Study: Violent Video Game Players are More Aggressive, Desensitized

A new University of Missouri study found that the brains of violent video game players became less responsive to violence, which in turn diminished brain response to violence.

"Many researchers have believed that becoming desensitized to violence leads to increased human aggression. Until our study, however, this causal association had never been demonstrated experimentally," said Bruce Bartholow, associate professor of psychology in the MU College of Arts and Science.

Seventy young adults were randomly assigned to play a non-violent or violent video game for 25 minutes. Immediately following the game time, researchers measured brain responses as participants viewed a series of neutral photos. Next, players competed against an opponent in a task that allowed them to give their opponent a controllable blast of loud noise. The level of that noise blast the participants set for their opponent was the measure of aggression, according to researchers.

The researchers found that participants who played violent games (Call of Duty, Hitman, Killzone and Grand Theft Auto) set louder noise blasts for their opponents during the competitive task. This, researchers say, means that they were more aggressive than participants who played a non-violent game. In addition, for participants that had not played many violent video games before completing the study, playing a violent game in the lab caused a reduced brain response to the photos of violence – which they say is an indicator of desensitization. This reduced brain response predicted participants’ aggression levels as well: the smaller the brain response to violent photos, the more aggressive participants were.

Participants who had already spent a lot of time playing violent video games before the study showed small brain response to the violent photos, regardless of which type of game they played in the lab.

"The fact that video game exposure did not affect the brain activity of participants who already had been highly exposed to violent games is interesting and suggests a number of possibilities," Bartholow said. "It could be that those individuals are already so desensitized to violence from habitually playing violent video games that an additional exposure in the lab has very little effect on their brain responses. There also could be an unmeasured factor that causes both a preference for violent video games and a smaller brain response to violence. In either case, there are additional measures to consider."

Bartholow added that future research should focus on ways to moderate media violence effects, especially among individuals who are habitually exposed. He cites surveys that indicate that the average elementary school child spends more than 40 hours a week playing video games. Because young children spend more time with video games than any other forms of media, researchers say children could become accustomed to violent behavior as their brains are forming.

"More than any other media, these video games encourage active participation in violence," said Bartholow. "From a psychological perspective, video games are excellent teaching tools because they reward players for engaging in certain types of behavior. Unfortunately, in many popular video games, the behavior is violence."

Source: Source: University of Missouri-Columbia

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  1. 0
    edmoss87 says:

    With this tudy, they have combined the airhorn test with an assertion that is already established – that violent media desensitises you to violent media. The airhorn test has been discredited and the asserton is rather insignificant.

    The problem is that non-scientific types (often tabloid journalists) make the dubious connection between desensitisation to media and desensitisation to real-life violence, putting words in the mouths of the researchers. 

  2. 0
    axiomatic says:

    The problem I have with this is that is not the games that are the cause, its just human nature.

    I remember a psycological test video I watched in high school where there was a test done where they would bring in people off the street and ask them to shock someone behind a one way mirror. The twist though was that it was not the guy getting shocked who was the test subject it was actually the person pulled off the street was the test subject, and the test was, how badly was a randon person pulled off the street willing to torture someone in the name of science. Some of the subjects would only turn the knob, that went from 1 to 10, up to maybe 3 and thats as far as they were willing to go and others would crank it up to 10 right from the get go.

    How this applies to this gaming subject is that people react differently to this test and not in the way one would think it would tyurn out. In the shock test one of the interesting points was that they noticed that it was the more shy and reserved types that were more willing to turn that knob up to 10 and the more outspoken people were usually in the 4 to 8 range.

    The point being that just because someone gets aggressive while playing a violent games does not mean that they are more predispositioned to getting a high powered rifle and finding the closest bell tower to snipe at innocents. The two just do not correlate like is being opined in this study.

    This is of course just my opinion.


  3. 0
    gamegod25 says:

    In other news: Lazy phsychologists are still trying to pass off BS studies as real science.

    And coming up next in the weather: a flood of faceplams is spreading across the country…

  4. 0
    lordlundar says:

    It’s the games that make me want to do that? I thought it was dealing with morons who don’t acknoledge anything but themselves being out in public that did that.

  5. 0
    Mr. Peacock says:

    This once again prooves my theory that playing video games makes me want to blast loud noises at random people on the street.  The only problem is that I seemed to have misplaced my airhorn.

  6. 0
    Neeneko says:

    Well, that IS how myths work.  There has been some good science (actual science) regarding how the brain processes things it hears over and over….

  7. 0
    Avalongod says:

    They may not necessarily be "funded" by an outside source.  Academics have to do research just as part as their usual job.  This kind of thing wouldn’t have cost much.

  8. 0
    cpu64 says:


    BS research causes gamers to become angry and hate psychology.

    So this loud blast, how does it compare to the vuvuzela played during soccer games? Does that mean soccer fans get violent because they play call of duty before the games? If they all played a Hello Kitty game, would it make them all sit quietly and behave during the game?

    Violent games desensitize people? really? So people who choose to do autopsies for a living, which really requires someone to be completely desensitized to gore, must log in hundreds of hours playing gears of war?

    Why are these pointless researches even funded? Go research why women are so random. There’s something you can spend years trying to figure out. 

  9. 0
    Avalongod says:

    This is from Bushman/Bartholow, colleagues of Anderson and always come to the same conclusion.  the methods used in this study have long since been discredited.  Nothing to see here, move along.

  10. 0
    Chris Kimberley says:

    Makes me wonder what the volume levels of the games are like.  Because I know that the games they list tend to be louder than, say, Peggle.  And I could easily see the volume you’ve just gotten used to affecting how loud a noise you’d send someone else.


    Chris Kimberley

  11. 0
    Vinzent says:

    Oh, and playing High School Football is like meditation, making boys tolerant and sensitive to the pain of others. news at 11.

    Sorry, I can’t stop the sarcasm.

  12. 0
    Vinzent says:

    Newsbreak: People climbing into a warm bath eventually become used to the temperature!

    Our exhaustive studies over a period of 45 minutes show that when a person spends at least 5 minutes in a warm bath, when they climb out they complain about cold temperatures in the air, even though the air is clement. If we immerse them in another warm bath, they seem to be immediately acclimatized.

    We conclude that taking a warm bath permanently raise a human’s body temperature. Government should enact regulations to lower the temperature of bath water before children begin to boil.

  13. 0
    RedMage says:

    So people become used to a particular type of media after spending time with it?  Groundbreaking.  It’s the same as in Anderson.  Aggressiveness increases at a correlative rate – the same rate during those who watch an episode of Bugs Bunny – but once again video games are singled out.

    They may be psychologists but language comprehension isn’t their strength because aggression =/= violence.  Why is this so hard?  

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