When not deflating the findings of game-hating researchers, Texas A&M International University Associate Professor Christopher Ferguson often conducts his own studies, including a recent example which indicates that violent videogame players handle stress better than non-players and can actually feel less depressed and stressful following a session with aggressive games.
The Hitman Study: Violent Video Game Exposure Effects on Aggressive Behavior, Hostile Feeling and Depression (press release) was authored by Ferguson and his fellow TAMIU colleague Stephanie Rueda. The study included 103 students from a “Hispanic-serving public university” in the Southern U.S. 62 were male and 41 were female, with 98 Hispanics, three Caucasian and two who declined to answer.
The authors utilized a Paced Auditory Serial Addition Task (PASAT), which involves an accelerating sequence of simple numbers, in order to cause frustration in the participants. Those being studied played one of three games (Hitman: Blood Money, Call of Duty 2 or Madden 2007) post-PASAT. Madden was used in order to allow the researchers to “include a game with action, yet which was non-violent.”
Additionally, a fourth “no-game” control group was also used, in which participants were told that a technical malfunction would not allow them to play a game. This condition allowed “for the three video game conditions to be compared to time-related “cool down “from the initial frustration of the PASAT task.”
Ferguson and Rueda also utilized a version of the Taylor Competitive Reaction Time Test (TCRTT), in which participants are pitted against fictional opponents (which those being studied think are real) in a reaction time game. Participants, if they win, can choose both the “intensity and duration” of the blast” aimed at their “opponent.” The researchers also used various methods to measure videogame playing habits, aggressiveness, hostile feelings and depression severity. A follow-up survey was also conducted.
The researchers concluded:
No evidence was provided that short-term exposure to violent video games either increased or decreased aggressive behavior in the laboratory. Similarly violent game exposure in real life was not related to laboratory aggression. Given the use of effect size confidence intervals we can conclude that our evidence contradicts both the social learning and catharsis hypotheses regarding violent video game effects on aggressive behavior.
As with aggressive behavior, the evidence did not support that short-term randomized exposure to violent video games either increased or decreased hostile feelings or depression. By contrast long-term exposure to violent video games was associated with reduced hostile feelings and depression following a stressful task. Subjects who were exposed to violent video games were not less aggressive, but they were less hostile and depressed.
It was also noted that violent videogames could possibly considered as “mood management tools,” which could help treat mood disorders and other health-related issues.
Taking a little jab at other researchers, the pair added:
The fervor over violent video games which has become intensely politicized (we would argue this unfortunately extends to the scientific community) may be ‘much ado about nothing.’ In the end, a game may simply be a game.
Two caveats were posed about the study however: the sample of predominantly college Hispanic students should not be applied to “non-college populations” or to “other ethnic groups,” while “generalizing results using laboratory aggression measures… to serious acts of physical aggression or violence must be undertaken with the greatest caution, given the external validity limitations of such measures.”