Another Questionable Study By Brad Bushman Claims Violent Video Games Are Bad For Children

from the when-everything-looks-like-a-scapegoat... dept

Brad Bushman, the Ohio State University researcher who (usually in conjunction with Craig Anderson) has somehow managed to ignore a body of work to the contrary, has again produced a study that claims video games turn players into monsters. His study, conducted with the aid of Italian researchers, makes a couple of specific claims based on the observed behavior of the 172 subjects.

- People playing violent video games are more dishonest than those playing non-violent games.
- People playing violent video games exhibit less self control than those playing non-violent video games.

Subjects either played violent games (Grand Theft Auto III or GTA: San Andreas) or non-violent games (Golf3D or Pinball3D). During their playtime, they were given a bowl of M&Ms to snack on, but were first warned that eating too much candy in one sitting was "unhealthy."

Let's stop right here for a moment and consider the credibility of researchers who (presumably with a straight face) told teenagers that eating too much candy would make their tummies hurt. The health implications of a single bowl of candy in a research setting are effectively nil, but this ridiculous instruction is used as evidence that violent video games adversely affect players' judgement.

According to Bushman's research, players playing violent games ate more than those playing non-violent games. Ipso facto, violent game players have less self-control.

Moving on.

Post-playtime, players were given a set of logic questions to answer and received a raffle ticket for each correct answer. The "catch" (as it were) was that players were allowed to collect these tickets themselves from an envelope. Research showed those playing violent games were eight times as likely to grab more tickets than they actually earned, thus suggesting players of violent games are more subject to moral turpitude.

An additional factor thrown into the mix was a post-play "game" which gave players the option to blast losing players with a loud noise through their headphones. (There was actually no one on the receiving end of the blasts, which is kind of a shame…) Violent game players were much more prone to do this, again suggesting those under the influence of Grand Theft Auto tend to be more aggressive and harmful towards others.

The problem with Bushman's study is that it collects evidence on short-term effects (behavior observed during or shortly after play) and uses that to suggest there are long-term repercussions inherent in playing violent games. It's completely unsurprising that those who had played Grand Theft Auto would be more prone to blast other players with noise than those who played a sedate game like Golf. (It would be interesting to see this comparison done more aggressive sports games -- like football, hockey or boxing.) Both games demand a different mental approach and a game containing violent behavior would likely see a short-term rise in aggression in most players.

Also, when players have just finished playing a game where their protagonists can break all sorts of laws, taking a couple of extra tickets just doesn't seem to be a big deal. But this is behavior viewed nearly immediately after playing. A reasonable amount of "cool down" time would likely reduce this number. Stealing a raffle ticket from a research project is a far cry from exiting the building and punching people or making off with their vehicles.

The less said about the candy "evidence," the better. But, if nothing else, we are again observing behavior during and shortly after gameplay, not long-term indicators.

It needs to be highlighted that the negative behavior was more prevalent in those who "scored highest on a measure of moral disengagement." This suggests the underlying factors are pre-existing, rather than created by gameplay. Research subjects with moral issues were more morally suspect. Go figure. Bushman wants to believe the video games alter the morals of players, but his own research states otherwise. In fact, Bushman himself states otherwise.

“Those who are most morally disengaged are likely to be the ones who show less self-restraint after playing.”
Even the "moral disengagement" is questionable. Take a look at one of the questions used to indicate "moral disengagement."
“Compared to the illegal things people do, taking some things from a store without paying for them is not very serious.”
Well, no kidding. Someone doesn't have to be suffering from outsized "moral disengagement" to realize that stealing from a store is a much less serious crime than other criminal acts (like, say, stealing directly from another person). Anyone who disagreed with this statement has some moral issues of their own.

Bushman's study involved 172 students, a grouping that will generally produce statistically solid results. But compare those 172 who seemingly proved Bushman's theory ("violent video games are unquestionably bad") to a recent study involving 11,000 children that spanned 10 years. A broader base, spread over time, indicated that video game playing had nearly no discernible effect on children.

