Noted statistician blasts 2013 paper that links aggression and video games

Last month, as part of our ongoing dialogue about video games and violence, we covered a brand-new paper that found that playing video games didn’t make adults more violent. The important takeaway was that the study was a longitudinal study that spanned two months of testing, one of the first – probably the very first – to cover that expanded length of time. Down in our comments, our readers argued over whether or not even two months deserved to be called long-term; a lot of gamers really want to see much longer-term studies to more definitely counter the politically tinged anti-video game rhetoric currently festering in the US.

And we’re not the only ones debating that very question. MOP tipster Eliot pointed us to the blog of Columbia University statistician Dr Andrew Gelman, who takes issue with a totally different paper, this one from 2013; its title also claims to represent a “long-term” study and in so doing made it into a peer-reviewed journal (with over 100 citations, not to mention news articles, since), in spite of the fact that it’s not actually long-term at all: Subjects played 20 minutes a day for three whole days.

“The biggest problem I see with this paper is in the title: ‘A long-term experimental study.’ What was ‘long term,’ you might wonder? 5 years? 10 years? 20 years? Were violent video games even a ‘thing’ 20 years ago? Nope,” Gelman writes. “By ‘long-term’ here, the authors mean . . . 3 days. In addition, the treatment is re-applied each day. So we’re talking about immediate, short-term effects.”

The test looks to be a three-day version of the experiment chronicled in the well-known 2002 study by Bruce Bartholow and Craig Anderson. “Aggression” is determined by whether the participants are more likely to blast a horn at their opponents after playing a violent game for a few minutes.

I’m more likely to blast a horn at my opponents right now after reading how badly this subject is being mangled.

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20 Comments on "Noted statistician blasts 2013 paper that links aggression and video games"

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Sally Bowls

Thank you for the interesting article.

While it is interesting, I am not sure how relevant it is. IMO, laws are more influenced by special interests and politicians desire for publicity and reelection than by science. And we are a long way from this being settled science. A long way from when politicians with an agenda are not able to come up with anti-game studies to site.

So, IMO, laws will be made, MMOs will cease to be made, and I will be dead before there is settled science.

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traja

When there is a real and observable correlation what happens is that the amount of evidence for it keeps growing over time. It’s been decades for games already, and centuries for other forms of fiction. If this hypothesis was correct we would have mountains of evidence supporting it already. Scientists would have moved past looking for the general connection and would instead be focused on the small details that are behind it. Obviously none of that happened.

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NeoWolf

Linking aggresion to video games has always been bunkum as far as im concerned, pointing the finger in order to assign blame is just human nature, we HATE not knowing WHY things happens so in lieu of reason we fill in the blanks with whatever is available we can find.

Aggressive people aren’t made that way because of games, their aggression may be triggered or exacerbated by stressful gaming situation that could lead to an outburst, but the game didn’t make them aggressive they were aggresive to begin with.

For example you get a non aggressive person and an agressive person in a shooter.. through a silly mistake they get killed. The non aggressive person goes “aww well” laughs it off, queues for the next games. The aggressive person rants and swears and kicks his/her chair over, smashes their keyboard or mouse or controller.. and acts like an out of control moron. Did the game make either of those people behave the way they did? nope…they both CHOSE to deal the way they wanted..

Its tantamount to saying a person you argue with that you decide to hit because you didn’t like what they said was responsible for causing your aggression that led to them being hit.. NO, thats is not how the world works, we are responsible for our own actions. You make a choice to hit someone or not, the other person does not make it for you.
The price we pay for free will is the understanding that we must all live with the repercussions of the decisions we make, and take responsibility for them ourselves.. Not make excuses and pass the blame simply because we do not want to admit our own shortcomings or stupidity.
But people are flawed and feckless so often they do not, instead they do and say and blame anything they can to excuse thier own stupidity and lack of control and point fingers rather than admit they have a problem and deal with it.

People are aggresive or they aren’t, males in particular as testosterone gives us an undeniable predilection towards it, but there is as I say ALWAYS choice involved, we can walk away from a stressful situation to calm down, we can not participate in things we know can trigger us.. people need to stop shirking thier own culpability and sack up.

