How violent video games change people

bullet stormIn 2011, the Supreme Court upheld a federal appeals decision to remove California’s ban on selling violent video games to minors. Despite claims that violence in games may desensitize young people and lead to future violent behavior, US Supreme Court and the Australian Government declared current research as flawed and non-compelling.

Since, there’s been an explosion in research on what effects, whether psychological or physiological, violent video games have on people who play them.

kids playing

In an interesting study, Farrar et al. found that gamers are more violent towards human-like opponents. Players were assigned two versions of Quake: one with enemies resembling humans and one with enemies that do not resemble humans. The researchers found that players acted more aggressively (by being more verbally aggressive and using more violent words) towards human-like enemies than towards non-human enemies.


Just this month, Ivarsson et al. published on how the amount of violence in video games results in significant physiological differences during sleep. 30 adolescent boys, half of whom regularly play > 3 hours of violent video games and half of whom do not were asked to play either a nonviolent or violent video game for 2 hours. Researchers noted that each combination (e.g. nonviolent gamer playing violent video game) was significantly different from the others in terms of mean heart rate during sleep, heart rate variability, and subjective measure of mood (via questionnaire). Specifically:

During sleep, there were significant interaction effects between group and gaming condition for HR (means [standard errors] for low-exposed: NVG 63.8 [2.2] and VG 67.7 [2.4]; for high-exposed: NVG 65.5 [1.9] and VG 62.7 [1.9]; F(1,28) = 9.22, p = .005). There was also a significant interaction for sleep quality (low-exposed: NVG 4.3 [0.2] and VG 3.7 [0.3]); high-exposed: NVG 4.4 [0.2] and VG 4.4 [0.2]; F(1,28) = 3.51, p = .036, one sided), and sadness after playing (low-exposed: NVG 1.0 [0.0] and VG 1.4 [0.2]; high-exposed: NVG 1.2 [0.1] and VG 1.1 [0.1]; (F(1,27) = 6.29, p = .009, one sided)


Researchers in Taipei found that blood flow in the brain is altered when playing video games. Cerebral blood flow decreased for both violent and nonviolent games. More interestingly, they found among their subjects (30 healthy young people familiar with video games) there was a strong correlation between the decrease to the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the number of characters killed while playing games. The ACC is hypothesized to regulate violent behavior.

Playing violent video games have yet to be shown as an accurate predictor violence. A three year study of 165 hispanic youth found that playing violent video games was not associated with youth violence. In contrast, well validated predictors include:

depression, antisocial personality traits, exposure to family violence and peer influences were the best predictors of aggression-related outcomes.

Recent research points towards a lot of significant changes violent video games have on players, but playing has yet to be validated as a risk factor for youth violence or violence later in life.

Source 1, 2, 3, 4, 5


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