In Other Words, This May Be a Waste of Money

The superinteresting BPS Research Digest blog has a post up about a new study on violent video games and aggression (which doesn't seem to be online and I haven't read):

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 [...].

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.
Years back, someone whose name I have forgotten made the following argument: If you expose subjects to aggressive stimuli and observe increased aggression afterwards, this may be because aggressive stimuli increase aggressive cognitions, etc. It may also be an experimenter effect, because you signal to subjects that in your lab, violence is o.k.. Thus the ecological validity of your experiment is extremely questionable.

If this reasoning is correct, it follows that the results of all lab experiments relating exposure to aggressive stimuli to aggressive behaviour - and there are hundreds of them - are ambiguous.


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What the participants were told that using weapons would inflict more damage and therefore lower their opponent's health bar. No physical harm of any kind were done to the person , if there was a person.

I also had reservations about measuring aggressive behaviours through in-game actions, but it was an interesting attempt and I'm sure the authors would make refinements to better relate the concept of aggression to in-game behaviours.

LemmusLemmus said...


thank you.

If that's a good measure of aggression, they might as well scoring goals in football or making money in Monopoly as a measure of aggression.

In other words, although this does qualify as aggression under the standard definition (behaviour intended to harm someone who is motivated to avoid that harm), in the context of games, you are supposed to be aggressive within rules. The ecological validity of this study is hence extremely questionable.