Running Head: THE EFFECT OF VIOLENT VIDEO GAMES ON DECISION MAKING 1 The Effect of Violent Video Games On Decision Making Charles Vincent University of North Texas
The Effect of Violent Video Games on Decision Making 2 Abstract:This paper examines the emerging debate over whether or not violent video games have a causaleffect on aggression in young people. It opens with an introduction and then moves forward toexamine the history of video game violence, and the fact that adolescents are regularly exposedto this media. The paper then examines the debate surrounding this issue. It looks at severaldifferent studies which show evidence both for and against a causal effect. While the currentresearch in this area is limited, this paper does attempt to thoroughly review the literature that isavailable. And while larger long term studies are still needed to prove a correlation, it isimportant that this issue continue to be debated and explored.
The Effect of Violent Video Games on Decision Making 3 The Effect of Violent Video Games on Decision Making IntroductionVideo games have become a popular medium for play among children and adolescents. Whilethese games offer a source of fun and escapist entertainment, their rise in popularity has alsoprompted concern in the popular press and culture as to the effect of violent video games on thedecision making processes of young adults. This debate has been fueled by a series of highlytelevised school shootings over the past decade. This paper presents a brief history outlining therise of violence in video games and explores the exposure of children and adolescents to thisrelatively new media. It also examines a proposed model which accounts for decision makingand cognitive processing of aggression in relation to video games. It will also examine othersupportive and opposing views to this model. A brief history of violent video games and the exposure of adolescents to themVideo games started to appear on in popular culture in the 1970s. Atari, Inc. released the firstarcade style game titled Pong in 1974. The game was a virtual simulation of a ping pong gamebetween two players. In its first year of release Pong sold more than ten thousand units at a littlemore than a thousand dollars per unit (Gunter, 1998). In 1976 Atari entered the at-home videogame market with Pong. That same year more than twenty other competitors entered the market.
The Effect of Violent Video Games on Decision Making 4In late 1976, Fairchild Camera and Instruments entered the market with the first fullyprogrammable video system. The system was programmed by inserting an electronic cartridgeinto the game console. From this point on, fully programmable consoles dominated the market.In fact, by the end of the 1980s video games dominated the game market to the extent that 16 outof the 20 top games of the year where video games (Gunter, 1998). Starting in the late 1980s,video game manufacturers began to experiment with what the market would accept in terms ofviolence. It became clear that video games with a moderate level of violence sold better(Kent,2001). One on one fighting games such as Street Fighter, Mortal Kombatand Double Dragonbecame best sellers. Nintendo became the market leader in the late 1980s, and, like Atari beforethem, had clear game standards including “No excessive blood and violence” and “No sex”(Kent, 2001). Unfortunately for Nintendo the market seemed to be demanding blood and gore.When Nintendo and Sega both released versions of Mortal Kombat for their competing consoles,Nintendo released a version of the game with a reduced level of blood and violence. The Segaversion outsold the Nintendo version three to one(Anderson, Gentile, & Buckley, 2008). In 1992,the first major “first person shooter” game was released titled Wolfenstein 3D. A first personshooter allows the player to become more immersed in the experience by playing the game fromthe perspective of the actor as opposed to viewing the action of the game in a removed way. Thegame also featured other realistic touches. According to Kent (2001) “Part of Wolfenstien’spopularity sprang from its shock value. In previous games, when players shot enemies, theinjured targets fell and disappeared. In Wolfenstein 3D, enemies fell and bled on the floor”. In1993, the next major first person shooter titled Doom was released which featured more bloodand violence, and allowed the user to hunt other users in addition to computer generated
