October 12, 2005 12:03 PM PDT

Violence in games stimulates brain for aggression

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Violent video games appear to put the human brain in a mood to fight, according to a new study from Michigan State University.

In the study, 13 males played the first-person shooter game "Tactical Ops: Assault on Terror" while in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) system, which measures brain activity. The brain scans of 11 of the subjects exhibited "large observed effects" characteristic of aggressive thoughts. The researchers said the pattern of brain activity can be considered to be caused by virtual violence.

"There is a causal link between playing the first-person shooting game in our experiment and brain-activity pattern that are considered as characteristic for aggressive cognitions and effects," said Rene Weber, assistant professor of communication and telecommunication at MSU. "There is a neurological link, and there is a short-term causal relationship. Violent video games frequently have been criticized for enhancing aggressive reactions such as aggressive cognitions, aggressive effects or aggressive behavior. On a neurobiological level we have shown the link exists."

fMRI monitors the brain and examines how it is stimulated by different types of physical sensation or activity. Sight, sound, touch and other physical sensations show up on an fMRI image. Increased blood flow to a section of the brain indicates increased activity.

Brain scan
Credit: Michigan State University
Brain activity images during video
game play.

In the study, the researchers tracked brain activity of the subjects as well as took physiological observations of the subject. The data was then analyzed on a frame-by-frame basis with the game.

The 13 subjects, all in Germany, ranged in age from 18 to 26 and played an average of 15 hours of video games a week. At a minimum, the subjects played five hours of video games a week.

The study, and likely others that follow it, are part of an ongoing larger debate about video games. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently signed a bill placing restrictions on the sale of M-, or mature-, rated games. Other states have passed or are considering similar legislation.

Game publishers and advocates, by contrast, say these laws will be ineffective and could violate the First Amendment and Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Parent groups also have entered the debate, often applauding the restrictions.

Klaus Mathiak of RWTH Aachen University, in Germany, and Ute Ritterfeld of the University of Southern California also participated in the study.

The entire report of the research will appear in the January 2006 edition of Media Psychology.

31 comments

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Scientists are stupid
Before you know it, a scientist is going to discover that watching porn makes people *****.
Posted by scdecade (329 comments )
Reply Link Flag
That's a silly think to say
Most scientist are smart. Way smarter than you.
And scientist rarely say stupid things.
When you read something stupid (like this) attributed to a scientist, 99% of the time it's a misquote, information taken out of context or just a plain lie.
For example, in this article:
There is a causal link between playing the first-person shooting game in our experiment and brain-activity pattern that are considered as characteristic for aggressive cognitions and effects.
That means there is a causal effect between playing games and having activity in parts of your brain that's normally used for agressive behavior. But no scientist claimed that this implies aggresive behavior will later be expressed by people exposed to videogames. No scientist would ever claim that seeing a picture a naked woman stimulates parts of your brain used when raping a woman, so seeing pictures of naked girls makes men rape women. THat's the kind of reasoning a scientist doesn't do. But the layperson often does, and that's why it's so easy for publishers to quote scientists out of context and get people to interpret what they want.
I'm sick of seeing supposedly scientific claims in the media, then going to check for the sources, and the original scientific studies either never claimed what the article says or did so in a completely different context.
And it's not that the media is composed of stupid people, either. THey are smart. Smart enough to reap hughe amounts of money by printing what sells, not what it's real.
Posted by Hernys (744 comments )
Link Flag
Are the effects permanente?
I doubt it. I also doubt this effect is limited to video games.
Posted by unknown unknown (1951 comments )
Reply Link Flag
So forming your fingers to resemble a gun...
So forming your fingers to resemble a gun and running around going "bang, bang, bang!" like any 2 year old with a functioning pair of testicles must have a similar effect.