Bushman's (and Anderson's) body of work has tried to prove that violent video games make people violent, but has actually done little more than see him push preconceived notions under the pretense of "science." His research tends to indicate short-term effects but his statements assert players of violent video games are incapable of resetting their moral compass. He's been called out before for his flawed research and cherry-picked "analysis." This is more of the same. Bushman ignores the results his own "moral disengagement" test and makes the claim that violent video games make otherwise good people aggressive, dishonest and (LOL) eat more candy.

Because of his past "research," Bushman (and Anderson) will continue to be the go-to man for talking heads who want their own perceptions of Big Bad Video Games confirmed. Those willing to see past the headlines will find little more than a researcher repeatedly confirming his own bias.



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 3rd, 2013 @ 10:46am

    Hole in ONE motherfucker! Boom! In your sandtrappin FACE!
    /teabag
    /teabag
    /teabag
    OWNED your sorry ass.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 3rd, 2013 @ 10:53am

    My research has shown that Brad Bushman, is an idiot.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 3rd, 2013 @ 11:06am

    I think a far more valid conclusion to draw from this is that candies are delicious and violent video games make them taste even better.

    There, Rockstar Games and Mars Candy Co., I just set you up for an awesome crossover promotion.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 3rd, 2013 @ 11:07am

    good idea! let's ban them! how ear does anyone reckon the entertainment industries would let that go? about as far as i can spit, i reckon!

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 3rd, 2013 @ 11:15am

    The researchers controlling the supply of M&Ms literally feared for their lives when the Ratchet&Clank players emerged from the kill room.

     

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  6.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Dec 3rd, 2013 @ 11:18am

    Hate to be a critic but...

    ...the entire argument about the proximity to moral disengagement and the game playing seems completely out of place. The ultimate conclusion would be that, fine, the games only make children more likely to be aggressive/violent/deviant/whatever in the short aftermath of game playing, likely compounded by the number of hours played effecting how much "cool down" time is needed. That's a dangerous logical game to play if you want to argue, as do I, that playing games does not effect behavior in normal children or adults.

    The better attack on this study appears to be the sample size, which is laughably small and completely incapable of effectively weeding out other behavior and personality variables for the admittedly silly measures on morality. 172 kids split in half for each part of the study isn't NEARLY enough to be accurate.

    I'm not sure why you didn't just point at the number, laugh, and proceed....

     

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  7.  
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    gorehound (profile), Dec 3rd, 2013 @ 11:22am

    Definition of a BUSHMAN is as follows:
    One who loves to lick the bush between your genitals and your Anus.

    Bushman another damn loser Tea Bagger Fool !

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 3rd, 2013 @ 11:26am

    Re: Hate to be a critic but...

    I'd say the sample size would be significant if the results were significant (for example, that mention that violent-gamers are eight times more likely to take extra tickets). Still, I'd bet a lot of money that there was some experimental flaw involved in that phase that skewed the results. "Eight times more likely" would be a hugely significant result for a sample size of 172.

     

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  9.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Dec 3rd, 2013 @ 11:29am

    Re: Re: Hate to be a critic but...

    Yeah, that's probably fair, but generally it seems like it shouldn't be terribly difficult for any serious researcher who wouldn't start off knowing what conclusion he/she was going to reach (obviously a pointless request in this case) to purposefully go overboard on the sample size just to make sure they didn't have to face the criticism.

    It strikes me that it's possible some of these biased researchers specifically choose a smaller sample size betting on a greater chance to reach whatever conclusion they wish....

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 3rd, 2013 @ 11:37am

    Re: Re: Hate to be a critic but...

    Thats not how significant sample sizes work. In fact, such a huge disparity would mean that you need a larger sample size to confirm that such a value is significant. In a single university, you have thousands upon thousands of students of varying temperaments and moral beliefs. 172 is a drop in a bucket.

    If for instance, out of the non violent half, 1 person took a ticket, and in the violent half, 7-8 people took extra tickets, you have your 8x sample right there. That's 7-9 total out of 172. 5%. Also, this doesn't account for non violent games in a competitive environment, like tetris attack and such, which may cause the same effects as violence due to the competition angle.

     

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  11.  
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    nasch (profile), Dec 3rd, 2013 @ 11:39am

    Study

    My question is, how do we sign up for the study with free video games and candy?