The Effect of Violent Video Games on Decision Making 5characters. Another game worth mentioning is Soldier of Fortune which was released in 2000.The game was designed with the help of an ex-army colonel and featured 26 different “killzones” on the body. The game also provided new levels of realism by causing realistic damage totargets based on the part of the body hit, and the distance from which the shot was fired. Thislevel of immersive violence has been coupled with an increasing amount of exposure to childrenand adolescents.In the mid-1980s children and adolescents spent an average of four hours a day playing videogames. This time included home and arcade games. In the early 1990s the playing time of arcadegames had decreased and the play time for home video games had increased but the averagegame play time had stayed relatively the same, two hours a week for girls and four hours a weekfor boys. The amount of play has increased since that time. A 2002 study showed that boysaveraged 13 hours a week of game play a week while girls averaged five hours a week(Anderson& Carnagey, 2009). Even though a correlation between the amount of time spent playingbetween girls and boys exist, it appears that both males and females are spending an increasedamount of time engaging in video games. It is also interesting to note that amount of timewatching television has remained the same as time spent playing video games hasincreased(Anderson, Gentile, & Buckley, 2008). It also appears that parents are not heavilyinvolved in filtering the video games in which their children are engaged. In a 2004 survey ofeighth and ninth graders only fifteen percent of students said that their parent “always” or“often” checked the rating of video games before allowing their children to buy or rent them.(Anderson, et al., 2010). It also appears that parents are not highly involved in the amount oftime that children spent playing video games. According to Walsh’s (2000) survey eighty-nine
The Effect of Violent Video Games on Decision Making 6percent of the teens surveyed (Walsh, 2000) reported that their parents did not place time limitson the amount of time they were allowed to play video games. Aggression and DebateThe discussion of how violent video games effect decision making and rationality revolvesaround how they affect aggression in adolescents. While change in aggression and the behaviorthat stems from it does serve as a good indicator for altered decision making, it is problematic asused in studies. Aggression rates differ greatly across countries and cultures. “In general culturescharacterized by collectivistic values, high moral discipline, a high level of egalitariancommitment, low uncertainty avoidance and which emphasized vales which are heavilyConfucian showed lower levels of aggression that their counter parts” (Anderson, et al.,2010).Aggression in countries also varies by the measure used. The United States for example,has higher homicide rates that its Asian and European counterparts, but it has similar or lowerrates for other types of violent crime such as assault. According to Anderson et al.(2010),thereare at least five reasons to expect smaller media violence effect sizes in Eastern societies than inWestern societies. The first reason may be contextual, that is, a smaller effect size may resultfrom the way violence is conceptualized in the United States in comparison to Japan. Whereasaction and sports games are the most popular in the U.S., Roleplaying style games are the mostpopular in Japan. Role playing games often involve a greater level of strategy and cooperativeplay against computer controlled players. Thus the context for violence becomes different.Second, People in Japan are more likely to pay attention to situational context than people in
The Effect of Violent Video Games on Decision Making 7Western cultures. A third reason is that different cultures dictate different processing of emotionsand their emotion-action linkages. “Whereas people in an independent contexts view emotionalsituations mainly from their own perspectives… people in interdependent contexts assess theemotional meaning from the perspective of other people or a generalized other.” (Anderson, etal., 2010). Anderson et al. also points out that Eastern culture tend to foster socially engagingemotions while Western Cultures tend to foster socially disengaging emotions. A fourth reasonthat effect may be lessened in different cultures is the context in which the video game is played.Anderson et al. cite unpublished studies to show that, in Eastern cultures, children are morelikely to have limited access to video games at home. This would imply that in Eastern cultureschildren are more likely to play video games in public spaces in which their actions can bemonitored. The fifth difference in Eastern and Western cultures that may account for effect dealswith the fact that studies have shown in the Eastern culture that frequent and infrequent gamerstended to have the same amount of friends. While in Western cultures, frequent gamers tended tohave fewer friends than their infrequent gamer counterparts.Another difficulty that lies in using aggression as an indicator for the effect of video gameviolence lies in the very definition of aggression itself. Authors sometimes use the same term todescribe different concepts. This has led to controversy over the issue of media violence.According to Anderson et al.