Do Violent Video Games Spur Aggression in Adolescents?

By Rhonda J. Miller on May 4, 2014 4:09 PM EDT

Video Game Effect On Behavior A Continuing Topic Of Research
Researchers continue to study the impact of video games, including a new study in New Zealand looking at whether violent video games encourage aggressive behavior in teens. (Photo: Shutterstock / Rhonda J. Miller)

The potential link between violent video games and aggressive behavior in young teenagers is the topic of a new study by a researcher at Massey University, the New Zealand Herald reported.

Participants in the study have sensors placed on their foreheads and around their mouths to record smile and frown movements, in the research being done by Sam Payne, a graduate student in psychology at Massey University's Albany campus on Auckland's north shore. Hand grip strength of subjects is also measured in the study.

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The goal is to find out if violence in video games carries over into moral decision making in 13- and 14-year-olds.

Three versions of video games are being used in the study. One has no killing, one version has only characters who attack that to be killed, and one has an "open world environment" style where enemies and innocent bystanders can be killed.

"I want to know what difference, if any, it makes when a player has violent encounters with passive characters, as well as aggressive ones," Payne told the the New Zealand Herald.

"Many modern games have innocent bystanders a player can interact with — sometimes violently," said Payne. "I want to know if this type of violence can have any different effect on the player's state of mind when compared to violence against known enemies."

Emotions of the players are measured before and after the game, with gamers choosing words such as angry, hostile, happy, or sad.

"Video games these days are big sellers — and almost all trade on their shock value," he said in an article on the study. "I want to find out if violence enacted against people in a virtual environment has any additional effect on the player of the game."

Payne's supervisor at Massey University's School of Psychology, lecturer Peter Cannon, said the study could provide valuable insights into how teenagers think.

"We know that lots of teenagers regularly play violent video games, but we don't fully understand the effects that these games have on their aggression and moral decision-making," Cannon said in the Massey University article"Teenagers' brains are still developing, and this is particularly the case for the frontal cortex, which is involved in making everyday moral decisions."

Recent studies to find out how video games affect behavior include one by Mirjana Bajovic of Brock University in St. Catharine's, Ontario, Canada. The research was done with a group of eighth-graders who were quizzed about their gaming habits, as well as looking at their abilty to make moral decisions, according to the Toronto SunBajovic found those who played violent video games for three hours or longer each day were detached to the outside world.

"Spending too much time within the virtual world may prevent gamers from getting involved in different positive social experiences in real life and developing a positive sense of what is right and wrong," Bajovic said in a statement, according to the Toronto Sun.

Bajovic said that prohibiting adolescents from playing violent video games is not realistic. Instead, parents must be aware of what games their teens are playing and for how long, as well as the "possible effect that those video games may or may not have on their children's attitudes, behavior, and moral development."

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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