Do violent video games actually lead to violence?

Study links extended violent gameplay to lasting aggressive tendencies -- but is that the same as violence?

Katie McDonough
December 10, 2012 9:27PM (UTC)

The jury has long been out on whether playing violent video games leads to violent behavior. For every report that suggests it does, another says the opposite. Now let's add this to the pile.

A recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology reports that after three days of playing violent video games like "Call of Duty," research subjects exhibited a spike in "hostile expectations" as compared to the group who played nonviolent games. As Science Daily reports:


After playing the game each day, participants took part in an exercise that measured their hostile expectations. They were given the beginning of a story, and then asked to list 20 things that the main character will do or say as the story unfolds. For example, in one story another driver crashes into the back of the main character's car, causing significant damage. The researchers counted how many times the participants listed violent or aggressive actions and words that might occur.

The results showed that, after each day, those who played the violent games had an increase in their hostile expectations. In other words, after reading the beginning of the stories, they were more likely to think that the characters would react with aggression or violence.

Regular exposure to violent video games might cause players to view the world with a slightly more Hobbesian flair, but is that the same as causing violent behavior? Professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University and co-author of the study Brad Bushman concedes that three days is likely too short a time to gauge long-term behavioral consequences -- but he still has his own conclusions.

"I would expect that the increase in aggression would accumulate for more than three days. It may eventually level off. However, there is no theoretical reason to think that aggression would decrease over time, as long as players are still playing the violent games."

Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at

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