(2007),social scientists and psychologists have adopted an exactdefinition for human aggression. They define aggression as “(a) a behavior that is intended toharm another individual, (b) the behavior is expected by the perpetrator to have some chance ofactually harming that individual, and (c) the perpetrator believes that the target individual ismotivated to avoid the harm.” Because the 2007 Anderson et al. study serves as a focal point for
The Effect of Violent Video Games on Decision Making 8the debate around the effect of video game violence, it is important to note the three sub types ofaggression which the study uses. The first sub type is that of physical aggression. This type ofaggression involves causing physical harm to a subject i.e. that of pinching, slapping, hitting,stabbing, and shooting. The researchers state that the psychological community has convergedtoward an agreement that this type of aggression exist in a continuum ranging from mild tosevere, and that violence, or violent behavior, refers to physical aggression in the severe rang ofthis continuum. The second type of aggression is termed as verbal aggression. This type ofaggression involves verbal threats or insults that are intended to harm the target individual. Thesecan also include written expressions of aggression. The third type of aggression is relationalaggression. This type of aggression involves the intent to harm a target by damaging an existingrelationship, or to feelings of inclusion, group acceptance or friendship. Anderson et al. statesthat males are more likely to engage in physical aggression, females are more likely to engage inrelational aggression, and both sexes are equally as likely to engage in verbal aggression. The General Aggression ModelAnderson et al.(2007) outlines a unified theoretical model for human aggression which they termas the General Aggression Model. The general aggression model distinguishes betweenprocesses which operate in a current situation or proximate causes and processes, and variablesand processes which occur in the long term, distal causes and processes. Basically, “distal riskfactors for aggression are those that facilitate proximate factors that directly increase aggression,or that decrease normal inhibitions against aggression. For the most part, distal factors influence
The Effect of Violent Video Games on Decision Making 9the individual’s personal preparedness to aggress, that is, aggressive personality.” The generalaggressive model relies on the assumption that human memory, processes and decision makingcan be represented as a complex set of nodes. Nodes become linked through experience, andnodes that are simultaneously activated gain associative strength with each other. Nodes withsimilar meaning are also linked. Large clusters of linked nodes of concepts are known asknowledge structures. The accessibility of a knowledge structure is dependent on how manynodes to it and within it have been activated. When the knowledge structure has becomesufficiently activated above its threshold, the structure becomes activated and used. According toAnderson et al. (2007)“This knowledge structure approach highlights the role of learning in thedevelopment of aggressive (and non-aggressive) individuals. From this social-cognitiveapproach, personality is the sum of a person’s knowledge structures.”The processes by which knowledge structures become activated is cognitive but can over timebecome automated and operate without awareness. Anderson et al. state that each life experiencecan thusly be viewed as a learning trial. These ultimately lead to the automation of a variety ofknowledge structures. The importance of automation of knowledge structure in attainingdevelopmental stages is also underlined. According to the general aggressive model, aggressivetendencies are most likely to surface in children who grow up in aggressive environments, withaggressive role models, where aggression is rewarded and likely to achieve results. The acquiredaggression knowledge structures are likely to exhibit themselves as violent behavior whensituational factors both instigate and disinhibit aggression. Anderson et al. provide a list ofproximal and distal risk factors for aggression.
