A recent review “Violent Video Game Effects on Aggression, Empathy, and Pro-social Behaviour in Eastern and Western Countries: A Meta-Analytic Review”, published by the American Psychological Association has used meta-analytic procedures to test the effects of violent video games on:
- Aggressive behaviour
- Aggressive cognition
- Aggressive affect
- Physiological arousal
- Empathy/desensitisation, and
- Pro-social behaviour.
Today more than ever young people are exposed to ever increasing quantities of graphic violence be it on the television, in film or through violent video games. This review has found that “evidence strongly suggests that exposure to violent video games is a causal risk factor for increased aggressive behaviour, aggressive cognition, aggressive affect and for decreased empathy and pro-social behaviour”.
The review was extensive and involved “70 independent effects involving over 18,000 participants from multiple countries, ages, and culture types, it yielded strong evidence that playing violence video games is a significant risk factor for bother short-term and long-term increases in physically aggressive behaviour”.
It is interesting to note that aggression in each culture differs greatly according to the nature of the communities which form them, “cultures characterised by collectivistic values, high moral discipline, a high level of egalitarian commitment, low uncertainty avoidance, and which emphasize values that are heavily Confucian showed lower levels of aggression than their counterparts” (Bergeron, N. & Schneider, B. Explaining cross-national differences in peer-directed aggression: A quantitative synthesis. Aggressive Behaviour, 2005, p.116).
The report would seem to suggest that within society as a whole the only inhibiting factors to increased aggressive behaviour are:
- Fear of retaliation
- Negative emotional reactions to images and thoughts of violence
- Moral beliefs opposing violence, and
- Pleasant situational events that put people in a good mood.
The study looked at both short term and long term effects of playing violent video games. It defined ‘short term effects’ as those in which a person plays a video game for a brief time (e.g. 15 mins) before relevant measure are obtained.
‘Long term effects’ are those that occur from repeated exposures over a relatively long period of time such as months or years. They found that long term effects mainly result from relatively permanent changes in beliefs that are brought about by repeated exposure to video game violence.
The report explained that “video games can be exciting, fun, frustrating, exhilarating, and boring. Being the target of potential harm, even in the virtual world of video games, is likely to prime aggressive cognitions and emotions and to increase physiological arousal”.
The main findings were:
- Exposure to violent video games was significantly related to higher levels of aggressive behaviour
- Playing video games over a long period of time increases aggression regardless of cultural restraints
- Video game violence (VGV) affects both the eastern and western cultures regardless
- Children are more susceptible than young adults to the effects of violent video games, and
- Violent video game exposure was positively associated with aggressive behaviour, aggressive cognition, and aggressive affect.
The study concluded that “playing violent video games is a causal risk factor for long term harmful outcomes. This is especially clear for aggressive behaviour, aggressive cognition and empathy/desensitisation.”
“It is true that as a player you are ‘not just moving your hand on the joystick but are indeed interacting with the game psychologically and emotionally’. It is not surprising that when the game involves rehearsing aggressive and violent thoughts and actions, such deep game involvement results in antisocial effects on the player.”
Writer Helen Splarn. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha.
Source: Violent Video Game Effects on Aggression, Empathy, and Pro-social Behaviour in Eastern and Western Countries: A Meta-Analytic Review. 2010 American Psychological Association 0033-2909/10 DOI: 10.1037/a0018251