For science: New long-term study shows video games don’t make adults violent

Before we start, yes, I’m sure many of our readers are feeling a big wave of “duh” at the statement in the headline, but remember that testable results carry more weight than anecdotal evidence and feelings. And these results are solid.

As researchers Simone Kühn, Dimitrij Tycho Kugler, Katharina Schmalen, Markus Weichenberger, Charlotte Witt and Jürgen Gallinat note in Does playing violent video games cause aggression? A longitudinal intervention study, the paper here is the “first to investigate the effects of long-term violent video gameplay using a large battery of tests spanning questionnaires, behavioural measures of aggression, sexist attitudes, empathy and interpersonal competencies, impulsivity-related constructs (such as sensation seeking, boredom proneness, risk-taking, delay discounting), mental health (depressivity, anxiety) as well as executive control functions, before and after 2 months of gameplay.” While two months may not be that long, it’s pretty good when you consider the number of shortcomings we see in game aggression research.

What the research says

This is what you’re all here for, and the results are actually really good news for gamers: No significant changes in any of the assessed variables were found, “particularly not in the aggression levels over time in any of the three groups.” In fact, just three of the 208 statistical tests performed showed any significant changes that could allude to more violent behavior, and because of all the statistical tools looking to correct the sample sizes and predict for random variables, these are statistically explained away as coincidence.

Granted, there were some short-term increases in aggression, but just as in past studies, the effects were not only short-lived but difficult to replicate and far from consistent. It could be an issue with the way researchers look at aggression, but within our current methods, gaming is looking pretty harmless for adults.

Also, keep in mind that aggression wasn’t the only factor the researchers were looking at. Depression, anxiety, worldview, moral disengagement, even rape myth acceptance was tracked. Adult gamers showed no statistically significant trends that indicated gaming led to any negative consequences over a two-month period of violent gaming. This is the kind of thing that would have been nice information to present – if any scientists had been invited to talk to the White House when lobbyists and officials met to discuss it.

Factors to consider and future research questions

A two-month study isn’t really all that long, but compared to other studies that generally test for violence and aggression immediately after playing a game, it’s pretty good. We generally want thousands of participants, but since tracking them all is a real problem, this study’s 90-person participant with 48 women and people between 18-45 (average age was 28) isn’t bad at all, especially when the researchers used a lot of traditionally acceptable statistical measures and corrective measures to ensure reliability. We can’t play all the games all the time, but having a group that played The Sims 3Grand Theft Auto V, and the non-gaming control group is pretty good. Participants were paid (even the non-playing group) when they came in to participate in the study.

Remember, few studies are going to be a “silver bullet.” The adult mind is quite different from a child’s, so this study shouldn’t be applied to kids. We also have to remember that games (not just digital ones) do teach. It’s difficult to measure by how much, but they’re used (digital or not) for teaching math, science, foreign languages, and violent actions. Yes, the US government clearly invests in games for combat simulations, and while games do have a number of cognitive skills they can teach, morality is among them.

That being said, any teacher will tell you that teaching isn’t easy. Neither is learning. We can’t say games don’t teach anything, but at the same time, there’s a process. As Dr. Malton Elson notes, at best, games reward actions. The actions may be violent, but they don’t make you aggressive. That’s a deeper issue also influenced by biology and genetics, and while it can potentially be learned, just consider how hard it is to change someone’s personality. If games could really do that, developers would be making big dough turning their stereotypical shy outcasts into highly desirable extrovert influencers. Trust me, I’d be reviewing the heck out of that game!

Moreover, while violence is linked to aggression, the two aren’t the same, especially if you cleave to the idea that games can desensitize players. That’s not within the scope of this study, though. We’re looking at whether or not video games made people aggressive as a result of playing games daily for two months. Maybe after two or 20 years the results could be different, or maybe it desensitized people, and yeah, the results are probably different for kids, but you undergrads and researchers out there can use this study as a jumping point to either confirm the findings (because, again, single studies aren’t enough– findings need to be repeatable) or take the research to the next level.

The fun of getting lost, being upset, and getting annoyed.

The takeaway

I know, I know, “So what? I already knew that!” But here’s the thing: Now we have more evidence. There’s research that shows that two months of playing one of gaming’s biggest scapegoats doesn’t turn adults into monsters. If you need to talk about supposed negative effects of games on adults with family, co-workers, lawmakers, or educators, this article is a good starting point. This isn’t just feelings or beliefs or lobbying; it’s groups of people who played vastly different games (or none at all), took all kinds of tests/questionnaires about potential anti-social behaviors, and came out A-OK.

