Research and Stats Social Psychology

Episode 115 (Video): Violent Video Games – What Does the Research Say?

There’s always plenty of talk about the effects of video games (including this recent article on the positive and negative effects of video games. Recent research on violent video games is pretty conclusive and you’re not going to like it: there’s good evidence that people if you play violent video games you might be less likely to a) notice aggressive events, b) perceive fewer or less severe injuries, c) feel less sympathy for violence victims, and d) have less negative attitudes towards violence. In this video I take a close look at this research as well as one study which claims the complete opposite: that violent video games are perceived by players as merely “rough and tumble play” and that violence actually enhances performance. Who should you believe? The video is about 28 minutes long.

Resources on Video Game Violence

    • You’ll find links to lots of resources on violence video games at Craig Anderson’s web site.
    • Center for the Study of Violence
    • Carnagey, N.L., Anderson, C.A., & Bushman, B.J. (2006). The Effects of Video Game Violence on Physiological Desensitization to Real-Life Violence. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
    • Anderson, C.A., & Dill, K.E. (2000). Video games and aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behavior in the laboratory and in life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 772-790.



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  1. Avatar

    hots boost

    January 22, 2010

    I am not supporting the restrictions on gaming content, but yes the limitation on the age groups that have access to it. After all there is certain age after which people are able to clearly differentiate reality from fiction and develop a sense of justice. Having 12/ 13 years old playing games like Call of Duty has its risks and although the child may not necessarily become violent because of playing such game, it is certainly not healthy.

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    Chevaughan Scarlett

    January 22, 2010

    I think that video games are helping. Playing a video game actually releases anger or any stored up rage and you actually feel better after. You don’t even remember why you are angry any more.
    But more so, i’d say the only way you would find that Video games would be linked to physical violent behaviour is in a scenario of the person being introduced to a similar scenery and scenario as in the game he played. He would know how to react to such a scenario in a violent way if needed.
    I’m of 18 years of age pursuing a bachelors degree in Psychology and i’d say that video games are actually helping the society.

  3. Avatar


    January 22, 2010

    Hi Michael !
    Thank you for this episode & all the others =)
    I agree with Derek’s request above.It would be great if you could do an episode on anger,anger management,(venting) & maybe include some follow up research on video games & violence…Also if you could address if depression can be anger turned inwards that would be terrific and very interesting ! Thanks

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  5. Avatar


    January 22, 2010

    Dr. Britt,
    Psych student here loving most of your podcasts, very interesting stuff and I love how you present the information. De-sensitization of violence makes sense, similar to de-sensitization of poverty from the constant bombardment of charity organizations on TV. My first question was if VVGs showed any evidence of increasing a persons propensity to commit violent acts. Great episode!

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    […] Episode 115 (Video): Violent Video Games – What Does the Research Say? […]

  7. Avatar


    January 22, 2010

    You said you’ve played violent video games for years and you’ve never killed anybody but your situation is different from those of many young people exposed to violent video games. So are you saying your socio-economic standing, your family upbringing, etc., counteracted any violent tendencies the games may have instilled or fostered in you? Aren’t you then saying that sociological factors are what decide whether violent video games harmfully affect someone? It’s not the games themselves but the context in which the games are played? Kids reared in poverty, in disruptive families, with poor schools, affected by racism etc, with fewer hopes or opportunities are more likely to be negatively affected by violent video games? Is that what you’re saying? Isn’t that like saying kids who are beaten are more likely to hit? Kids with alcoholic parents are more likely to be alcoholics?

  8. Avatar


    January 22, 2010

    Thanks Pat. Yes – research on the effects of video games is HUGE. I picked what I thought were two interesting articles from that research, but there’s much more going on. I’m thinking of re-visiting the topic again in a future episode. Glad you liked this one.

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    Pat C.

    January 22, 2010

    This was an amazing episode. The information givin was more than I could have ever thought possible to actually see how big of an issue this can be.

  10. Avatar


    January 22, 2010

    Peter: yes, I have seen some of Chris Ferguson’s articles. In fact, he got in touch with me and sent me a couple of his articles. I read one of the in detail and I wasn’t convinced. However, I’ve been meaning to read a few more than just one. As you say above, this whole issue of the effects of violent video is one tangled mess. However, I’ll try to follow-up with another episode on it. Thanks for the comment!

