Video Games and Aggression

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AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIOR Volume 36, pages 1–13 (2010)

The Influence of Violent and Nonviolent Computer Games on Implicit Measures of Aggressiveness Matthias Bluemke1Ã, Monika Friedrich1, and Joerg Zumbach2
1 2

Psychological Institute, University of Heidelberg, Heidelberg, Germany Department of E-Learning and Media Research in Science Education, University of Salzburg, Salzburg, Austria

: : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : We examined the causal relationship between playing violent video games and increases in aggressiveness by using implicit measures of aggressiveness, which have become important for accurately predicting impulsive behavioral tendencies. Ninety-six adults were randomly assigned to play one of three versions of a computer game that differed only with regard to game content (violent, peaceful, or abstract game), or to work on a reading task. In the games the environmental context, mouse gestures, and physiological arousal—as indicated by heart rate and skin conductance—were kept constant. In the violent game soldiers had to be shot, in the peaceful game sunflowers had to be watered, and the abstract game simply required clicking colored triangles. Five minutes of play did not alter trait aggressiveness, yet an Implicit Association Test detected a change in implicit aggressive selfconcept. Playing a violent game produced a significant increase in implicit aggressive self-concept relative to playing a peaceful game. The well-controlled study closes a gap in the research on the causality of the link between violence exposure in computer games and aggressiveness with specific regard to implicit measures. We discuss the significance of importing recent social–cognitive theory into aggression research and stress the need for further development of aggression-related implicit measures. Aggr. Behav. r 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc. 36:1–13, 2010.

: : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : : Keywords: aggressiveness; aggression; implicit self-concept; Implicit Association Test; Single-Target Implicit Association Test

INTRODUCTION

Violent computer games such as first-person shooters (e.g., ‘‘Counterstrike’’) have repeatedly raised the suspicion of parents, teachers, politicians, and scientists alike. Given the increasingly realistic portrayals of violence and the substantive training of (virtual) aggressive acts in these games rather than the passive observation of violence in movies, many have been alarmed by the wide-spread use of these games [Smith et al., 2003]. The discussion resembles the previous debate on the effects of passive violence exposure in TV and movies [Bushman and Anderson, 2001], and in line with psychological theories on aggression and based on empirical evidence, similar conclusions have been drawn regarding side effects of violence exposure in computer games: Most authors would conclude that a clear consensus has been reached that a noticeable causal influence of playing violent video games on aggressive behavior and dispositions—of young people in particular—exists [Carnagey and Anderson, 2004]. Nevertheless, the number of studies establishing a causal link between aggresr 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

siveness and interactive media such as violent computer games remains relatively small in comparison to studies on passive media exposure. Evidence is particularly scarce with regard to whether latencybased measures of cognition, so-called implicit measures, are useful for detecting any changes in aggressive cognition as a consequence of exposure to video games. Implicit measures may be particularly suited to uncover the processes how playing violent and nonviolent video games affects a player’s automatic cognitions. Implicit dispositions could play a key role in spontaneous and impulsive aggressive tendencies in the short and long run. Conventional wisdom holds that a substantial part of aggressive behavior is carried out...
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