Last week, we took a look at some examples that Anderson gave on video games’ adverse effects on children. This week, we’ll look at an experiment conducted by Anderson himself.

The experimental results in Anderson and Bushman’s studies are legitimately interesting. Much of the work revolves around measurements of aggression. The idea is to sit subjects down in front of violent video games and then measure their performance in a series of deadly knife duels, a scientific blood-sport as gruesome as it is completely just made up by me. Obviously, researchers can’t actually have people violence the hell out of each other, so their opponents, perhaps unfairly, can always attack their conclusions by saying “Yeah, but the subjects didn’t start shooting people!” Well, science does the best it can, and the measurements for heightened aggression, such as they are, should not be disregarded.

So, how does aggression get measured? It’s often with surveys or other verbal tests, and sometimes by more active and creative means. The 2004 Anderson et al. study is fairly typical of what this sort of research usually looks like. For the first experiment, they used psychology undergrads, told them refrain from alcohol, caffeine, and other stimulants or depressants before the tests, and sat them down to play selected video games for 20 minutes while measuring heart rate and blood pressure. Next, the subjects would complete a word-association test immediately after play, and then take a survey in which they would rate the game for things like fun, frustration, and violence. The control group played 3-D Ultra Pinball, Glider Pro, Indy Car II, Jewel Box, and Myst – nonviolent games – while the experiment group played Dark Forces, Marathon 2, Speed Demon, Street Fighter, and Wolfenstein 3-D. I have no idea why they would use 10-year-old games, or why 3 out of 5 would be shooters, but I don’t necessarily expect the researchers to have a great grasp on games themselves.

The word association test works by giving the subject a list of words that each have one or more missing letters. “The missing letters are strategic, such that each item can make more than one word. For instance, one item is ‘explo_e,’ which may be completed as ‘explore’ or ‘explode.’” Maybe they’re right: I haven’t even played games today, and I totally read that as “explode” first. Although I did just watch football…

Blood pressure and heart rate generally went up during gameplay, but there was no effect from violent vs. nonviolent games. However, the word association test resulted in significantly higher rates of aggressive words chosen by the violent game group, even after they controlled for factors like frustration (cleverly covering their bases about the plausible possibility that violent games perhaps are merely more frustrating and make subjects angry).

Join us next week when we continue our look at violence and video games, specifically, more experiments conducted by Anderson.

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