Study: No evidence to support link between violent video games and behavior

A common argument in the violent video game (VVG) literature is that the greater the realism of a game, the more it activates aggressive concepts, and the greater antisocial effects it will have on its players. In a newly published paper, David Zendle investigates the relationship between violent video games and players actions.

LRN Media interviewed Dr. Zendle to gain greater insight into this research:

[LRN Media] What motivated this research?
[Dr. Zendle] There’s a lot of research out there that asserts that playing violent video games will naturally make players more violent – but I didn’t see that reflected in my friends, family – and, indeed, the gamers I interviewed during my research. So I thought it would be interesting to test whether this link really did exist.

[LRN Media] What did you want to understand?
[Dr. Zendle] Influential models of player behaviour assert that playing video games leads to priming, and that this priming effect leads to important changes in player behaviour – more specifically, these models assert that playing violent video games leads to the priming of violent concepts, which in turn leads to violent behaviour. I wanted to understand whether playing games really did lead to priming.

[LRN Media] How did you study it?
[Dr. Zendle] Previous research has often used commercial, off-the-shelf games as experimental conditions, which can be messy and corrupt experimental results. By contrast, we custom-built bespoke versions of  games which varied only in terms of the things that we wanted to test. For instance, in one study we wanted to understand whether greater realism would lead to greater effects on players – so instead of using two different commercial games that varied in realism, we instead built one single game ourselves, and then tweaked it so we had a ‘more realistic’ version and a ‘less realistic’ version. We then exposed gamers to both versions of the game, and studied their reactions. This research was conducted with a much larger sample size than most previous experimental research on video games, and also used this painstaking methodology to increase its validity.

[LRN Media] What was your main finding?
[Dr. Zendle] We found no evidence that playing a game primes in-game concepts, and therefore we found no support for theories which claim that playing violent games leads to priming which (in turn) leads to violent behaviour. We also found that increasing the realism of violent video games in a variety of ways did not lead to increases in priming. This suggests that increasing the realism of violent video games may not increase their effects – or at least increase their effects that are determined by priming mechanisms.

[LRN Media] Why is your research important?
[Dr. Zendle] The idea that the violent concepts in video games prime violent concepts, leading to violent behaviour has been around for decades. This research suggests that this model of video game effects is a phantom – video games just don’t affect their players this way. However, it’s important to note that more work is needed – particularly when it comes to the effects of video games on children, and the effects of extreme content in violent video games.

The study, Behavioural realism and the activation of aggressive concepts in violent video games, was co-authored by Daniel Kudenko and Paul Cairns.

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