The Effect of Violent Video Games on Decision Making 10Proximal Risk Factors Distal Risk Factors Situational Instigators Environmental modifiers o Provocation o Family practices o Frustration o Community Violence o Pain and Discomfort o Culture of violence/hate o Bad mood o Media Violence o Social stress o Extreme social environments o Aggressive Primes (media Biological modifiers violence) o Low serotonin Personal Preparedness o Low arousal o Inflated/unstable high self o Executive functioning deficits esteem o ADHD o Pro-aggression beliefs o Other genetic factors o Pro-aggression attitudes o Hostile world schemas o Aggression scripts o Aggression-related goalsAnderson et al.(2007) provide three studies using the general aggression model to testhypothesis. The first study examined four main questions and three supplementary questions.The most important finding in this study was that a short term context increase in aggressivebehavior could be caused by short exposure to violent children’s game content. The aggressionproducing content of the game did not appear to be mitigated by the fact that the violence wascute and cartoonish or by the fact that the characters where non-human. The second finding wasthat the effect was only marginally larger for younger children when compared to the effect onolder children. The third finding was that games with an ESRB T-rating produced slightly lessof an aggressive effect compared to that of the children’s game. The fourth finding was thatparental involvement tended to inhibit the effect of increased aggression. This held true for bothchildren and adolescents. The second study examined high school students and reinforced thefinding of previous studies which showed a correlation between violent video games and
The Effect of Violent Video Games on Decision Making 11increased aggression. The study also showed a corresponding relationship between attraction andexposure to violent video games in social circumstances where the norms condoning physicalaggression. This study also revealed positive associations between game violence anddownstream variables indicated by the general aggression theory model including hostility, angerand positive attitudes toward violence. Three additional findings are also noted. The first beingthat video game violence effects on aggression and violence are especially robust, whichAnderson et al. believes can rule out a number of important other alternative explanations.Second, those large segments of the population are susceptible to video game violence. The thirdimportant finding was that new media has a greater effect on aggressive behavior than old media.That is, Video Games have a greater effect than music and videos. The authors also place a noteof caution with this finding as some studies which explore aggressive effect of old media do notuse the same mechanism as this study. The third study was the most interesting, and probably themost relevant, of the three studies. It consisted of a longitudinal study of two to six months.Though this study was short as compared to other longitudinal studies which deal with mediaviolence, it still produced several effects of repeated exposure to violent video games. Theseincluded increases in hostility attribution bias, increase in verbal aggression, decrease in pro-social behavior, and demonstrates a link between total screen time and school performanceThe relationship between video game violence and later aggressive behavior was stronger forphysically aggressive behavior and weaker for relationally aggressive behavior. Anderson et al.argue that this third study lends considerable support to the theoretical proposition that long termexposure to violent content in video games leads to an increase in aggressive behavior. “It did sodirectly; the correlation between Time 1 Video Game violence and Time 2 aggression remained
The Effect of Violent Video Games on Decision Making 12significant even after Time 1 aggression was statistically controlled.” The authors believe thatwhile violent media in general reached a threshold some time ago to support strong causalstatements regarding the relationship between violence and aggression, they now believe thatthere is enough evidence to support a strong casual statement in regard to video game violencespecifically.The existence of a correlation between aggression and violent video games has been supportedthrough many articles(Anderson & Carnagey, 2009)(Anderson, Bushman, & Rothstein,2010)(Anderson, Gentile, & Buckley, 2008) (Anderson, et al., 2010) (Carnagey & Anderson,2005) (Gunter, 1998) (Huesmann, 2010), but it also has its detractors. One of the main debaterson the subject is Christopher Ferguson.Ferguson raises several concerns about current research on the issue of aggression caused byviolence in video games (Ferguson, Olson, Kutner, & Warner, 2010).Many aggression measuresused demonstrate poor validity. Ferguson et al. state that many measures used in video gamestudies to represent aggression do not well model aggression in real life. They argue that manystudies fail to account for other variables which contribute to violence including genetics,gender, family violence and so forth. Ferguson et al. also argue for a potential citation bias.Scholars of the effect of media have a tendency to ignore work, even their own, whichcontradicts their hypothesis. They also state that a publication bias exists. Studies with moresignificant results have a higher likelihood of being published than those with null results. Theyexpress further concern about small effect sizes. Estimates on the size of effect for violent videogames on aggressive behavior range from zero to four percent. It could be argued that these