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 3rd, 2013 @ 11:54am

    Or people who play violent games are more likely to protest your stupid rules

    Other studies have shown that cheating a system makes people feel good about themselves, especially if the system basically tells you there's no way for them to verify if you were honest or not.

    And then for eating M&M's, people could chose to eat more as an act of rebellion against a source of authority.

     

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    crade (profile), Dec 3rd, 2013 @ 12:05pm

    If the people playing one type of video game ate more M&Ms than another, it's probably because there are more cut scenes that are long enough to put the controller down..

    Wait.. I mean..
    Breaking news! Violent video games cause M&M eating which causes school masacres! We finally have the answers!

     

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  14.  
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    Jim B (profile), Dec 3rd, 2013 @ 12:06pm

    Seduction of the innocent all over again.

    Yet another "expert" has found out what is causing all the children to monsters. Those that do not know history are doomed to repeat it. In the 50's it was Comics now its video games.

     

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  15.  
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    Androgynous Cowherd, Dec 3rd, 2013 @ 12:33pm

    Further flaws

    In addition to the excellent points raised by the article, I'd like to point out even more issues with the conclusions drawn.

    According to Bushman's research, players playing violent games ate more [M&Ms] than those playing non-violent games. Ipso facto, violent game players have less self-control.


    No, not ipso facto. The amount consumed would result from some balance between "self-control" and desire for sugar. An increased consumption could as easily reflect an increase in the latter as a decrease in the former.

    In particular, a violent game likely is better at prompting an adrenaline-driven fight-or-flight state in which the body might seek a quick-metabolizing energy-dense fuel, thereby producing sugar cravings. I'm not saying this necessarily happens, but it suffices that such a thing is on its face plausible and the "researcher" did nothing to rule it out.

    Research showed those playing violent games were eight times as likely to grab more tickets than they actually earned, thus suggesting players of violent games are more subject to moral turpitude.


    Given only the information provided, this could as easily mean that adrenaline-affected people are more prone to make counting errors. I don't see anything here to suggest there was an attempt to distinguish honest mistakes from intentional deceit here.

    An additional factor thrown into the mix was a post-play "game" which gave players the option to blast losing players with a loud noise through their headphones. (There was actually no one on the receiving end of the blasts, which is kind of a shame…) Violent game players were much more prone to do this, again suggesting those under the influence of Grand Theft Auto tend to be more aggressive and harmful towards others.


    In addition to the usual "short term adrenaline effect with no long-term implications" argument, this is vulnerable to another.

    Different game types have different gaming cultures. Adding insult to injury (e.g., "teabagging" a felled opponent's virtual corpse in a first-person shooter, verbal/text-message taunts, etc.) is commonplace and usually "all in good fun" with violent games, whereas I expect the gaming culture of Pinball 3D to have rather more decorum -- and I *know* that decorum is a giant part of golf culture.

    Players already familiar with several gaming cultures could be expected to exhibit the norms of one culture during and immediately following one game, and then the norms of another during and following another. Thus aggressive taunting-type behavior commonly following a victory at GTA but not one at Golf3D may not be indicative of more than differing norms in the associated gaming cultures, plus a research subject who tailors his behavior to the norms that seem to apply in context. Such a research subject would also be termed "a normal, functioning member of society", especially as compared to someone who was prone to reject the contextually-cued norms of behavior.

     

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  16.  
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    crade (profile), Dec 3rd, 2013 @ 12:42pm

    Re: Further flaws

    Also, for the loud noise, if the violent games are more competitive or more engaging than the non violent games, the competitiveness itself could easily prompt some (very minor) retaliation or taunting, as kids will do when they win or lose something they actually care about (ie: not golf)

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 3rd, 2013 @ 6:21pm

    Skittles not M&Ms

    If they tested Criminals with a violent history and found they behaved like 14 yr old geeky boys and started binging on juice boxes and skittles, then Maybe I would give this study some credibility.

     

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  18.  
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    Pixelation, Dec 3rd, 2013 @ 10:19pm

    The truth is, violent children are bad for video games.

