These findings were strongest among teens who scored the highest on tests of moral disengagement — the ability to convince oneself that ethical standards don’t apply to in particular situations.
“When people play violent video games, they show less self-restraint. They eat more, they cheat more,” said Dr. Brad Bushman, co-author of the study and professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University. “It isn’t just about aggression, although that also increases when people play games like Grand Theft Auto.”
The study included 172 Italian high school students, ages 13 to 19. They played either a violent video game (Grand Theft Auto III or Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas) or a nonviolent game (Pinball 3D or MiniGolf 3D) for 35 minutes.
During the study, a bowl of chocolate M&M’s was placed next to the teens, who were told they could freely eat the candy, but were warned that eating a lot of candy in a short time was unhealthy. Interestingly, teens who played the violent games ate more than three times as much candy as did the other teens.
“They simply showed less restraint in their eating,” Bushman said.
After playing the game, the teens worked on a 10-item logic test in which they could win one raffle ticket for each question they answered correctly. The raffle tickets could then be redeemed for prizes.
After being told how many answers they got correct, the teens were asked to take the appropriate number of raffle tickets out of an envelope — without supervision. Unbeknownst to the players, the researchers were aware of how many tickets were in the envelope so they could later determine if a player took more than he or she had earned.
Results showed that teens who played violent games cheated more than eight times more than did those who played nonviolent games.
The players were also told that they were competing with an unseen “partner” in a game in which the winner got to blast the loser with a loud noise through their headphones. (There was actually no partner.) Teens who played the violent games chose to blast partners with louder noises that lasted longer than did teens who played the nonviolent games.
“We have consistently found in a number of studies that those who play violent games act more aggressively, and this is just more evidence,” Bushman said.
The participants also completed the Moral Disengagement Scale, a measure of how well individuals hold themselves to high moral standards in all situations. One sample question was “Compared to the illegal things people do, taking some things from a store without paying for them is not very serious.”
Among teens who played the violent video games, those who scored higher in moral disengagement were more likely to cheat, eat more chocolate, and act more aggressively. There were no such differences among those who played nonviolent games.
“Very few teens were unaffected by violent video games, but this study helps us address the question of who is most likely to be affected,” Bushman said. “Those who are most morally disengaged are likely to be the ones who show less self-restraint after playing.
“One of the major risk factors for antisocial behavior is simply being male,” he said. “But even girls were more likely to eat extra chocolate and to cheat and to act aggressively when they played Grand Theft Auto versus the mini golf or pinball game. They didn’t reach the level of the boys in the study, but their behavior did change.”
The study is published online in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.
Source: Ohio State University