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.
Such views could
cause serious negative effects in children’s beliefs and behaviors(Marks,
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
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
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.
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.
: 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.
: 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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
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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