     

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  19.  
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    Ninja (profile), Dec 4th, 2013 @ 1:28am

    Actually, stupidity and bad researches cause people to become murderers. At least I want to choke this guy just because he's a moron. So it would be better if he stopped researching. For the children.

     

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  20.  
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    btrussell (profile), Dec 4th, 2013 @ 2:22am

    Re:

    Sorry, but I participated in that study and they gave us W&W's.

     

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  21.  
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    btrussell (profile), Dec 4th, 2013 @ 2:38am

    "An additional factor thrown into the mix was a post-play "game" which gave players the option to blast losing players with a loud noise through their headphones. (There was actually no one on the receiving end of the blasts, which is kind of a shame…) Violent game players were much more prone to do this..."

    No one gets blasted but one is more prone to do so than another? OK.

    The study I conducted concluded that anyone trying to take something from someone else, or limiting their use of that something, is a serious threat to society and is much more likely to shoot someone. No one was shot during the study nor were any guns present, but they had access to guns and they are more prone to going and getting one.

     

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  22.  
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    Tim Griffiths (profile), Dec 4th, 2013 @ 3:27am

    Re: Hate to be a critic but...

    I thought it wasn't in question that playing games can cause short term changes in behaviour including being aggressive? In fact it would be strange if they didn't, everything we do has an effect on us and in terms of violent games which are inherently based around engaging and most importantly competitive play it's going to produce natural responses that increase aggression. The issue isn't if games do this or not it's if over a long period games cause base level changes... or more over video games as sports which provide exactly the same short term responses and often include inflicting real physical violence on other real people seem to get off scot free.

    Trying to argue that games can't effect behaviour is ridiculous and irresponsible. It also totally dismisses the idea that game could provide positive impacts. What needs to be argued is "does play violent games make a person more violent in the long term" and directly if that is the result of the game being simulated graphic violence or the result of competitive play.

     

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  23.  
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    Tim Griffiths (profile), Dec 4th, 2013 @ 3:41am

    Mindless eating

    There's an argument that people eating while they are engaged in entertainment do it mindlessly. To the point that they'll eat awful popcorn in amounts dictated by the size of the container.

    I wonder if the study took account of the fact the violent games they used where likely much more fun and engaging than the none violent ones. Not that pinball and golf can't be fun but they are stacking up two of the most well regarded games ever made against "3dgolf"... which doesn't exactly sound like an AAA tiger woods game does it? If it was I don't understand why it wasn't named.

    So are the players of the GTA games more greedy or do more engaged people tend to eat more with out thinking?

    As for the rest of the study, as pointed out, it conflates short term with long term and I thought we all agreed that the short term stuff happened?

    What I'd really like to have seen is a companion study in which they had one group play rugby or some other aggressive contact sport and the other group played actual golf or pinball and the same post game excrements ran.

     

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  24.  
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    btrussell (profile), Dec 4th, 2013 @ 5:43am

    Re: Re: Hate to be a critic but...

    One thing I enjoy about being late to the party here is that usually someone has saved me a pile of typing.

    Have an insightful vote.

     

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  25.  
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    Anelson (profile), Dec 4th, 2013 @ 6:42am

    Really people...

    Maybe instead of trying to correlate m&m eating to violent behavior from playing video games, they should look at the violent children and take a survey of the parenting techniques and moral disengagement of the parents of these children... Children tend to learn a lot from their parents...

     

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  26.  
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    Kevin F, Dec 24th, 2013 @ 8:15pm

    violent video games

    Its hard to say who really right about this I let my kids play violent video games mainly sons and they don't show any sign of it affecting them one way or the other and the study of candy what kids do you know that wont eat a lot of it or adult for that matter especially while play video games.

     

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  27.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 28th, 2014 @ 7:50am

    i like cheese

     

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  28.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 31st, 2014 @ 8:14am

    The guy is my facebook friend, and HOW THAT GUY IS EXTERMLY LIBERAL!!!! One of his posts was apparently, Bushman was shocked that more people are more offended by swearwords than they are by warfare and the destruction on the environment. Another stupid post was that he was disgusted that Rush Limbaugh "sexist" joke about the malls are baciscly women "muesuems".

     

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