The other side can also say, “So what?” but by having good research on your side, they need to provide something of similar or equal quality. If you have the time, look through their math and the corrective formulas – it’s intimidating how far the researchers went to not only check their work but give their research a big opportunity to be “inconclusive,” practically a research death-sentence. The other side can take this study and run it too. If it fails, it’s inconsistent, which is also terrible for any research and immediately calls it into question. If people are worried about any of the factors, they (or researchers) can modify just that and run everything again.

The idea is that there’s a very solid blueprint to follow. Something more than just feelings. You can argue feelings all day, but testable facts speak volumes, and having this research (currently) available to the public is a big deal for combating naysayers, whether they’re in the comment sections of the internet or the highest offices of government.

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50 Comments on "For science: New long-term study shows video games don’t make adults violent"

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Leontes
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Leontes

Hmmm, I would have loved this – and it’s a great effort the authors put into this. The problem is, this is not a solid study from a methodological point of view – they actually make a rather critical mistake (which would explain why this isn’t published in a more impactful journal): The absence of significant results may not be interpreted as prove, that they do not exist (this is a very basic statistical rule, that is ignored all too often). In order to do so, they would have to employ an equivalence design (or at least a non-inferiority study design). However, they would need hundreds of participants to power such a study, though.

As I know some of you may want to see whether I know my stuff, let me refer to a rather entertaining piece by Cohen himself:

http://psych.colorado.edu/~willcutt/pdfs/Cohen_1990.pdf

The section “The Null Hypothesis Tests Us” does some explaining ;)

As much as I would love to agree to the authors – this is not solid evidence. It’s basically as lacking as the works referred to by the counter-position.

Leontes
Reader
Leontes

To be fair, the authors did keep that in mind, but there are problems with employing the Bayesian framework, that prove to be a rather poor workaround for the basic issue…

In Cohen’s words: “(For this we have to go to Bayesian or likelihood statistics, in which probability is not relative frequency but degree of belief.)”

Leontes
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Leontes

“Taken together, the findings of the present study show that an extensive game intervention over the course of 2 months did not reveal any specific changes in aggression, (… etc. etc. …) We observed no effects when comparing a baseline and a post-training assessment (…) Therefore the present results provide strong evidence against the frequently debated negative effects of playing violent video games.”

– quote from the article in question

“Of course, everyone knows that failure to reject the Fisherian null hypothesis does not warrant the conclusion that it is true. Fisher certainly knew and emphasized it, and our textbooks duly so instruct us. Yet how often do we read in the discussion and conclusions of articles now appearing in our most prestigious journals that “there is no difference” or “no relationship”? (This is 40 years after my N = 20 friend used a nonsignificant result to demolish psychoanalytic theory.)”

– Cohen (from the article I referred to above)

possum440 .
Reader
possum440 .

“Long term study” too funny.

First, when you are a video game player you are going to be biased, exactly like the NRA folks are. In fact, some Gamers and some NRA members are so devoted that nothing will convince them otherwise so arguing or presenting evidence is a moot point and a waste of time.

People responding to these reports or studies will respond as they should, in favor of their hobby, like any devoted Human would do when their favorite hobby comes under fire. thats why some gamers and some NRA members are exactly alike when it comes to defending their hobby. Same exact argument.

There is one word that everyone fails to use, at least the word I see missing the most, is….”SOME”. Sure not every Human is a psychopath, only some are. Not every Human will kill another, only SOME will.

Not every Human is affected by the same stimuli as you or I, SOME are affected and end up killing, and no one here can claim a certain stimuli didnt trigger them or not but one thing is certain, something made them want to kill, and again you and I can only guess, most certainly we cannot disregard anything.

Look at your mass shooters, the younger ones, guess what most of the reports state they played for hours on end? Video games, even this latest killer. His own parents in an interview stated he played for hours on end…..was it the deciding factor? Who knows, YOU certainly dont know and we cant say one way or another until some actual official government agency puts all the data together, which I would bet is ongoing right now.

You can say you know the difference between real and not real, that isnt the issue. The issue is the Human that doesnt care for whatever reason due to whatever environmental, social or entertainment issue and they go bonkers.

Also remember this, never say video games do not cause violence because that is as untrue as saying that video game do in fact cause it, These cheese reports that make some of you gamers feel good about yourselves are laughable.

Have an open mind and consider that SOME people are affected by something that you may like doing. This doesnt make you bad because you play video games or watch ultra violent real tv, but SOME are affected and the result is undeniable.

Leontes
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Leontes

As for being biased by my hobby, you may refer to my comment above. As for the rest – I find it hard to decide, where to begin. I find it interesting that you remind people to “have an open mind” practically in the same breath as stating “undeniable” truths. They are anything but.

Mewmew
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Mewmew

Of course not. Every time there is a school shooting they have tried to make a link to video games and they’ve never really been able to prove anything because there is nothing there to prove.

