Teaming up with another person in a violent video game could potentially offset an increase in aggression, according to a magazine article Communication research.
The study compared aggressive behavior of people who had played a violent video game together with those who had played the same game competitively, alone, or not played a game at all. They found that those who played the game together had similar levels of aggression to those who played no game at all.
The effect of video games on social behavior is a subject of fierce debate, but there is some evidence that gaming can change behavior, and not just through increased aggression. An article that appeared last year in the Bulletin on personality and social psychology analyzed data from 98 studies, with a total of 36,965 participants, and found that while violent games can increase aggression, prosocial games actually have the opposite effect.
Of course there is the important question of whether games differ from other types of media. Will look inn making you violent, while Blue Peter make you nice? The Communication research paper indicates that the social element of gaming can make an important difference.
To study the effects of collaboration on gaming, the researchers set up two different experiments. In the first experiment, 126 participants played a violent game under different conditions and their aggression was tested with a separate task. The participants were paired and the 63 pairs were split into three separate conditions.
In the first condition, each pair worked together Halo: range to kill as many enemies as possible and then test their aggression. The second group saw the two players try to kill each other in the game before the aggression task. Finally, the third group had their aggression tested first and then played the game in single player mode. This meant that the game could have no effect on their aggression level.
In the aggression task, participants were told that they would play a reaction time task against their partner or opponent Halo (control participants were told it was just another study participant). They were allowed to set the volume of a loud, unpleasant sound that would be played as “punishment” for losing the reaction time task. Participants who made louder noises on a scale of one to ten were noted to have higher levels of aggression. Each person played the task 25 times and the average of all their level settings was calculated.
The results showed that people who had played the game cooperatively had similar levels of aggression to those in the control condition, who had not yet played the game when their aggression was tested. Both cooperative and control participants were less aggressive than those who had played competitively. This difference was statistically significant, but only just: co-operative players had an average noise level of 5.16 and control players 4.94, while competitive players had an average of 5.88, just above the threshold for statistical significance.
A problem with this experiment was that it only showed how people would behave towards other participants in the same game, and could not be used to predict how people would behave towards someone else after playing a violent game.
In the second experiment, the participants’ level of aggression was measured towards people who had not played the game with them. This time 88 people participated Time splitters 2 under the same three conditions as in the first experiment, and their aggression was then tested. In the aggression task, they were told that they would be playing against someone other than their video game partner or competitor. The task was also slightly different: Instead of testing reaction time, the task tested memory, using noise on a scale of one to seven for incorrect answers.
The results showed that cooperative players averaged a noise level of 1.1, compared to the competitive group, which had an average of 2.55. This difference was well above the minimum threshold for statistical significance. The control group, averaging 2.19, corresponded more closely to the competitive group, with no statistical difference between the two.
The researchers explain the results by suggesting that cooperative play raises players’ expectations of cooperation as a social norm, making them more likely to be cooperative themselves in later tasks. On the other hand, playing competitively or alone causes players to adopt aggression as the norm, leading them to behave aggressively in future tasks.
As always, the power of one experiment is not enough to draw firm conclusions about the relationship between video games and social behavior. The aggression task used has been severely criticized, with one article suggesting that “the results should not be generalized to serious acts of aggression or violence”. So while these experiments suggest a difference in behavior after cooperative or competitive gaming, it’s not clear that the behavior that changes is necessarily aggression.
There is also the question of how video games, and violent video games in particular, are singled out. Future research should examine whether these results hold up to any kind of competitive game, video or otherwise – perhaps people are just as willing to make loud noises after a furious game of Monopoly.
Communication research2015. DOI: 10.1177/0093650214552519 (About DOIs).
List image by Valve