  11. Avatar


    January 22, 2010

    Hi Michael,
    I know I’m about a year late commenting on this but I just recently started listening to your podcast and I’m loving it so far. And this topic happens to be something I’m passionate about.
    I wonder if you’ve come across the Christopher Ferguson articles that came out earlier this year (although probably after your podcast)? One was a direct comment on the Anderson study you cited. To be fair, I’ve only read summaries of the Ferguson studies so I can’t comment on how well carried out they were, but the points he makes carry some weight with me. The point is, more or less, that the correlation between violent video games and aggressive behavior is weak in most kids, and that in the small proportion of kids where the relationship is strong it could be just as likely that kids with aggressive tendencies may be more likely to play more violent video games in the first place.
    I certainly don’t think we should throw out Carnagie’s results, but I also don’t think lower anxiety while watching violence equates to actually committing real world violence or even as a serious risk factor for committing real world violence.
    The research will keep coming on this topic I’m sure. I have my biases but I’m still eager to learn where else the research takes us.
    Keep up the good work, Michael. I’ll try commenting on more recent articles in the future, too.

  12. Avatar


    January 22, 2010

    i do however agree that you are at risk (possibly) when your child is at a friends but Its the parents initiative and responsibility to meet the parents, talk with them to see what their values are and if they are on the same page as you are

  13. Avatar


    January 22, 2010

    i do think there is a big difference between violent video games and TV or movie violence. First off even though games are improving their graphics to a very impressive level its still not on the same realism level as TV and Movies. Second what is in your hand as you play a video game … A CONTROLLER even kids can understand that there is a difference between ccontrolling a pixelated character on your TV to do what you want it to do and real life. if you dont think so i challenge you to give a kid a controller and have them make their parents let them eat ice cream and candy for breakfast . Now instead of fiercer age restrictions on games lets challenge the parents to i dont know PARENT their kids instead of taking the lazy way out and depend on outside forces to do it for them. Here are some suggestions 1) know your childs maturity level it helps to know if your child is mature enough to play a violent video game and understand it as that, a video game. 2) new age consoles have family settings allowing the parent to controll the content being read on the console via a number scheme i.e. 3-very nonviolent material 8- very violent material
    3) why dont you just hold on to your kids games and dish them out accordingly that way you can controll what your child plays and for how long

  14. Avatar


    January 22, 2010

    @anonymous Do you admit there’s a difference in experience between playing (ie directing an avatar and performing violent acts and getting actively rewarded for it) a violent game and watching a violent TV show or listening to violent music? The involvement is different and more immersive for a game.

    I certainly agree that there is a lot of violence on TV and in music, far more than we really should have, so there’s no argument there. At least with TV they can try to filter exposure with time-slots, and they should do something similar with music, although I don’t notice it as much. Frankly I think the violence on TV is too graphic (CSI & other crime dramas, especially) and there’s too much prudishness (?) about sex and sexuality (but that’s another kettle of fish).

    What would you suggest instead of an age restriction on video games? They’re reasonably easy to get around, I agree, although they should stop underage people from purchasing the games in the first place, at least. After that, parents have a responsibility to try to protect and educate their children. If parents are disinterested enough to simply buy and let kids play all manner of violent games then that’s their prerogative and their fault. They can’t control (necessarily) what happens at a mate’s place, but then the mate’s parents should be watching too.

  15. Avatar


    January 22, 2010

    Are u serious. you all act so worried about younger kids playing violent video games but seem to ignore the fact that the movies of today are so much more violent and REAL than any videogame out there. and what about the music that REAL people sing or rap about that is very violent and lets not forget the cartoon violence. what im getting at is there is violence everywhere now you can either start pointing fingers or step up and teach the youth that there is a difference between REAL violence and fake violence. and for those people suggesting at fiercer age restrictions for kids and their videogames just remember back when you were a kid did something as stupid as an age restriction stop you from getting something you really wanted. if you answered yes than you are not part of the major population

  16. Avatar


    January 22, 2010

    I’ve certainly noticed that if I play Quake III (a first-person shooter) now I get very jittery – a little sweating, strong fast heartbeat, maybe even a little tunnel vision – so I won’t play for very long. I used to play it every lunchtime about 5 years ago and although I reacted to it then I think I react more now (in my early 30s).

    @aion database: I agree wholeheartedly. IMHO parents have a responsibility to monitor and control what their children are exposed to and to discuss it so if they are exposed to something disturbing then they can work through the experience and be better prepared or better able to deal with it next time. It ties in with the whole internet censorship debate, which is very pertinent at the moment in Australia with the federal government wanting to introduce mandatory filtering, simply assuming parents aren’t up to the job. (Sorry, a little hobby horse of mine.)

    I agree with you both, Ramsey and Purgatori, evidence that violence in video games is enticing but that it affects how you react to further stimuli are non-mutually exclusive things, especially with regard to an evolutionary perspective. Evolutionarily, we should be extremely happy to overeat sweet and fatty foods to our detriment because out on the savannah they were rare, so if you did find them it made sense to eat them all. We just haven’t evolved to live in the city yet (not in every respect anyway – rates for short-sightedness are over 90% in China’s city-based youth).

