Melanie DeSantis
 Aggressive Play: The Relationship Between Video Game Type and Subsequent Play Behavior In Children 
Abstract    Introduction Method
 Results  Discussion Relevant Links


The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of aggressive video games on children’s behavior.   The general public, as well as parents, are concerned about the significant rise in youth aggression at home, in the classroom and during free play.  Society has become acutely aware of the prevalence of violence in television and in video games, and its possible detrimental effects on children.  Participants were selected from the VNA Day Care Center and the Bartlett after school program.   It was hypothesized that children who played and observed an aggressive video game would behave more aggressively on a subsequent task than children who  played and observed a non-aggressive game.  The behavior of the children was videotaped, observed and rated by this investigator and two psychology students at St. Anselm college.  The results supported the hypothesis and significant differences were found between groups on children’s subsequent aggressive behavior.  These results may be discussed in the context of implications for further investigation on possible causes of youth aggression. 


     In the past few years, or so, parents as well as the general public have become acutely aware of the prevalence of violence in television and in video games and its possible detrimental effects on children. These two variables are studied because they appear to contain many of the same features including entertainment value, violent content and physical feature similarities such as action, pace and visual change (Griffiths, 1999).  Past research has hypothesized that aggression and violence on television and video games influence children’s aggression (Dill & Dill, 1998).  Violence and aggression will be discussed throughout the paper, the main focus will be primarily on aggression.
       Aggression is highly resistant to both definition and explanation.  Some researchers define aggression as behavior, motivated by hostility (sometimes unconscious), meant to inflict physical or psychological damage to another.  Although hostility may be the immediate source of true aggression, it may still have deeper roots such as jealousy or vengefulness (Berkowitz, 1974).  Freud (1927)and Lorenze (1966) view aggression as an instinct, part of our biological constitution.  Other researchers such as Skinner (1953) considered aggression a learned response that can be reduced or eliminated by lack of reinforcement (Berkowitz, 1974). 
     It is a major concern that portrayal of aggression in the media may contribute to violence and aggression in society.  Social scientists (Primavera, 1996) have studied the relationship between viewing violence on the screen and its influence on aggressive behavior since the 1950’s.  The main focus of research within the media has been on television mainly because the majority of the population spends a great deal of time watching it (Primavera, 1996).   The Information Please Almanac reports the average person watches up to seven hours of television a day.  This same source also suggests that children between the ages of two and five watch approximately 28 hours of television a week (Primavera, 1996).  These statistics reveal the possibility of television’s strong influence over those who watch it.  Specifically, themes within each show may have a strong negative effect over the viewing population.
    Violence is a common theme among many television programs (Hough & Philip, 1997).  Recently, 26.4 violent acts have been viewed each hour on children’s Saturday morning programs (Hughes & Hansbrouch, 1996).  The American Psychological Association task force report on television and American society stated that by the time the average child leaves elementary school, he or she will have viewed close to eight thousand murders and at least one hundred thousand acts of violence on television (Smith, 1996). 
     Violence is often glamorized and goes without negative consequences in most television shows (Marks, 1998).  Perpetrators go unpunished in 73 percent of violent scenes, and victims remain unharmed and appear to be in no physical pain(Marks, 1998).  Potter and Ware (1987) reported that several heroes committed an equal amount of anti-social and violent acts as villains.  As many as 88 percent of these acts were rewarded or went unpunished (Kunkel, 1995).  After viewing their hero perform such acts, children may consider violence to be desirable, necessary and painless. 

