Research: Competitive Games Cause More Aggression Than Violent Games

Some early research from Brock University in Canada seems to indicate that playing highly competitive video games may lead to aggressive behavior faster than playing games with more violent content. Competitiveness, says a new study published by the American Psychological Association, may be "the main video game characteristic" that influences or causes aggression.

In a series of experiments lead by Paul J.C. Adachi, M.A., a PhD candidate at Brock University in Canada, video games were matched on "competitiveness, difficulty, and pace of action." Researchers found that video game violence did not elevate aggressive behavior on its own. The more competitive games produced "greater levels of aggressive behavior" than less competitive games, no matter how much violent content was found in the games.

In one of the experiments, Adachi selected 42 college students (25 men and 17 women) to play one of two video games, Conan or Fuel, for 12 minutes. Both games were even when it came to competitiveness, difficulty and pace of action, but differed in levels of violence. After participants finished playing the game, they were then told they were going to take part in a separate food tasting study. Participants had to make up a cup of hot sauce for a "taster" who they were told did not particularly like hot or spicy food. The participants could choose from one of four different hot sauces (from least hot to most hot) for the taster to drink. The authors found that there was no significant difference in the intensity and amount of the hot sauces prepared by the participants who played "Conan" and those who played "Fuel." The authors concluded that video game violence alone was not sufficient to elevate aggressive behavior.

In the second experiment, Adachi had 60 college students (32 men and 28 women) play one of four video games: Mortal Kombat versus DC Universe, Left 4 Dead 2, Marble Blast Ultra, and Fuel. Afterward, the students completed the same hot sauce test from the first study. Electrocardiograms measured the participants' heart rates before and during video game play. On average, students who played the "highly competitive games" – Fuel and Mortal Kombat versus DC Universe – concocted what researchers called "significantly more of a hotter sauce" than participants who played Marble Blast Ultra and Left 4 Dead 2. They also had significantly higher heart rates.

"These findings suggest that the level of competitiveness in video games is an important factor in the relation between video games and aggressive behavior, with highly competitive games leading to greater elevations in aggression than less competitive games," wrote Adachi.

The full text of the study, "The Effect of Video Game Competition and Violence on Aggressive Behavior: Which Characteristic Has the Greatest Influence?," can be found here here (PDF).

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  1. 0
    vellocet says:

    Football is a real life competitive sport and I have yet to see any videogame perpetuate aggression as much as it does.  Whether it be aggression against others and/or aggression in retaliation.

  2. 0
    Austin from Oregon says:

    I agree. The study is well thought out with few assumptions not supported by the results. It still has a long way to go though, and I hope this student continues this line of research when they get their PHD.


    I have a suggestion for the next one, comparing L4D ragers to the blue shell effect. I guarantee having your win taken away on the last lap will result in much more aggressive behavior than just having a team member run off the roof as the tank.

  3. 0
    kagirinai says:

    See, THESE studies sound fascinating. The games/violence to aggression studies always seem a little biased in their approach, but this one seems to be trying to separate the myth and reality rather objectively. Time will tell, but these results make sense to me up front.

    With that in mind, I'd LOVE to see this done more comprehensively. Larger sample of people from different backgrounds (economic backgrounds, ages, ethnicities, gamers and non gamers), across a wider selection of games in tightly controlled conditions.

    For example; I'd like to see how something like, say, Minecraft measures when played on Peaceful, on Normal, and online in a moderated server and an unmoderated one. And I'd like them to measure more than just aggression, but try to see what other traits might be invoked by gaming and content under different circumstances.

    Ultimately, if enough data could be collected, we might be able to use this to create a predictive model — get a better sense of what kinds of play, mechanics and flavor produce which kinds of behavior and promote which kinds of growth and development. It might even have a drastic, OBJECTIVE impact on things like the ESRB — ratings could be altered based on the known responses made by specific constructions of games.

    Obviously, this sort of understanding is years away at best, and requires a few large, expensive studies to produce, but I think there's some fascinating information there that could be very useful in many applications.

  4. 0
    Kajex says:

    If they were playing MKvDCU and going against Superman, then yeah- they're going to be super-pissed when he does his game-hacking breathing move. 😛

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