German researchers have discovered that playing violent action adventure games for prolonged periods does not make adults more aggressive. The finding challenges prior research endorsed by prominent organizations including the American Psychological Association.
Investigators from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and the University Clinic Hamburg-Eppendorf say the study is the first to investigate the effects of long-term violent video game play. Researchers compared the video-game experience with playing a life simulation game or not playing a video game at all.
The study appear in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.
Previous experimental investigations have shown that a few minutes’ worth of violent video game play can influence a person’s levels of aggression and willingness to help others. But there is reason to believe that these effects were mostly the results of exposure to specific stimuli and subsequent priming that formed part of these studies.
Seventy-seven participants were divided into three groups. The first group of 25 played the violent video game Grand Theft Auto V daily for two months. The second group of 24 played the simulation game The Sims 3 every day for two months, while the final group of 28 did not play any video games for two months.
Before and after the two-month period, lead researcher Dr. Simone Kühn and her team noted the participants’ level of aggression and empathy, interpersonal competencies, impulsivity, anxiety, mood and executive control. These characteristics were all determined using a battery of tests consisting of questionnaires and computerized behavioral assessments.
The researchers found no significant changes in any of the variables assessed, particularly not in the aggression levels over time in any of the three groups. Only three of the 208 statistical tests performed showed any significant changes that could allude to more violent behavior, and these are explained through coincidence.
Two months after the participants stopped playing daily video games, there was still no difference in their aggression levels. This was also true for their measures of empathy, interpersonal competencies, impulsivity, anxiety, mood, and executive control.
“We did not find relevant negative effects in response to violent video game playing,” explained Kühn. “The fact that we assessed multiple domains, not finding an effect in any of them, makes the present study the most comprehensive in the field.”
The results provide strong evidence against the frequently debated negative effects of playing violent video games in adults. Kühn hopes it will provide a more realistic scientific perspective on the effects of violent video gaming in real life, and that similar studies will be done using children as participants.
“The American Psychological Association recently summarized the previous findings on violent video games as indicating that they pose a risk factor for adverse outcomes, including increased aggression and decreased empathy. The present findings of this study clearly contradict this conclusion,” added Kühn.