Study: Non-violent Games May Enhance Pro-social Behavior

While researchers Douglas Gentile (left) and Craig Anderson have often been critical of violent video games, a new report from the Iowa State University professors indicates that non-violent games may enhance pro-social behavior in chidlren.

As reported by isciences, an Iowa State reasearch team led by Gentile and overseen by Anderson studied school children in Singapore, Japan as well as college students in the United States:

College students… who were randomly assigned to play prosocial games (Chibi Robo and Super Mario Sunshine) behaved more prosocially… in a subsequent task than those who played either neutral (Pure Pinball and Super Monkey Ball Deluxe) or violent video games (Ty2 or Crash Trinsanity). Those who played the violent games engaged in more harmful behaviors…

"Video games are not inherently good or bad," wrote the researchers in the paper. "Video games can have both positive and negative effects.

"Content matters, and games are excellent teachers," they continued. "Violent content in video games can lead people to behave more aggressively. Prosocial content, in contrast, can lead people to behave in a more cooperative and helpful manner."

VG Researcher has more. Read the study abstract here.

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  1. JustChris says:

    For those of you who still remember, the instruction booklet for the first Super Mario Bros. paints a darker story. The "koopa tribe" magically turned the peaceful inhabitants of the Mushroom Kingdom into bricks, plants and boulders. So even when you smash bricks, you are harming people!


  2. nefermore says:

    I think the problem with a lot of these violence studies is they generalize the violence in the games.   You have to play the games to see where the real problems are.   Your not going to get gamers to go along with the idea that they cant slay enemy and feel like a hero in someway and get upgraded for it.    You can however get more personal with the games that are being looked at and see there IS a problem.   The developers them selves are adding little things that nudge the player into a more negative personality perspective. One that is socially hostile.   You don’t really want gamers for instance killing neighbors pets but in many of these games free kills[easy] of helpless pet or livestock animals is added as a "fun" part of games.   What really needs to be looked at is the personality that the game is nudging the player to portray.  Why do devs do this?   Honestly I think some of them are playing a game of their own to see just how far they can push the envelope.







  3. Avalongod says:

    It is, of course, a matter of degree.  Compared with JT almost anyone is going to seem like "the voice of reason".  It is worth noting that this research group has accepted grant funding from The National Institute of the Media and the Family in the past (and I think Dr. Gentile is actually on their board).  Although this doesn’t mean we should necessarily discard anything that they say, I think it could point to an obvious "axe to grind" with which we should be aware (particularly since the same group like to complain that any of their critics are "in bed" with the video game industry). 

  4. Soldat_Louis says:

    Well, this study is coherent with Douglas Gentile’s previous studies and talks. Among game critics, he’s always been "the voice of the reason" (as he demonstrated it during last year’s "Video games and violence" conference). I’ve already emailed him personally, and he offered me a very kind reply, though we had some disagreements. But at least, he’s someone we can discuss with (unlike You Know Which Disbarred Attorney).

    Furthermore, I’m quite relieved that video game studies no longer focus on negative effects and "negative games"… although I understand fellow GP readers’ concerns.

  5. Avalongod says:

    Not really.  I’d guess that a fair amount of students who are trying to "go along" with a study in the first place will also know enough not to admit dubiousness when asked.  I’m skeptical by nature, sure, but I have concerns that these "debriefings" work as advertised, although that goes for all psyche research, not just VG studies. 

  6. DarkSaber says:

    Gamers like to be rewarded in their games, it makes sense we would like to pass that feeling of accomplishment around! We’re all a bunch if hippies at heart! 


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  7. stinky42 says:

    Pro-social behaviors are definitely not passive,  well at least in terms of being passive instead of being active.  As far as prosocial behaviors being non agressive, for the most part they won’t be aggressive but this is not to say they can’t be somewhat.  Many team sports would likely both constitute prosocial behavior and have some degree of aggression.  However, it’s quite possible that the study’s operational definition of pro social is different.

    With all these studies it ultimately comes down to Albert Bandura’s Social Cognitive theory, which the two figures in the full study illustrate fairly well.  Basically kids acquire new behaviors by observing them. The likelihood that these behaviors will be enacted in the future is then affected by the consequences.  This actually leads to a rather interesting idea given that prosocial behaviors should generally have positive consequences and violent behaviors should generally have negative consequences.  Therefore, the positive effects of video games should generally outweigh the bad.

  8. E. Zachary Knight says:

    I agree. Is it prosocial to defend someone who is being mugged? Is it prosocial to help someone cheat on a test? What exactly do they mean by prosocial?

    If they wanted to study prosocial behavior, perhaps they would have done better to have people play co-op games of varying violence levels. That would be cool.

