Concern over the detrimental impact of violent video games may be unwarranted, according to a study published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry. The longitudinal study found that playing a violent video game every day for two months had virtually no impact on participants’ aggression or prosocial behavior.
Video games are exceedingly popular, and both scholars and citizens have voiced concern over the psychological impact of violent games. Scientific evidence has been inconclusive, with some studies suggesting that violent video games trigger aggressive thoughts and other studies failing to find such effects.
The majority of existing studies have tested the immediate effects of short-term gameplay, but study authors Simone Kühn and her team say that findings from these studies might represent priming effects. For example, an increase in aggression following an hour of violent video game playing might simply indicate that the violent game made aggressive thoughts more accessible. To look beyond priming effects, Kühn and her colleagues focused their experiment on the long-term effects of regular violent gameplay.
Adults between the ages of 18 and 45 were randomly assigned to one of three groups. The violent video game group was assigned to play the video game Grand Theft Auto V for at least 30 minutes a day for two months. An active control group played a non-violent video game, The Sims 3, for the same amount of time. Finally, a passive control group was not assigned to play any video game but was tested alongside the other participants. None of the participants had any prior experience with the two video games, and all subjects reported little to no video game usage in the past six months.
The participants completed a wide array of assessments prior to and immediately following the two-month video game intervention. They also participated in a follow-up assessment two months after the intervention ended. The assessments covered various psychological domains and included multiple measures of each construct. These constructs included aggression, empathy, prosocial behavior, impulsivity, anxiety, depression, and executive control.
The researchers ran two separate analyses to compare the scores of participants who played the violent video game to the scores of those who played the nonviolent game or no game. They also ran an analysis to see if those who played the violent game scored differently before and after the intervention. None of these analyses revealed any detrimental effects of the violent video games, suggesting that fears surrounding the negative impact of violent video games may be unfounded.
The results ran contrary to previous studies demonstrating that violent games promote aggressive thoughts and decrease prosocial behavior. However, former studies have mainly revealed short-term effects and discrepant findings. The current study revealed that two months of playing a violent video game on a daily basis was not associated with increases in aggression or decreases in empathy, neither immediately after the intervention nor at a follow-up two months later.
“To our knowledge, the present study employed the most comprehensive test battery spanning a multitude of domains in which changes due to violent video games may have been expected. Therefore the present results provide strong evidence against the frequently debated negative effects of playing violent video games,” Kühn and colleagues write.
Since the study was conducted among an adult sample, the authors say that further research is needed to explore whether violent video games have any impact on children.
The study, “Does playing violent video games cause aggression? A longitudinal intervention study”, was authored by Simone Kühn, Dimitrij Tycho Kugler, Katharina Schmalen, Markus Weichenberger, Charlotte Witt, and Jürgen Gallina.