Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Ever since the horrific incident at Columbine High School, violent video games and mass shootings have been intertwined. Now, a new study from an international team of researchers has found playing violent video games not only increases aggression but can also cause players to exhibit less self-control and more unethical behaviors.
The study researchers found these effects were strongest in teenage participants who scored high on a scale for moral disengagement – the capacity for an individual to convince themselves that ethics don’t apply in a certain situation.
According to study author Brad Bushman, the results of the study show far-reaching impacts of playing violent video games.
“When people play violent video games, they show less self-restraint. They eat more, they cheat more,” said Bushman, a professor of psychology and communication at The Ohio State University. “It isn’t just about aggression, although that also increases when people play games like Grand Theft Auto.”
Based in Italy, the study experiment began with more than 170 teenagers playing a violent video game, such as Grand Theft Auto III, or a non-violent game like MiniGolf 3D, for a total of 45 minutes. As the teens played, a bowl containing chocolate M&Ms was placed next to the gaming console. The participants were told they could eat the candy, but warned eating too much in a short time span was unhealthy.
The researchers watched as those who played the violent games ate over three times as much candy as the other teens, according to the study team’s report in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.
“They simply showed less restraint in their eating,” Bushman said.
After their gaming session, the teens were given a 10-item logic test in which they would get one ticket for a prize raffle for each question they got correct. After finding out how many answers they got right, the teens were told to take the appropriate number of tickets out of an envelope while not being watched.
Knowing exactly how many tickets were in the envelope, the researchers could later determine if a participant took more than they had earned. They found violent game players cheated about eight times more often than did those who played a nonviolent game.
The researchers also tested participants’ level of aggression by having them play a game with an unseen fictional “partner” for the chance to blast the loser with a loud noise through headphones. They found violent game players chose to blast their fictitious partners with louder noises that lasted longer than those who played nonviolent games.
“We have consistently found in a number of studies that those who play violent games act more aggressively, and this is just more evidence,” Bushman said.
Participants also completed a Moral Disengagement Scale, which quantifies how loosely a person holds themselves to high moral standards in all situations. The researchers found violent game players who scored higher on the scale, and were therefore more disengaged, were more likely to take extra tickets, eat more candy and act more aggressively – compared to those who played the nonviolent games.
“Very few teens were unaffected by violent video games, but this study helps us address the question of who is most likely to be affected,” Bushman said. “Those who are most morally disengaged are likely to be the ones who show less self-restraint after playing.”
He added that the effects were seen among both male and female participants.
“One of the major risk factors for anti-social behavior is simply being male,” Bushman said. “But even girls were more likely to eat extra chocolate and to cheat and to act aggressively when they played Grand Theft Auto versus the mini golf or pinball game. They didn’t reach the level of the boys in the study, but their behavior did change.”