Researcher Disputes Study Equating Violent Games w/Aggression & Prosocial Games w/Helpfulness

Yesterday GamePolitics reported on a study detailed in the current issue of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin which found that violent game players displayed aggressive behavior while those who player more prosocial games exhibited helpful behavior. The study actually encompasses three seperate research projects which took place in Japan, Singapore and the United States.

But a researcher from Texas A&M disputes those findings. Prof. Chris Ferguson, who has frequently studied video game issues, commented on yesterday’s report which was authored by, among others, University of Michigan’s Brad Bushman and Douglas Gentile of Iowa State.

Of the Bushman-Gentile study Ferguson told GamePolitics:

You know trouble is brewing right in the beginning as they start with the false premise that there is an established relationship between video games and aggression. The authors engage in what’s called citation bias, which means they only cover research they like and ignore anything they don’t like. This is just not good science. Since this literature review is so slanted, that worries me about how they collected and analyzed their data.  

In [one study] they note that there is a high correlation between prosocial exposure and violent game exposure. This suggests that these may be some of the same games that have both kinds of content! They then suggest that there wasn’t a problem with multicollinearity (basically means if you include 2 predictors that are too similar it can screw up your results), yet they only say they had no VIF less than 10…yet even something as low as 4 or 5 is pretty high. So multicollinearity may have been a bigger problem than the authors try to suggest.  Therefore, there may be some serious problems with their analyses here.  

[Also] the authors say that prosocial exposure and violence exposure were very highly correlated and then claim they have completely opposite effects. That is just highly unlikely.

In [another study] the standardized coefficient between playing prosocial games and prosocial behavior… suggests that playing prosocial games had almost no overlap with prosocial behavior one year later. Here we have yet another example of a "significant" finding being touted even though it’s so small you’d never notice it in the real world. They also assert causality from correlational data which they can’t do no matter how they analyze it.

The final study is probably the best of the three, but it’s also the most artificial. Indeed, a fair number of their participants express suspicion about what went on. These kinds of studies have a high risk of "demand characteristics" In other words, students will give you the results they think you want and they won’t admit to it afterward. Also the resultant effect sizes are all pretty small.

So, at best, a mountain is being made out of a molehill here, and at worst there are some pretty serious flaws in all analyses. I do worry about the "tone" from this research group. They do not comprehensively cover the literature honestly, and appear to have a hypothesis that they favor from the get-go. That tone would lead me to question their objectivity and, as such, the quality of their analyses.

Bottom line  – I doubt you’d see prosocial games solve the world’s ills anymore than violent games have caused any outbreak of youth violence. 

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  1. Wolvenmoon says:

    Are you kidding? The military uses violent video games as a recruiting tool. Their target audience are the casual/basic/’xbox’ gamer. They’ll say whatever they think this audience wants to hear, because they want their target audience to be receptive to their message.


    They wouldn’t do an unbiased study, their bias would just be from the opposite side (meaning ours), which makes it just as flawed as one out to prove that violent video games turn us into ticking time bombs somehow magically no longer in control of our own actions.


    There is a grain of truth in the fact that immersion in violent media produces aggression, or should I say arousal which can result in aggression. (For the immature people snickering, please, get over it.) Arousal can be defined as being more on ‘edge’, more reactive, etc.

  2. jedidethfreak says:

    All of this is the exact same thing they’ve been saying about movies, television and radio.  For 150 years, these types of things have been said about whatever form of media was popular at they time by so-called experts looking to make a name for themselves.  I’ll believe some sort of grain of truth in a study of this type if and only if the United States Military does a study, because of the fact that they are the only group that won’t approach this with any sort of bias.


    Freedom of speech means the freedom to say ANYTHING, so long as it is the truth. This does not exclude anything that might hurt someone’s feelings.

  3. JacobAWD says:

     You seem to be a proud suporter of the 1st amendment, but seem hate it when I use it to be annoying. And besides your fighting with a 14 year old, called Eggo, over the internet because of a common word.

  4. DarkSaber says:



    I LIKE the fence. I get 2 groups to laugh at then.

  5. hayabusa75 says:

    I’m glad somebody finally said it, regarding the countdown thing.  It was starting to become the new facepalm.

    "De minimus non curat lex"

  6. Wolvenmoon says:

    Well, we can look at other forms of media and even social groups and how they influence people.

    There is no doubt in my mind that a ridiculous amount of immersion into very violent video games for an extended period of time (Read: 14 hours a day, 30 minutes total break, for something like 3 months) would cause someone to get violent, but that’s brainwashing and can be done with anything.

    Edit: This is what the nutjobs latch onto without realizing it. You can die by drinking too much water.

