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The Effect of Video Games and Computers on Young People
Research has yet to establish a reliable causal link between video game play and aggressive
behaviour. The `bi-directional model' proposed by Gentile and Anderson suggests that
although playing violent video games may cause an increase in aggressive behaviour, it is just
as likely that people who already have personality traits that orient them to more aggressive
behaviour, preferentially select violent video games for recreational purposes.
A study by Wei and Lo studied how 40 undergraduate students played two violent online
games. They found that students who had previously scored higher on a questionnaire rating
physical aggressiveness played more aggressively, with more frequent violent interactions
including punching, kicking and shooting. This research suggests that the bi-direction model is
correct, and that people who are already more aggressive are more likely to play
aggressively in violent video games. However this is a self-report study using
questionnaires, and the results may have been affected by social desirability bias- in general,
aggression is not seen as socially desirable, so some students may have lied about their own
Another correlational study of 600 adolescents by Gentile and Anderson found that time
spent playing video games positively correlated with aggressive feelings, arguments with
teachers and a greater number of physical fights- even in children with lower levels of
aggression in their personality. This research suggests that video games do have an effect on
a person's aggression levels, even if they are not as predisposed to violence in their
personality to begin with. However, it can be argued that the correlation does not prove that
video games were the cause of the heightened aggression levels- there may have been an
intervening variable which was the cause.
It has also been suggested that desensitisation to violence may occur when people become
used to playing violent video-games, and are therefore less likely to show a response (e.g.
disgust) to violence in reality. Is such aversions to violence are missing; this may lead to a
greater propensity to violent behaviour.
Carnagey studied the effect of playing violent computer games on later responses to
real-life violence. Participants were asked about their usual playing habits and then randomly
allocated to two conditions- the first played violent video games for 20 minutes, and the
second played non-violent video games for 20 minutes. All participants then watched a film
depicting real-life violence and their galvanic skin response and heart rate was measured.
Both the GSR and HR were lower in the P's from the first condition. Their lowered
physiological response suggests that the violent video games had desensitised them to
real-life violence. However, it can be argued that even though the P's from condition 1 had a
lower physiological reaction to violence, this does not mean that they are any more likely to
commit acts of violence themselves. The validity of this research can also be called into
question, as the P's only witnessed a film- their reactions may have been different if violence
was actually occurring around them.
Porter and Starcevic suggest that `interactive' media violence in video games may exert a
greater influence than `passive' media violence in TV and films, as games actively reward
violent behaviour and convey a message that violent responses are appropriate and
effective. They also suggest that video games lack a `moral script' to guide behaviour.
Because of the fast-paced action, players have little time to consider the consequences of
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A longitudinal study by Anderson et al followed 430 7-9 year old children over one school
year. They found that children who has high exposure to violent video games became more
verbally and physically aggressive and less pro-social (as rated by themselves, teachers and
peers). This research suggests that repeated exposure to violent video games increases
aggressive behaviour, and decreases pro-social behaviour.…read more