    I still want to see a better study of aggression caused by gaming. I would like to see a study done with people playing various competitive games. Games can include, FPS, RTS, Sports, Party and even non video games like card games. Under card games you can have people play Hearts and Spoons and see how aggression levels change playing those compared to games.

    The point is, they are really aiming narrowly without any idea of the broader subject. When doing research like this, you need to start large and slowly narrow the study. Not start with a narrow test group and say you are done.

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  9. Brokenscope says:

    Define "prosocial"

    That is to say are all prosocial behaviors passive or non aggressive?

  10. SimonBob says:

    It does interest me that they specify children’s behaviour.  One of the key arguments of the adult gaming crowd is that M-rated games aren’t made for children, and this appears to confirm that.  But that said, I suspect the effects are more subtle than the report lets on.  After watching a violent movie, people feel a little more aggressive; after a few sitcoms, they’re relaxed and more cheerful.  It’s the same with games.  You’re going to get different reactions out of two people if one of them was just playing CoD4 and the other was on Kirby’s Adventure.

    The post on VG Researcher also mentions that the results determined prosociability and aggression weren’t mutually exclusive — it’s a complicated spectrum.  This is one of those cases where I suspect an awful lot of people are going to jerk their knees and end up banging them on the underside of the desk when they should be keeping cool and reading the full report.  (And that’s on both sides of the debate.)

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  11. SimonBob says:

    I don’t think they mean "social" as in getting along with people, but rather in participation with society.  Mario Sunshine’s pro-environment message would be a good choice for that — presumably after playing, the subjects were observed placing their trash in appropriate receptacles on a more consistent basis.

    Edit: on further investigation, it seems the level of sociability was determined by getting the subjects to pick out a selection of tangram puzzles for a partner who they were told would try to solve them quickly to earn a gift certificate, then seeing if they gave them the easier or more difficult ones.  The pro-social players did trend towards giving the easier puzzles, and there was a greater difference between the pro- and the neutral versus the neutral and the anti-.  Very interesting result.

    The Mammon Philosophy

  12. olstar18 says:

    Seems to me the results of this study were predestined. What about games that are social and violent like left 4 dead.

  13. Vake Xeacons says:

    As non-violent as Mario is, how is it prosocial? It’s single player. Did they try any MMOs like Animal Crossing?

    While we need to take any and all studies with a grain of salt, this one does seem to be more non-biased than most. I still believe many of these "effects" of games, good and bad, are pretty mild and can be self-controlled.

  14. Wolfemann says:

    I’m with Avalongod here.  To embrace this study ends up putting us in the same boat as Hollywood – "Our media can’t make people do bad things!  But it makes them do good things all the time!"

    More importantly, I’m with several folks who’ve pointed out that their methodology is… questionable.

    Chibi Robo and Mario Sunshine?  Well… I know one of them involves earning your keep as a tiny little robot trying to help out around the house, so I guess that’s pro-social.

    Ty 2 though?  Well… more violent than Chibi Robo (I think), but it’s not pro-social to try saving your friends and neighbors from an invading force (or is that the plot to Ty 1?)

    At any rate… yeah, pro-social, neutral, anti-social are things I’d want to see defined, along with ‘pro-social’ behavior.  I mean… okay, how about Call of Duty?  Last I checked, fighting the Nazis was generally considered a good thing to do….

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  15. Avalongod says:

    I hate to be a kill-joy about this, but I think this is simply part of their larger agenda to show how large an impact games supposedly have on behavior, and if people would only play nice sweet prosocial games, how everything would be right with youth-today.  To view this as a pro-game study would be a serious mistake.  Just my opinion.

    As with many of these studies (prosocial or aggression) I’d be concerned that the participants are able to guess the hypothesis and just try to give the results the scientists want.  Particularly since many of these studies use psychology students, the participants are probably pretty good at guessing the hypotheses.

  16. SimonBob says:

    VG Researcher says that a debriefing screening process was used to weed out participants who may have suspected the nature of the experiments.  They also used a range of ages down to the fifth grade.  You’d have to be a real psycho to get past that level of scrutiny.

    The Mammon Philosophy

  17. Vake Xeacons says:

     Likewise. I’ve always been a bit of a loner, and have always stuck to single players. I don’t do a lot of multi-players, especially competitive game play cause I always get my ass kicked (and I do so well against a computer, too…sigh)

    While I do believe games DO have positive effects, and it’s only logical to say the opposite is true, this study can go into the games-are-evil-study bin.

  18. Fedule mk II says:

    Ty 2? Crash Twinsanity? Violent? Really?

    Super Mario Sunshine, personal? (can’t speak for Chibi Robo)


    …no, I’m going to go ahead and say this study is worthless.

  19. Praetorian says:

    Hmmm, it’s funny I never feel more social after I play a non-violent game.

    Besides, how much fun can you have as mario–pretending to be a mad italian jumping on turtles…


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