Gamers rejoice! Scientists now say there is no evidence to support the theory that video games “prime” adult players into behaving more violently.
The study, published in Computers in Human Behavior, attempts to disprove a theory called the priming effect. It's the notion that video games “prime” players to behave in certain ways – the more realistic a game is, the more likely that exposure will make a gamer aggressive.
After previous experiments came up with mixed conclusions, researchers at the University of York tested more than 3,000 participants in two experiments that compared different types of gaming realism.
The first study compared reaction time in relation to priming. Participants played a game where they had to be either a car avoiding collisions or a mouse avoiding being caught by a cat. Afterward, players were shown various images, like a bus or dog, and asked to label them as either a vehicle or animal. If a player was “primed” by being immersed in the game they would categorize objects associated with the game more quickly.
“Across the two games we didn’t find this to be the case,” said Dr David Zendle, from the University’s Department of Computer Science, in a statement. “Participants who played car-themed games were no quicker at categorizing vehicle images, and indeed in some cases, their reaction time was significantly slower.”
Past research suggested more realistic games primed players to be more violent and could lead to antisocial behaviors.
In a separate but connected study, researchers looked at whether more realistic games would influence aggression in players.
Using “ragdoll physics,” researchers made characters move realistically by modeling their movements after human skeletons to simulate how a skeleton would realistically fall if it was injured. They also employed realistic tactics – like those “real” soldiers would use – to see whether the more realistic characteristics would increase priming in players.
They found there was no difference in “priming” in gamers who played the more realistic games compared with those who didn’t.
The findings suggest that realistic games don’t make real aggression.
But scientists say more research is necessary, especially to investigate the effect violent games might have on children.
“Further study is now needed into other aspects of realism to see if this has the same result. What happens when we consider the realism of by-standing characters in the game, for example, and the inclusion of extreme content, such as torture?” said Dr Zendle.