Duey Bear
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Duey Bear

^Excellent post!^
Even if there was a correlation between aggression and video games I would have to be convinced aggression is a bad thing especially since there are a lot of typically positive behaviors associated with aggression, including competition, flirting, sports/exercise, assertiveness, teamwork and leadership. These behaviors do not come from passivity but are different forms of aggressive behavior (aggression).
Aggression does not equal violence and I find it super disingenuous of folks pushing for stricter game regulation when they bring forward studies on aggression and not violence.
Violent crime in America saw a decline with the advent of video games and as those video games became more realistic (and often violent) we did not see an increase in violent crime, rather we have never returned anywhere close to the heights of 1990s violence. This does in no way prove that video games prevent violence, but it does demonstrate that if they caused violence we would be seeing that play out in reality, but even as video games become the most popular entertainment media, violence has not increased but rather has continued to trend downwards or has simply remained static (depending on the crime).
Again, no evidence that video games reduce violence, there is just a massive lack of evidence that they cause it. But it has been demonstrated that video games (like most all past-times) provide catharsis. I am sure every gamer here has experienced when they were very angry they played a game and began to feel better, that was catharsis, a release of your emotions on to something else.

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Utakata

Here’s a thought: Some of us play games aggressively because we’re already aggressive? I mean it’s like claiming comedy shows cause people to have a sense of humor, when in fact they may have already had a sense of humor to begin with. This isn’t rocket science. Not does correlation always mean causation. /shrug

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Utakata

Edit/Erratum: *Nor does correlation always mean causation…proper.

camren_rooke
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camren_rooke

You sound like one of those ‘science-y’ types.

What with all your science talk and jargon.

And logic.

/e sets pitchfork on fire.

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Utakata

The pigtails come with a set of baloney detectors. <3

Leontes
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Leontes

Sure. Unfortunately, it’s easy to (ab)use for people to drive their agenda. Not easy for everyone to use their brains, especially if their minds are already made up…

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Kickstarter Donor
Peregrine Falcon

Here’s the really ridiculous thing: Who cares if violent video games make men more aggressive as long as they don’t actually make them more violent.

Aggression in and of itself isn’t the bad thing that society over the last 3 decades has tried to brainwash everyone into thinking that it is. Aggression is what allows you to stand up to people who are trying to use you or treat you unfairly. It’s what causes men to excel in their chosen fields of work. It’s literally why we broke the sound barrier and why we walked on the moon. Because aggressive men were willing to risk their lives to prove that it could be done.

Without aggression we’d certainly have less wars but we’d also still be living in a world without electricity or vaccines or automobiles.

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Utakata

Why just men? o.O

Durenas
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Durenas

I would rather be assertive than aggressive. Assertive allows me to stick up for myself, but aggressive has the tendency to roll over people no matter the cost.

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Bryan Gregory

I think the word you meant to use to describe those people and those things were “ambitious,” or perhaps “courageous.” Persistent maybe? Aggressive is more meant to describe something that is unprovokingly combative.

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Kickstarter Donor
Peregrine Falcon

Nope. I used the word that I meant to use and I used it correctly.

Andrew Ross
Staff
Andrew Ross

I remember that paper too, which was why when one of the commenters said “long term’s been done before” but refused to cite anything, I rolled my eyes. Citation matters, and peer review is an actual thing. I just wish it were a bit weightier (and that other outlets also had someone actually reading the reports instead of just the abstracts)

Leontes
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Leontes

If you mean the same comments I remember, he/she actually did provide in the end. Albeit I did not find much of value there. I have to admit, though, that I did not spend a lot of time going through the list.

In general, I find two flaws that are prevalent in those studies: Either methods are lacking (e.g. false interpretation of correlation), or construct validity is questionable at best (as is in this case, where immediate reactions are measured, but not longtime changes in preferred behavior / conviction / personality). As I said before, I have yet to come across a really good study – no matter what “side” they are on. Then again, it’s a really hard subject to do good research on, I guess it’s always easy to criticise.

Sorry for all the smartassing about in recent articles on the subject – I have to admit that a lot of my comments are a bit of a knee-jerk reaction. Kind of feels good to find myself fully agreeing with you – it’s nice for a change ;)

Andrew Ross
Staff
Andrew Ross

That commenter replied to you, not to me, and as you stated, the studies they cited weren’t really long-term studies.

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Bryan Correll

They probably got aggressive because jerkass researchers made them stop playing after just 20 minutes.

Leontes
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Leontes

I’d probably be… ;)

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McGuffn

Maybe the researchers gave the participants Infestation: Survivor Stories to play, and they got aggressive because they were forced to play that crap for 20 minutes.