Your Brain on Violent Video Games

Engelhardt, C. R., Bartholow, B. D., Kerr, Geoffrey, T., & Bushman, B. J. (2011). This is your brain on violent video games: Neural desensitization to violence predicts increased aggression following violent video game exposure. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 47, 1033-1036.

As video games become increasingly violent and realistic, researchers have sought to determine whether – and how—they may affect aggressive behavior. Engelhardt and colleagues tested desensitization theory, which states that repeated exposure to violent images results in a decrease, or habituation, of emotional, cognitive, and physiological responses to violence. The authors measured previous video game use in 64 student participants and then assigned them to play either a violent or nonviolent video game for 25 minutes. After playing the video games, participants viewed violent or neutral images and EEG recordings from electrodes covering the parietal lobe measured P300 (P3) amplitude to determine desensitization to violence (the P3 wave is an event related potential related to the process of decision making). Next, aggression was measured by having participants play a competitive game via computer with an opponent (there was actually no opponent) and then choose the severity of a blast of noise to be administered to the losing opponent. Greater aggression was indicated by louder blasts. As predicted, participants who played the violent video games were more aggressive than those who played the nonviolent game. Participants with greater previous exposure to violent video games had smaller P3s that those with little previous exposure, perhaps indicating that they were already desensitized. Among participants with little previous exposure, those who played the violent game had smaller P3s than those who played the nonviolent game, and this predicted greater aggression. This finding supports desensitization theory.

Making Connections

Electroencephalogram (EEG)
Parietal lobe

Media Supplement

This APA Monitor article, outlines research findings and methodological problems associated with psychological research on the effects of violent video games.

This NPR podcast, describes the 2011 Supreme Court decision striking down a California law that banned selling violent video games to minors. [4 min 40 sec]

This entry was posted in Media, Neuroscience, Violence, Youth.