Such views could cause serious negative effects in children’s beliefs and behaviors(Marks, 1998). 
    Playing video games may facilitate aggression even more so than television because playing a video game is an active process (Graybill, 1985). The player of the video game is a controller rather than an observer.  No violence occurs in a video game unless the child causes it to occur, whereas violence on the television is beyond the child’s control (Graybill, 1985).  He or she takes part in the aggression (Dill & Dill, 1998).  This concept suggests that the relationship between playing violent video games and aggression is stronger than viewing television violence and aggression, therefore, television violence has become viewed as a springboard for research in the video domain (Graybill, 1985).
     Over the past twenty years, the popularity of video-games has reached remarkable proportions (Dill & Dill, 1998).  Nintendo, the industry’s leader, sold a total of one billion games between the years 1983 to 1995 .  Past studies have revealed that 100 percent of surveyed elementary and junior high students had played a video game at least once.  School counselors have suggested that several children are addicted to video games.  One clinician reported that many children skipped class, spent lunch money, and begged for money to play the games (Cooper, 1986).  Because children have spent much of their time engrossed in video games, society has brought attention to the types of themes portrayed within the games.
     The main concern throughout past research is that the majority of video games contain several aggressive elements including death and destruction (Griffiths, 1999).  Statistically, 85 percent of video games researched included acts of aggression, violence, and killing (Griffiths, 1999).  Currently, Killer Instinct has been rated America’s top selling video game.  It involves each player in a fierce and bloody battle against one another to the death (Dill & Dill, 1998)
     Even more of a concern is the effect of this violence on children who play the game.  The relationship between the violence on video games and aggression among children has been a major focus of past research (Griffiths, 1999).  Social learning and cognitive theories have examined the relationship of violent video game play and subsequent aggression. 
     Based on social learning theory (1965, 1977), researchers have hypothesized that children learn appropriate behavior through reinforcement of the video games (Dill & Dill, 1998).  If aggression and violence are justified and rewarded through points, passing to the next level or defeating the enemy, the child may be more likely to respond to a given situation with this type of behavior. Children’s aggressive behavior should come directly from the acts performed by video game characters (Irwin & Gross, 1995).  Specifically, he or she may learn that hitting and punching are appropriate responses to a conflict situation (Dill & Dill, 1998). 
    Violence may be viewed as the main goal in many games.  Killing the opponent or villain often results in winning the game, therefore, murder tends to be the most reinforced behavior (Cooper & Makie).  Video games also appear to portray the victim as deserving the assault.  They depict other people as "targets", which may result in a reduced empathy among a long-term player (Dill & Dill, 1998).
     A second theory, known as the General Arousal Theory, hypothesizes that an increase in physiological arousal may result in increased aggressive behavior subsequent to game play (Dorman, 1997).  Physiological arousal is known to stem from negative emotions such as anger, frustration, and hostility.  Past research has suggested that the violence within video games leads to heightened physiological arousal, causing aggression (Irwin & Gross, 1995). 
     Although aggressive video games have several negative effects on children, the purpose of this investigation will be to link aggressive video game play to children’s subsequent aggressive behavior.  Children will observe/play either an aggressive or a non-aggressive video game.  Immediately afterwards, the two groups will work next to each other to accomplish a similar goal.  It is hypothesized that children who observe/play the aggressive video game will behave more aggressively on the given task than those who play the control game. 


 Twenty four children (10 males, 14 females) participated in the behavioral study.  The ages of the participants ranged from 7 to 9 years.  All participants were attendants of the VNA Day Care Center and the Bartlett after school program.  The parents of the participants were treated in accordance with the Ethical Principles and Code of Conduct.
Video Games : Participants were randomly assigned to either an aggressive video game known as WCW Revenge or a non-aggressive video game known as Mario Cart.  WCW Revenge includes more than 60 wrestlers and a real pay-per-view arena.  It involves several aggressive moves, such as "Striking Move", "Ground Attack" and "Flying Attack".  Mario Cart involves the player racing against the clock while controlling the speed and movements of the cart.  WCW Revenge is known to have significantly more violence and contact aggression compared to Mario Cart.
Measurement :  Behavioral actions performed by the children subsequent to game play were rated by this investigator and two psychology student at St. Anselm College.  A scale created by this investigator, consisting of four possible behaviors including Taking crayons without Permission, Taking crayons in Spite of Verbal Refusal from Peers, Asking for Permission and Giving crayons to Peers was used to rate aggression.  The first two factors describe subsequent aggressive behavior, while the third and forth define subsequent non-aggressive behavior.  Children in the aggressive and non-aggressive conditions were rated on the four factors.
 Video Tape : Before, during and after the video game, the participants behavior  will be videotaped and rated  by this investigator and two other psychology students at St. Anselm College.
 The study proceeded over a period of four days.  On the first day, six children were chosen and then evenly divided so three children play WCW Revenge and three children play Mario Cart.  Each child played the given game for approximately six minutes  ( two turns of three minutes).  While the child was not playing, he or she observed the game for twelve minutes, a total of eighteen minutes was spent playing or observing the game. 
After playing the video games, the two groups were placed at the same table where there was a colored printout of a neutral scene (balloons, flowers, rainbow, etc.). The groups were told that they had five minutes to replicate on to their blank sheets, using the same colors, exactly what is in the picture.  Twelve colors were used to complete the picture.  Each child was given two of the colors needed to complete the task and, therefore, the children were required to communicate with one another to achieve an individual goal.  This same process occured over the next three days. The children’s behaviors were videotaped and rated according to the aggression scale mentioned above by this investigator and two psychology students of St. Anselm College.  Ratings were then be scored for reliability. 





