Hype surrounding the global release of the gangster-themed video game Grand Theft Auto IV has renewed the long-standing debate over whether violent games make players more aggressive. Now Christopher Barlett and colleagues have provided a fresh angle on the issue by specifically testing whether the amount of blood in a game makes any difference to its effects on aggression.
The researchers took advantage of the fact that the game Mortal Combat: Deadly Alliance allows players to select one of four blood levels, from none to maximum (in which copious amounts of blood spurts everywhere and gets trodden by characters around the playing area).
Of 74 students who played the Mortal Combat game for 15 minutes, those who played on the maximum blood level experienced larger increases in hostility after playing (as judged by their agreement with statements like "I feel furious") and larger increases in arousal as measured by their heart rate, than did the players on the lower or zero blood levels.
Those students who played the game with blood also showed higher levels of aggression, compared with those who played without blood, as indicated by their greater use of their character's weapon in the game, which they'd been told would inflict more damage on their opponents.
A second experiment with 31 students showed that playing Mortal Combat on the maximum blood level, as compared with the no blood level, activated more aggression related thoughts, as measured by participants' choice of how to complete ambiguous word stems like KI-- (e.g. KILL vs. KISS).
"...[T]he violence, plus the high amount of blood, primes more aggressive thoughts in memory compared with just playing the violent game without the blood," the researchers said.
Link to the recently published Byron review on the risks to children from exposure to potentially harmful or inappropriate material on the internet and in video games.
Link to related Digest item: Violent video games slow our processing of faces.
Link to blog dedicated to discussing the psychological effects of video games.
BARLETT, C., HARRIS, R., BRUEY, C. (2008). The effect of the amount of blood in a violent video game on aggression, hostility, and arousal. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 44(3), 539-546. DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2007.10.003