Fake video game violence is much different than real life violence, no matter how realistic the graphics get, the mind always knows it’s not real.

I know people that play the most violent of video game shooters and then don’t want to hurt insects, like literally wouldn’t hurt a fly.

While we may think that people with violent inclinations may be drawn towards more violent video games themselves, on the off chance that does happen that is because of why they are inside and not because of the games. And it turns out that these people aren’t really usually drawn to more violent games anyway they’re finding any more than usual. Games aren’t that good of an outlet for them because they just aren’t real and aren’t the same thing.

As much as politicians used to always try to blame games (and someone always still is), all of the times they commission these studies and they always end up with the same conclusion. That video games don’t make people violent and act violently in real life.

It’s going to be the same accusations for the next generation of entertainment that seems more realistic though. It’s been shown there’s been a chain of entertainment always blamed starting from the first dime novels to comic books, then radio, then TV and movies, then video games. The next generation’s new entertainment will always be blamed. Maybe it will be VR once it gets a bit more developed than it is now, maybe it won’t be until an even deeper experience is invented. We always understand the entertainment and escapes we grow up with but have a hard time understanding the new ones that appear when we’re adults it seems. So the circle always continues.

Maybe it’s hard to believe that some people can just be bad inside and we’re always looking for an excuse and something to blame that must have made them that way. Luckily after many and many studies we are finally getting it through peoples heads that the blame can’t be pointed at video games.

kjempff
Reader
kjempff

Yeah duh exactly, lots of studies have shown this before.
The only reason it is still being discussed, is because there are organizations with agendas against video gaming, who uses biased “science” and article propaganda to keep the doubts going.. or if you want the modern term for it “fake news”.

Reader
Kickstarter Donor
NeoWolf

I feel like this is non news to US, this is an article that hold a revelation ONLY for non gamers lol.

I mean I have been playing computer games almost as long as there have been computer games (definitely longer than PC gaming existed), and in that time I have killed people in almost every concievable way, I have cut them, I have shot them, I have hacked off limbs, I have thrown them off cliffs, I have blown them up, I have driven over them, I have set them on fire, I have electrocuted them..almost everything inbetween you can imagine I have done.
And moreso I have not just killed individuals, but towns, cities, nations, planets and even entire species comitting genocide on n unprecedented scale. I have done things that would make war criminals eyes go wide… but through it all, NEVER have I felt the urge to do the same to actual, real people.

Why you ask? And the answer to that, as WE all know is simple. And that is because reality is reality and entertainment in entertainment. WE do not confuse the two and nor should anyone else, including Mr Trump…*sigh*.

People blaming computer game violence for people comitting ACTUAL violence, should educate themselves a little more. Games do not kill people (well non pixelated people at any rate), people do. People make the choice to do bad things, computer games do not make those choices for them, they do not desensitise us to actual violence and anyone who doubts that should ask any Military firends they have who have seen service if computer violence is comparable to actual violence and get ready to be laughed at like you’ve asked the dumbest question ever…because, actually..you have. ;)

So a study stating it is good and all, but really it shouldn’t be necessary to do studies to prove common sense things. But then common sense is not all that common..so..ah well. lol

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Sally Bowls

I don’t disagree. But what is the position on pornography, in particular, violent pornography? If watching violent video games “obviously” does not cause violence, then isn’t it just as “obvious” that watching rape/snuff/violent games/films does not cause violence?

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Sally Bowls

https://kotaku.com/britain-is-the-latest-country-to-ban-a-sexy-dungeon-cra-1823844753

The politicians and their bureaucrats, especially outside the US, are quite comfortable with prohibiting hate speech/videos and sexual violence. I am not sure I see why the violent video game images should be allowed while other speech/images are not. If the politicians truly believed that words/images do not affect & effect behavior, then why would they ban these other things?

Reader
Kickstarter Donor
NeoWolf

Because as I explained, they are fundamentally different.

Reader
Kickstarter Donor
NeoWolf

Its not really relatable as video game violence is betwen us and pixelated non real characters. Whereas someone watching rape or snuff films is watching those acts perpetrated against ACTUAL people.

Now if you said to me someone was watching a rape Hentai for example that would be different as its cartoon sex, no real person is actually being hurt, its just pure fantasy. In the same way as Rape Fantasy porn would also be okay as it is different from Rape porn, the first being a consensual situation that is more about Sub/Dom scenarios and is legal with noone actually forcing and hurting someone a form of roleplay. Whereas actual rape porn video is non consensual and simply a filmed very illegal and heinous act.

But there is another fundamental difference that has to be considered here, and that is in computer games Violence is not the point, its a by product of simply playing the game, a means to an end. We fight to level up, we fight to get loot, we fight to progress the story etc.. we don’t however fight purely to enjoy and see the violence.
And with porn it is about arousal, release, fantasy fullfilment etc.. it serves a purpose and its point is enjoyment.

