4, pgs. 772-790, Free at, or contact Craig Anderson at or at Dept. of Psychology, Iowa State University, W 112, Lagomarcino Hall, Ames, IA 50014.

Playing violent video games can increase aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behavior in real life, according to two new studies. Violent video games may be more harmful than violent television and movies because they are interactive and engrossing, requiring the player to identify with the aggressor.

The first study involved 227 male and female college students who were asked about their recent delinquent behaviors as well as their video game playing habits. Students who reported playing more violent video games in junior high and high school had more aggressive personalities, behaved more aggressively, and were more likely to report delinquent behavior in real life. In addition, students who spent more time playing video games had lower grades in college.

Of course, a study like this doesn't prove that playing the video games causes the increase in violence - it is possible that kids that are more violent like to play violent video games. However, the kids who played more violent video games were more violent in real life even if they did not have aggressive personalities.

The second study was designed to determine if violent games really do cause violent behavior. The 210 college students played either a violent or nonviolent video game. In the violent game (Wolfenstein 3D) the human hero chooses from an array of weapons to kill Nazi guards with the ultimate goal of killing Adolph Hitler. The game was chosen because it is blatantly violent, realistic and has human characters. The nonviolent game was Myst. The students were "tested" on three different days to see how well they played the game. On the third day, they were told to punish their opponent with an unpleasant blast of noise when the opponent lost. The students who played the violent game punished their opponent for a longer period of time than did students who had played the nonviolent video game. (To protect the students in the experiment, the opponents did not actually hear the noise, but the students thought they did).

The authors explain that violent video games teach kids to practice aggressive solutions to conflict. In the short run, playing a violent video game appears to affect aggression by encouraging a child to think violent thoughts. Over a long period of time, the player learns and practices new aggressive strategies and ways of thinking during the games, and he or she becomes more likely to use these strategies when real-life conflicts arise.

Why does this happen? Many violent video games involve learning how to be more effective at destroying an opponent. According to the researchers, this makes video games potentially more dangerous than exposure to violent television and movies, which are known to have substantial effects on aggression and violence.

Karen Dill, one of the authors, told Youth Today that adults should be concerned if someone is spending a lot of time playing violent computer games. "They aren't just games - they can have a serious effect, so consider it a red flag, and take it seriously" she emphasized. She pointed out that the military uses video games to train troops for combat. Perhaps most important, she reminded us that it is easier to prevent a child from becoming violent than to rehabilitate one who is already violent.