EAST LANSING, Mich. – A Michigan State University researcherand his colleagues have shown that playing violent video games leads tobrain activity pattern that may be characteristic for aggressivethoughts.
In a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)study, 13 male research participants were observed playing alatest-generation violent video game. Each participant’s game play wasrecorded and content analyzed on a frame-by-frame basis.
“Thereis a causal link between playing the first-person shooting game in ourexperiment and brain-activity pattern that are considered ascharacteristic for aggressive cognitions and affects,” said Ren้ Weber,assistant professor of communication and telecommunication at MSU and aresearcher on the project. “There is a neurological link and there is ashort-term causal relationship.
“Violent video games frequentlyhave been criticized for enhancing aggressive reactions such asaggressive cognitions, aggressive affects or aggressive behavior. On aneurobiological level we have shown the link exists.”
Weberconducted the research with his colleagues Klaus Mathiak of RWTH AachenUniversity (Germany) and Ute Ritterfeld of the University of SouthernCalifornia.
FMRI is a technique for determining which parts ofthe brain are activated by different types of physical sensation oractivity, such as sight, sound or the movement of a subject’s fingers.This “brain mapping” is achieved by setting up an advanced MRI scannerin a special way so that the increased blood flow to the activatedareas of the brain shows up on functional MRI scans.
ThirteenGerman male volunteers between the ages 18 and 26 participated in thestudy. The participants played a minimum of five hours of video gamesweekly. On average, participants played video games for 15 hours perweek and started playing video games at the median age of 12.
Eleven of the 13 subjects showed large observed effects that can be considered as caused by the virtual violence.
Participantsplayed the mature-rated first-person-shooter game “Tactical Ops:Assault on Terror” for five rounds, 12 minutes per round (an average of60 minutes total), while in an fMRI scanner. Brain activity wasmeasured throughout game play. Physiological measures were also taken.These data as well as audio data from the game were recorded andsynchronized with the fMRI signal.
Game-play recordings werecontent analyzed with a novel frame-by-frame method, which assessedwhether virtual violence was involved at any moment during play.
Thevideo game industry is a $10 billion dollar industry in the UnitedStates and more than 90 percent of all U.S. children and adolescentsplay video games, on average for about 30 minutes daily.
TheNational Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center reported in 2004that a 2001 review of the 70 top-selling video games found 49 percentcontained serious violence. In 41 percent of all games, violence wasnecessary for the protagonists to achieve their goals. In 17 percent ofthe games, violence was the primary focus of the game itself. “Mature”rated games are extremely popular with pre-teen and teenage boys whoreport no trouble buying the games.
New-generation violent videogames contain substantial amounts of increasingly realistic portrayalsof violence. Elaborate content analyses revealed that the favorednarrative is a human perpetrator engaging in repeated acts of justifiedviolence involving weapons that results in some bloodshed to the victim.
“However,it is essential to understand how violence is interpreted by playersand that only a part of M-rated games contain concerning violence: thatis, realistic, rewarded and justified violent activities of attractiveperpetrators in real-life settings,” added Weber. “Although there areprobably more positive effects of playing all types of video games andeven violent video games, such as socializing with peers or improvingcognitive and physical abilities, it is important that we continue toexplore this causal relationship we have shown in this research.”
The entire report of the research will appear in the January 2006 edition of Media Psychology.
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