Someone seeking out violent porn is clearly someone with issues, and issues they had BEFORE they sought out the porn. So you couldn’t say rape videos or snuff videos made them that way, but some deeper seated mental issues led them to seek those things out to try and find some release, in either preparation for or an attempt to avoid escalation.

But to be clear again, it is their issues that make them seek out violent porn, it isn’t violent porn that gave them issues and in the same way computer game violence does not make people violent nor commit acts of violence, unless they were already violent to begin with and for whatever reason they chose to perpetrate such acts of their own volition or mental defect.

Bree Royce
Staff
Bree Royce

Sure it does – demand for it causes the violence in the filming itself. (Incidentally, this is the same argument used by ethical vegetarians/vegans.) Change it to purely animated snuff (etc.) and then the comparison to games makes more sense (but of course, people who are into things like snuff are into it because it’s not fake – if it were fake, it’d just be another one of the million movies whose plots murder hot women).

Reader
Bryan Correll

Sure, games don’t make adults violent. but won’t someone think of the children?

Reader
Sally Bowls

but remember that testable results carry more weight than anecdotal evidence and feelings.

True.
1) But I doubt that MMOs, as I know them, will still be made when there is settled science on this and I strongly doubt I will still be playing them (or alive) when it happens.
2) Whatever laws and public policy get made on these issues, they will happen long before this is settled science on these issues.

I.e.: Science is Good and Important and these things are interesting. But considering the pace, I don’t think these sort of studies will have a practical impact on my gaming.

My expectation is that 10 or 20 years from now you can find someone to quote, on social media or in Congressional Testimony, on multiple sides on Gaming Disorder, Violent Gaming, Lockbox Gambling disorder, gaming addiction, sexual addiction, alcohol addiction, … I am not saying the science will be balanced on both sides of the above. But when there are loud people with a science banner on each side of an issue, my guess is voters and their politicians are more likely to discount the science: take some preconceived notions and proceed onward.

Mattaui
Reader
Mattaui

Video games have never made me violent. But boy, they do make me swear. A lot.

Reader
Sorenthaz

Typically when one feels spurred to violent acts there are deeper issues than just ‘did this person play a violent video game’.

Reader
Randy Savage

I think video games are one of those cases where art reflects life. Video games are violent because we’re violent. Virtually every aspect of human civilization has become drastically more violent over the centuries. You can’t blame video games any more than you can blame movies, music, and sensational journalism, all of which have become more violent at the same rate that video games have. Violence in video games is just another symptom of the disease and you can’t treat the symptom and expect it to effectively treat the disease. You have to go deeper and the more you tug on that thread, the more it will unravel down the historical chain of events going all the way back to the dawn of our species. This nihilistic postmodern depression we’ve found ourselves in is the culmination of every misstep we’ve made over the ages. People want to blame video games when it’s the killing game and the first who played it that are to blame.

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Sorenthaz

I think it’s more that video games allow players to do things they would never actually do (or be able to get away with) in real life, and that covers everything from whimsical fantasy worlds to the spaceship sims to playing god in a management game to doing all the stuff you can do in Saints Row or Grand Theft Auto.

So there’s some allure to that because it helps create the feeling of escape from the rules of real life, and players basically get to become the masters of their virtual environments.

Reader
Randy Savage

You can do that with social media too, as well as the media echo chamber at large. You can shape your reality to reflect your worldview, no matter how warped it is. And that’s not a good thing. While I don’t think video games are the cause, they’re certainly part of the problem because of how they’ve been used. Instead of escapism, we should be embracing the world at large and actively engaging in it. How many people get lost in video games because it’s easier and gives them a more immediate gratification than focusing on their actual lives?

So many of us have grown too cynical about “real life”. Our self-rejection is so complete that we care more about our avatars than our actual selves. For an entire decade, I gave MMO’s more time and energy than the rest of my life because fixing my life seemed too monumental of a task and I was too chickenshit to do something about it. So I sat at my computer in my parents’ house and dropped out of life. That’s entirely too nihilistic and cynical for a young person without any real life experience.

Perhaps if I didn’t have video games as a vehicle for escapism, I would be forced to get on with my life, but gaming certainly enabled my self-indulgence to go on longer than it should have. I can imagine that same disconnect in these kids shooting up schools. They’re jaded, cynical, nihilistic, and bitter when they have absolutely no right to be and gaming lets them get away with it. It’s not the cause of their problems but it sure as shit isn’t helping. But then again, I do wonder how many of these broken children aren’t shooting up schools because shooting up kids in Call of Duty is just enough for them…. for now.