    Great ep, Michael.

  17. Avatar


    January 22, 2010

    I liked this episode and the new video format is interesting. It’s a little awkward listening in the car, but the only part of the presentation that really relied on visuals were the two graphs. 🙂

    Anyhoo, it occurred to me that a podcast on the psychology of anger management would be really interesting and possibly relevant to many of your listeners (especially fathers of small children, like me). 🙂

    All the best and keep up the great work.

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    […] Episode 115 (Video): Violent Video Games – What Does the Research Say? — The Psych Files Podcast. […]

  19. Avatar

    M Ramsey

    January 22, 2010

    Love this site (I’ve been coming here for awhile). I really like the recent episode but, like the poster named Purgatori, I did not see a “true” conflict between the two articles. Clearly, Carangie and colleagues were arguing that exposure to violent videogames decreases sensitivity to real-life violence. This seems, to me, to be different from Bosche saying that violence increases interest (liking) for a game and thus, players are more accurate.

    In other words, I don’t think Carangie et al. would claim that people are NOT interested in violent content, only that it has negative consequences in terms of desensitization. Although, in some sense you could argue that one study highlights the “darkside” of violent games and the other shows possible “positive effects” (i.e., increased accuracy) of violence.

    Again, this is a tremendous site for psychology–keep up the GREAT work!

  20. Avatar


    January 22, 2010

    As a psychologist-in-training myself, I certainly take stock of the findings in the first paper he talks about, but I would be extremely hesitant about generalizing an increase in short-term desensitization to subsequent violent behavior in the real world. Now we do know from studies such as those conducted by Albert Bandura, that children will ‘model’ violent behavior exhibited by adults, playmates, or movie/tv-shows, and videogames — but the effect is always short-term unless the children are subject to chronic exposure in the form of parental abuse or conflict and is not more pronounced in videogames. I would imagine, although I do not know for sure, that the same would apply with regard to this desensitization effect, so long as similar ‘reward states’ were presented during exposure to the violent stimulus.

    Also, I can’t see how these studies were actually making conflicting arguments, and I thought that the latter, despite its methodological flaws such as small sample size, was the more enlightening of the two, since it ties quite nicely into animal and evolutionary psychology, as well as multi-disciplinary research into play. It goes some of the way towards providing an account for why we find videogames enjoyable (i.e. they are an extension of the types of play that we, as predatory social mammals, naturally enjoy engaging in), whereas the Carnegie study merely documents a response curve which may or may not be revealing about certain types of violent behavior.

  21. Avatar


    January 22, 2010

    Aion: hard to argue with that. Some people can handle violent video games – perhaps because of age/personality/maturity, or family support – and others are just more vulnerable and therefore just shouldn’t be playing them.

  22. Avatar

    aion database

    January 22, 2010

    Parental Control is probably the best solution to lessen the negative effects of video games to younger generation. I’m sure most of you will agree. By the way, I’m a gamer myself, anticipating for the release God of War III. I’ve seen its trailer and it’s just perfect, though there are some disturbing scenes which are not suitable for the young ones.

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    […] 24, 2010 by Wai Yen Tang I stumbled on the Psych Files podcast who evaluated two recent research studies on violent video games. One of which is a study that I […]

  24. Avatar


    January 22, 2010

    Tasha: glad you liked the episode. This one definitely did go longer than I usually like to go. Good suggestion for putting information regarding the time/length. I added that info to the notes just above the video player. I hope you are able to use the video for class and if you and/or your students have any feedback I’d be happy to hear it!

  25. Avatar


    January 22, 2010

    Matt: good questions. I think the research does point to a greater adherence to age restrictions on video games and more parental involvement in children’s video game playing. Also, I think research on how older vs. younger ages are affected by violent video games is worth investigating. Like you, I’ve played some violent video games and enjoyed them, and not noticed any negative effects, but I was in my 30s-40s at the time. I’ll wager that younger players are more negatively affected.

  26. Avatar


    January 22, 2010

    I love your video lessons! i would recommend posting the time/length of each one. I’m wanting to use the Violent Video Game segment but am not sure how long it is without watching the whole thing and am not sure how much time to allow myself to prepare for class. You do an excellent job!

  27. Avatar

    Matt T

    January 22, 2010

    Very interesting episode!
    So is the general slant of research done so far that violent video games make people/younger people have more violent behaviour/reactions?
    If so, does this just suggest that we adhere more stringently to age restrictions on video games for young people or does this apply to all of us?
    Also to what extent should the research be taken beside personal experience? I’m a sample size of one but if I’ve never noticed my behaviour change due to the violent video games I play does this mean I don’t have to worry about playing them?


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