    Normal exposure will cause increased aggression (defined as reactivity, leaning towards ‘fight’ or flight’ in ‘fight, flight, freeze’ situations, an increased number of these types of responses, etc..aggression != violence or being harmful.)

    Edit:Okay, my bad. Wrong word still. The word I wanted was arousal as seen here:

    And no, I do not mean the second definition. tyvm.

  7. Shahab says:

    I get what you are saying, but so far the only half-way convincing studies I’ve seen have at best linked "violent" game play with "aggressive" behavior. I quote those since one of the biggest problems with most of the studies that I’ve read is their definition of said words. In terms of long term effects on of interactive media on behavior I’ve read not one credible study.

    I’ll not argue that what we play may have an effect on our behavior but if it does then we have no idea what those effects are.

  8. Wolvenmoon says:

    It’s human behavior folks. The basic conversation these researchers are having are saying:

    Group A1: Foilage makes people fart

    Group A2: Beans make people fart

    Group A3: Eggs make people’s farts smell really bad

    Group B1: But they aren’t farting constantly

    Group B2: Beans can be made so they don’t cause gas

    Group B3: But egg whites don’t!


    Non-research group A: By research teams A 1-3, people fart constantly when they eat.

    Non-research group B: Nuh uh! Our research says that people are only pre-inclined to fart. Nothing about what they eat changes how often they fart nor how bad it smells.


    The fact is, it’s human nature to eat, it’s human nature to fart. What humans eat directly influences what they fart. Not everyone is going to have explosive diarhea if they eat beans.

    Aggression is one of a plethora of human behaviors. Violent media temporarily affects aggressive tendancies. Aggression is not violence, though all violence is aggression. (We could monkey around to prove that statement false, but you know what I mean).

    Saying all/some violent video games have no affect on a person’s behavior is like saying flatulance is a figment of the human imagination/is sometimes imaginary. Saying all/some violent video games incite violent behavior in their players is like saying all/some foods cause explosive diarhea.

    So what are these studies, as skewed as they are, touching upon?

    "Violent video games have differing effects on differing people, though in general they increase aggressive tendancies"

    Which is to say:

    "Eating foilage, beans, and eggs have differeing effects on differing people, though in general they cause the digestive tract to work."


    I mean, come on people, it isn’t like blasting someone into chunks in UT makes you think of pretty flowers and unicorns singing along in a sunny meadow. (If it does, please don’t answer. LOL).


    Edit: I am not defending this particular study, but speaking about this entire genre of study. Some GP readers seem to forget what these studies are talking about, and what their games’ content actually is.

  9. Wormdundee says:

    Can we stop with the whole countdown from 3 thing? It got old way back when JT was going through his disiplinary stuff with the florida bar.

    Not to say I disagree with you, there’s always going to be someone who says that this guy misinterpreted the research methodology or something. 

  10. mdo7 says:


    Cue Bushman and Gentile saying this studies is flawed and say Ferguson is a gamer and defending video game because he a defenders of all video gamers and therefore no longer credible in 3…2…1.

  11. wintermute says:

    Just reading the original report was enough to tell there was a bias there.  It’s good we’ve still got people on the same level as the people putting out these reports to point out the flaws and discredit them.  As long as they’re around, we have a solid counterpoint to the "violent videogames makes our precious snowflakes into murderers" arguement.

  12. Ratros says:

    Can’t say I’m shocked.


    I once had a dream about God. In it, he was looking down upon the planet and the havoc we recked and he said unto us, "Damn Kids get off my lawn!"

  13. JustChris says:

    More disproving that agressiveness is not a link to violence. It is popularly used to descibe violence but it is not about violence.

    Agressiveness, in its usage of the English language, is a modifier for behavior. It does not represent a specific behavior. Aggressive boat rowing, aggressive selling, aggressive reading. None of these things make a connection to violence.


  14. Austin_Lewis says:

    I’m tempted to peer review this, but I’ll need to call my psychologist friend to do it to, and that seems like a lot of work…

    More shoddy research; not a real surprise.  It’s like reading the Brady Campaign’s website; same quality research.

  15. sirdarkat says:

     I would but they would discount it to quickly; who is the nut for the left?  They may believe that.

  16. sirdarkat says:

     Dammit he needs to stop discounting these studies … when I finally snap (after all I am a gamer =P) I want to be able to blame video games on my mental state with concrete evidence showing how it messed me up and then I want the gov’t to pay for my reabilitation in a nice insane assylum (you know the ones you see on tv not the ones from the 50s where they tortured you).

  17. DarkSaber says:

    Wow, idiots that say ‘First’ have even made it here now!


    I LIKE the fence. I get 2 groups to laugh at then.

  18. JacobAWD says:

    Realy, you had to figure that out?



    We don’t need the government, all we need is Medicare, Medicade, and Social Security!

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