Violent video games like "Call of Duty" may cause players to be more aggressive  (Source:

Those who normally didn't play violent video games before the study, had decreased brain response to violent photos

Researchers at the University of Missouri (MU) may have found an explanation as to why violent video games cause some players to be more aggressive.

Bruce Bartholow, study leader and associate professor of psychology in the MU College of Arts and Science, along with Christopher Engelhardt, graduate student in the MU Department of Psychological Sciences, and researchers from The Ohio State University and VU University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, have found that the brain becomes less responsive to violence after excessive and short exposure.

Previous studies have shown that violent video games encourage aggressive behavior in players, but until now, no one has really known why.

The MU researchers theorize that the brains of gamers become less responsive to violence, which leads to an increase in aggression as the line between appropriate behavior and inappropriate behavior is blurred.

Researchers came to this conclusion after gathering 70 young adult volunteers that were asked to play video games for 25 minutes. Some were randomly assigned to violent video games while others were assigned to nonviolent video games.

After 25 minutes of gaming, the volunteers were asked to view a series of neutral photos, such as a man on a bike, as well as violent photos, such as a man holding a gun to another man's mouth. While viewing the photos, volunteers' brain responses were measured by researchers.

In the final part of the study, volunteers were asked to participate in a one-on-one match with other volunteers in a video game that allows each player to choose a level of noise that would blast the other opponent. The level of noise chosen determined the player's amount of aggression.

According to the results, players who participated in violent video games like "Grand Theft Auto" and "Call of Duty" set louder noise blasts on their opponents than those who played nonviolent video games. They also found that those who normally didn't play violent video games before the study, but did during the study, had decreased brain response to the violent photos. Those who did play violent video games before the study had "small" brain response to the violent photos no matter which game they played during the study. The amount of aggression was measured in "small" and large" amounts, where both excessive violent and nonviolent players both measured small brain responses to violent photos after playing violent video games.

"The fact that video game exposure did not affect the brain activity for participants who already had been highly exposed to violent games is interesting and suggests a number of possibilities," said Bartholow. "It could be that those individuals are already so desensitized to violence from habitually playing violent video games that an additional exposure in the lab has very little effect on their brain responses. There also could be an unmeasured factor that causes both a preference for violent video games and smaller brain response to violence. In either case, there are additional measures to consider."

The next step in the study is to find ways to "moderate media violence effects" since the average child in elementary school spends 40 hours per week playing video games.

"More than any other media, these video games encourage active participation in violence," said Bartholow. "From a psychological perspective, video games are excellent teaching tools because they reward players for engaging in certain types of behavior. Unfortunately, in many popular video games, the behavior is violence.

"Many researchers have believed that becoming desensitized to violence leads to increased human aggression. Until our study, however, this causal association had never been demonstrated experimentally."

This study will be published in an upcoming edition of Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

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