    As a part of the study, reliability was investigated after observing behavioral recordings.  Findings showed inter-rater reliability to be 0.83 percent.  Given that there were three independent hypothesis and differences being evaluated, three independent t-tests were employed.  Significant differences were found between groups on taking crayons without permission t (22) = 3.318, p = 0.00 and giving crayons to peers t (22) = -2.053, p < 0.05.   Differences were also found on children’s self-reported arousal/excitement after game play.  Eleven out of twelve children in the aggressive condition reported feeling excited after the game, and nine out of the twelve children who played Mario Cart reported feeling calm. 



     Results supported the hypothesis of children who played or observed the aggressive video game would behave more aggressively on a subsequent task than those who played or observed the non-aggressive game.  As noted in past literature, aggression has been defined as behavior, motivated by hostility (sometimes unconscious), meant to inflict physical or psychological damage to another (Berkowitz, 1974).  Within the present study, aggression was rated according to four factors: Taking crayons Without Permission, Taking crayons in Spite of Verbal Refusal from peers, Asking for Permission and Giving crayons to peers.  Results revealed a significant difference between groups on children’s taking crayons without permission and giving crayons to peers.  Children who played the aggressive game were more likely to take crayons without permission and less likely to give crayons to their peers.  The results indicate that the type of game played did have a significant influence on the manner in which children obtained crayons and the general sharing attitudes of the children.  These attitudes could affect children’s behavior at home, in the classroom and on the playground.  Consequently, parents should make sure their children are not playing aggressive video games. 
     In agreement with Anderson and Ford’s (1987) and Wingrove and Bond’s (1997) correlational studies, there was a significant difference in the reported level of emotions between groups.  Past studies found increased levels of anger (Wingrove & Bond, 1997) and hostility (Dill & Dill, 1998) subsequent to game play, whereas the present study revealed increased levels of excitement in the aggressive group.   The present study may be viewed as an extension to the past research, revealing that negative emotions may effect aggression, but present results also indicated heightened emotions in general influence aggression as well.  Findings suggest the aggressive video game may have indirectly influenced the children’s aggressive behavior, while directly effecting emotions.  The increase in excitement of the aggressive group may have directly influenced subsequent behavior. 
     With this information, parents should find an alternative way to entertain their children and at least monitor what video games their children play. It is important to note that parents should not resort to the television if they are concerned about the relationship between video games and aggression.  Past literature has also indicated that many television shows contain aggressive themes, which may influence children’s aggression (Pimavera, 1996). 

Although this research was not included within the present study, it is important to note that television includes many of the same variables and features as video games, which may result in similar influences on the children that watch it (Griffiths, 1999). 
    Future studies should obtain a greater sample size to increase the chance for significance on children's Asking for Permission and children’s Taking in Spite of Verbal Refusal.  The difference between groups on children’s asking for permission was extremely close to being significant, and this can not be overlooked.  Also, this factor is consistent with the other predictions that children in the aggressive group should behave more aggressively on the subsequent drawing task. 
    Before playing the video game, children should be given an aggressive questionnaire to rule out the confound of trait aggression.  While playing the games, children repeatedly glanced at the game they were not told to observe.  Future studies should place the televisions back to back so that children can only observe the game they will be playing.   It is important for future studies to perform research with video games of equal speed.  Any feeling of excitement while playing MarioCart could be influenced by the games fast pase.  Although their actions were more aggressive, the wrestlers of WCW moved quite slow in comparison to MarioCart. During the drawing task, children should each be given one crayon to increase communication and possible aggressive acts.  By giving each child only one crayon, the possibility of pig piling the crayons should become slim to none.
  It would aslo be beneficial for future studies to use virtual reality to observe the effects when one feels as though one is actually a part of the game.  It would be interesting to observe if virtual reality would have a greater influence than video games on children’s aggression. 

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