Can violent video games affect children's behavior?

Study: Video games change human behavior

Violent games can encourage aggression, but playing together absorbs the negative effects. The problem is that many games rely on violent content, judge Austrian researchers.

More and more children and young people play at least occasionally on the computer or on the console. In the US it is already 99 percent of all boys and 94 percent of all girls. A new study shows how games can influence behavior. After consuming violent video games for a long time, the likelihood of aggressive behavior increases. At the same time, games with prosocial content promote the willingness of the players to help. Tobias Greitemeyer from the Institute for Psychology at the University of Innsbruck presented these results on Wednesday evening at an event organized by the Austrian Science Fund FWF.

Influence on all classes of the population

"The connection between aggressive behavior and violent computer games is not extraordinarily high, but it is significant," said Greitemeyer. Aggressive behavior, feelings and thoughts would increase, compassion and prosocial behavior decrease. The professor of social psychology explained that this is not because only people who are prepared to use violence would resort to aggressive games. The tendency towards more aggressive behavior after games such as first-person shooters runs through the entire population. The stronger the identification with the character in the game, the more aggressive the behavior afterwards. Greitemeyer and his team tested this using characters that can be personalized, shooters and the will to do harm to other people afterwards.

Another reason for the increased aggression lies in the transfer of the game to everyday life. The sooner an opponent is perceived as "inhuman", the lower the inhibition against using violence. Users of violent games would also tend to dehumanize their counterparts in everyday life and thus to everyday aggression, which they classify as harmless in relation to the events of the game. According to Greitemeyer, own aggressive behavior is not perceived that way.

Positive behavior reinforces

This influence on our behavior works in reverse as well. At the University of Innsbruck, games that aim to rescue or help, so-called prosocial games, were also tested. As with the violent games, a comparison group randomly played a neutral game such as Tetris. Afterwards, both groups were confronted with an emergency situation. Of the participants in the neutral game, only one in five helped, while more than half of the players in a prosocial computer game intervened. In addition, prosocial game players recognized words like help more quickly and donated more of their earnings than violent game players.

Although playing first-person shooters promotes aggressiveness, playing together can push this aspect into the background and promote the cooperative idea. In comparison, players who played violent games together even donated more than those who played neutral alone. "You can absorb the effects of violent computer games if you play them together," explained Greitemeyer. The problem remains, however, that around three quarters of all computer games contain violent sequences or actions and these usually have a better look and more sophisticated design. "The longer and more regularly computer games are consumed, the more stable the effects they cause," says the social psychologist.