The Effect of Violent Video Games on Decision Making 13effects are too small to produce meaningful results. They also claim that there exists anunstandardized use of aggression measures.The researchers argue that these and other reasons point to a difficulty in establishing a truerelationship between aggressive behavior and video game violence. They present their own studyto test two main hypotheses: 1. Any relationship between video game playing and delinquency will be moderated by other relevant third variables: potential risk and protective factors such as trait aggression, family environment, stress, participation in extracurricular activities, and perceived support from peers and family. 2. Any relationship between video game playing and bullying behavior will be moderated by other relevant variables such as the above.Seventh and eighth grade students in two middle schools in the mid-Atlantic region of the UnitedStates where included in this study. 1,254 students completed the survey. 47% of the studentsidentified themselves as male, and 53% identified themselves as female. 53 % were from acomparatively affluent suburban area and 47% were from a school located in a lowersocioeconomic area. 81% of students in the sample had at least some recent exposure to violentvideo games. Preference for violent video games did not correlate to age. Ferguson et al. reachedthe conclusion that current evidence does not suggest a significant correlation between violentvideo games and youth violence and bullying.Anderson et al (2010) respond to this with their own multivariate analysis. They conclude thattheir social-cognitive model fits the current data, and that this has important implications for
The Effect of Violent Video Games on Decision Making 14public policy debate. This particular meta-analytical review included more restrictivemethodological quality inclusion criteria than in past meta-analysis, cross cultural comparisons,longitudinal studies for all outcomes except physiological arousal, conservative statisticalcontrols, multiple moderator analysis, and sensitivity analysis.Anderson et al’ state that concerning basic theory additional research is needed, especially on theimpact of violent video games on empathy, desensitization, and pro-social behavior. Additionalstudies with longer longitudinal periods are needed. Concerning public policy they believe thatthere is enough evidence in existence to show that debate should move toward how to deal withthe damage of violent video games instead of centering around whether or not the problemactually exists.They continue to reiterate that people learn and that content matters.In the reply to this meta-analysis(Ferguson & Kilburn, 2010) criticize Anderson et al.’s use of“biased,” unpublished studies. They also show that while the sale of violent games has risen theincidence of youth violence has gone down. The correlation coefficient for this phenomenonbeing r = -.95.They also criticize the size of the effect observed in Anderson et al.’s analysis asbeing too small to suggest significance, and they believe that external factors being bettercontrolled could reduce the observed effect to near zero. Ferguson & Kilburn also suggest thatpolicy makers would do better to spend time addressing issues which contribute greater toaggression like poverty, peer interaction, family violence and Generation X Environmentinteractions.Anderson et al. aggressively defend their study(Anderson, Bushman, & Rothstein, 2010). Theystated that they completed a study using “state-of-the-art meta-analysis” on violent video game
The Effect of Violent Video Games on Decision Making 15effects that included more than ten times as many participants as the Ferguson et al. study. Theystate that they created and tested strict inclusion criteria, and that their use of unpublished studieswas appropriate. They agree with Ferguson and his colleagues thatthe amount of magnitude ofeffect observed could be conceived as trivial, but they believe it is not. Overall Anderson et al.maintain their position that violent video game exposure is a causal risk factor for youthaggression. Huesmann (2010) also supports the findings of Anderson et al. (2010) and states thatit is time to acknowledge that violent video games increase “risk” for aggressive behaviors. ConclusionIt appears that the debate over whether violent video games cause adverse effects in adolescentsis far from over. While it has been shown that violent media in general leads to more aggressivebehavior, and it stands to reason that video games as a more immersive form of media would bemore likely to create a deeper imprint of modeled behavior, It is still important that significantlong term studies are needed to demonstrate the lasting effects of violent video games. A moreconcrete system of measuring aggressive behavior is also needed so that results can be moreeasily observed and quantified. While the discussion has become heated at times, the importthing is that the discussion continues in the interest of decreasing violence among young people.
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