Australian Study Finds No Link Between Violent Video Games and Anti-Social Behavior

Politicians and fear mongers love to blame society's ills on violent video games. It's a rally call we've heard time and again, despite the fact that there are numerous studies out there -- both old and new -- debunking the claims that violent games transform gamers into these unfeeling creatures that go on shooting sprees and everything else you see in the news. Let's forget about real-world violence for a moment, do titles like Grand Theft Auto lead to anti-social behavior?

The answer is no, according to a new study conducted by Morgan J. Tear and Mark Nielsen, both from the School of Psychology at the University of Queensland, St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia.

"Past research has found that playing a classic pro-social video game resulted in heightened pro-social behavior when compared to a control group, whereas playing a classic violent video game had no effect," the study states. "Given purported links between violent video games and poor social behavior, this result is surprising. Here our aim was to assess whether this finding may be due to the specific games used. That is, modern games are experienced differently from classic games (more immersion in virtual environments, more connection with characters, etc.) and it may be that playing violent video games impacts pro-social behavior only when contemporary versions are used."

The research team conducted three different experiments, each representing a different method. These are all highly detailed scenarios aided by mathematical equations and conducted with titles such as Grand Theft Auto IV (anti-social), Call of Duty: Black Ops (violent), World of Zoo (pro-social), and Portal 2 (non-violent). The team also used a pair of classic titles, Lamers and Lemmings, when recreating a Greitemeyer and Osswald study. When all the dust settled, there was no link to be found.

Grand Theft Auto IV

"We failed to find evidence that playing video games affects pro-social behavior," the study concluded. "Research on the effects of video game play is of significant public interest. It is therefore important that speculation be rigorously tested and findings replicated. Here we fail to substantiate conjecture that playing contemporary violent video games will lead to diminished pro-social behavior."

If there's a weakness to the study, it's that the researchers only used university students in their experiments rather than a more diverse crowd. This wasn't an attempt to skew the results in any way. In an interview with AusGamers, Tear explains that ideally they would use a wider range of volunteers, but it came down to convenience.

"The fact remains that first year undergraduate students, who participate in experiments for course credit, are a super convenient resource for psychology researchers," Tear said. "That said, our next experiments will move away from the lab and start testing people in the real world."