Video Game Violence Changes Attitudes in the Real World

Violent video games create more permissive attitudes toward risky behaviors - such as using drugs - in youths who play those games, according to a study by UCSF researcher Sonya Brady, PhD. Brady's study follows on the heels of other research showing an association between real-world violence and risky behavior. Her experiment with video games backs that research, but extends it, showing a direct cause and effect between exposure to violence and attitudes toward risky behavior. Brady's study was elegantly constructed to show that the experience of playing a violent video game actually changes the players' attitudes, at least for a time. "We wanted to see if we could find in the laboratory a link between violence and attitudes in a way that might explain associations between real-world violence exposure and health risk behavior," Brady says. Study Methodology
For the study, Brady randomly assigned 100 college students between the ages of 18 and 21 to play one of two video games: Grand Theft Auto III (GTA III) or The Simpsons: Hit & Run. GTA III is generally viewed as a game filled with violence, while The Simpsons: Hit & Run is thought to be a similar game with far less violence. In video game play, study participants using GTA III were instructed by a member of the game's mafia to "introduce a bat" to the face of a drug dealer, who was supposedly supplying drugs to prostitutes. Participants using The Simpsons: Hit & Run played the role of Homer Simpson and were instructed by his wife, Marge, to deliver daughter Lisa's science project to school before Principal Skinner arrived. Brady's group monitored the blood pressure of the participants during and after the game. After playing their game for a fixed period, participants completed a questionnaire that gauged their attitudes about the perceived health effects of alcohol use, marijuana use or sex without a condom. They also watched a videotaped scenario concerning cheating in class, and then were asked to make inferences about the intentions of the teacher appearing in the videotape, and to play a game in which they had to make decisions about whether to cooperate or compete with another person. Players of GTA III Showed Increased Blood Pressure, Attitude Changes
The results of the study showed that those who played GTA III had higher blood pressure during the game, had more permissive attitudes toward alcohol and marijuana use, and had greater uncooperative behavior. The study did not show, however, that the type of video game played had any effect on attitudes toward violence or the dangers of sex without a condom. Among those participants with a greater history of lifetime violence exposure, play of GTA III led to a greater tendency to infer hostile intent in social situations. "The best thing about this study was that, unlike in the real world, participants' exposure to video game violence was assigned randomly," Brady says. "So any differences in people's personalities shouldn't affect the outcome." For instance, Brady points out, people who are more accepting of violence and other risky behaviors might be attracted to violent video games, affecting any nonexperimental test that measured the relationship between video game violence exposure and attitudes. Controversy Within the Gaming Community
The results were controversial among the gaming community, who posted questions to Brady in an online forum on the website Brady answered questions about how the study was done and how the results were interpreted. "I was really impressed with their questions," Brady says. "They were very intelligent and perceptive. I tried to encourage people to pursue a career in psychological research." On another occasion, the GameSpy reporters asked Brady to comment on reports about video game addiction and the number of treatment clinics springing up around the world. "I think that it makes sense to think of excessive video game play in the same way we think of alcohol or drug addiction, even if video game addiction is not an official diagnosis," Brady says. "The key is not necessarily how many hours someone plays games, but whether video game play is interfering with the person's relationships with others and important life activities, such as work or school." Despite the importance of research on video game violence and the effects of excessive video game play, Brady understands that it is controversial and draws heated criticism from gamers. "I think that a lot of people are worried that playing video games is going to be pathologized - or viewed as harmful - by health researchers," Brady says. "Like many behaviors, video game play has the potential to be beneficial or harmful." Related Links:
"Effects of Media Violence on Health-Related Outcomes Among Young Men"
Sonya S. Brady, PhD; Karen A. Matthews, PhD
Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2006;160:341-347
Abstract | Full Text | Full Text (PDF)
Dr. Sonya Brady on Violence in Gaming, April 24, 2006 Drugs and Gaming: Reader Questions Answered, May 5, 2006 When Video Game Playing Becomes a Problem
UCSF Today, September 1, 2006