Are these people idiots, or just desperate liberals?
Posted by gerhard_schroeder (311 comments )
Reply Link Flag
2 year olds dont play these type of video games
I find it increadible that you post a comment like this. 2 year olds are not the target of this study - its impressionable early teens who might be able to gain access to real guns. I'm no Liberal but this countries freedoms are being undermined by an irresponsible minority who put such impressionable material on the market and even more ignorant parents who let their children buy it. Wake up!
Posted by pgheeky (10 comments )
Link Flag
Proud Liberal
Gerhard, I am a proud liberal, and, it just so happens, the holder
of a degree in neuroscience. You, it would seem, are an idiot. I
do not resort to ad hominem lightly. First, you decided to so
digress. Second, your own words announce this fact. As the
group most responsible for large scale government intrusion
into the personal lives of it's citizens, conservatives certainly are
not in a position to be pointing fingers at people, whether in the
form of a gun or not, accusing them of being desperate, idiotic,
or domineering. Nor is there any correlation between the desire
to curtail video game sales and being liberal, In fact, if anything,
it is the reverse. The movement to ban violent games, or at least
curtail them, is predominantly a conservative cause. Although
sometimes fronted by pseudo liberal dimwits like Senator
Lieberman or Tipper Gore, the majority of people calling for
such constraints are card-carrrying red state conservatives.
Liberal, BY DEFINITION, means supporting the idea of LIBERTY.
Liberty to sell whatever one wants, and to buy whatever one
wants. Conservative, by contrast, means to want to preserve the
status quo. While these terms are NOT mutually exclusive, by
and large, the vast majority of intrusions into liberty are from
the right, not the left. In fact, conservatives, for the most part,
only seem to resist intrusions into fundamental liberties if it will
cost them money. The only liberty they seem to be willing to
fight to the death for is monetary, the right to make as much
money as possible.
As to the study, it is stupid, bad science, and irrelevant. No one
seriously doubts that engaging in aggressive behaviour
stimulates those areas responsible for that behaviour. The issue
is not whether a causal link exists between viewing violence and
brain activity, but whether this neural activity in response to
virtual behaviour carries over into real life behaviour. The data
here are quite clear, though somewhat complicated. If one looks
at a window immediately following exposure to violence, and
one can assume while neural activity in these areas is still high,
the answer appears to be, yes, there is a causal correalation,
However, this effect is extremely transitory, completely
disappearing within minutes.
So, as far as this story is concerned, the response has to be: "so
what?"
Posted by DeusExMachina (516 comments )
Link Flag
Game Makers at Fault
Build it and they will come. Well, they did and a generation of kids followed suit. There's a big difference between kids watching pro football on tv and blowing away human beings on a video screen as hgobbies. Parents can't be held responsible cause the kids'll play the blood-spattering games at friends' houses if they can't play 'em at home.
Posted by i_made_this (302 comments )
Reply Link Flag
pish!
Parents *are* to blame (to generalise and paraphrase)... his friends parents should be aware of the 'wellfare' of what both their own son is doing as well as that of his friend. I know I certainly would.

Unless of course his friend lives in some parentless limbo devoid of any nuturing sustanance that comes from a loving and attentive family.
Posted by Quake3Bits (3 comments )
Link Flag
violence decreasing acording to the fbi
I was just reading a study saying that violence by young people have been decreasing since about the early 90's. So as video games are becoming more popular, people aren't being as violent, and/or killing people.

Most people just want to blame their problems on other things, like music, video games, and other media. Even though it is "old" to say that it's the parents fault, it most likely is.

To make sure our kids are never violent, we should keep them in a cardboard box until they are 30.
Posted by tomthegreat (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Re-read the article.
There is a "casual" link, "there is a short-term causal relationship." If those words aren't enough, research and you'll find studies to confirm that. The effects aren't long lasting.

Movies, music, and videogames are supposed to elicit a reaction. That's why we buy and enjoy them. What about all the damage and insanity caused over a futbol game? Do they ban it?

Stop looking for a scapegoat beyond the person responsible for the crime. If a videogame can cause someone to commit murder, maybe there was something wrong before the game came along.

There are a multitude of other reasons murders have been committed. More people have been killed "In the name of God," than as a result of playing a video game. You don't even have to go back to the Holy Wars, just four years.

Society needs to wake up and put the responsibility in the hands of those responsible, the people doing the killing. Do you blame a gun for shooting someone? No. Do you blame the store for selling the gun or the bullets? If so, why? A person can be killed with a piece of rope or a kitchen knife, and it happens, but they continue to be sold.

By that logic, if video games are banned, anything remotely deadly should be banned as well. Makers of games, makers of guns and ammunition, and kitchen knives, and rope, and so on, trust us to be responsible human beings with brains in our heads. For the most part, we are, but there a few bad eggs that abuse it.
Posted by (3 comments )
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I agree.
That is the point, they have established that there is a link. The problem is once they read there is a link, they overlook everything else. It says there is a casual, and short term link. Unless I'm reading that wrong (but I'm not, other studies back me up on this,) the link ends when the game ends, meaning it doesn't get taken outside of the game world.

lol, Milan, you sound like you have your head on straight, and you're a pretty smart person, I'd like to buy you a beer or some other drink and discuss life with you. lol
Posted by (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Scientists agree with intelligent design....
There's too much conflicting data out there to decide who's right and who's wrong. If anything this study was probably conducted by first year interns for college credit, sponsered by some sneaky politician. Would this be considered ignorance on my part? I'd call it confusion. All I know is if bloody violence is good enough for the bible, well by gum it's go enough for my videogames.
Posted by Laserdisc (79 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What conflicting evidence?
People often make this claim, but it is rarely true, In this specific
case, the data are quite consistent.
The issue is not the conflict of data, but its interpretation. Claiming
that this "study," or any one similar, supports the efforts of those
attempting to restrict violent video games is indicative of someone
who should not be permitted to claim they understand how to read
a scientific journal, or interpret the data
Posted by DeusExMachina (516 comments )
Link Flag
I'm sure my brain reacts
I think their findings are correct. It makes sense that any normal human is going to react to their environement. Thats the natural way of the brain. if not then I would say there is a problem. I would worry about the ones not reacting and not having aggressive responses from very realistic games.. I would fear the lack of reaction. There are more serial killers with brains that show lack of stimulation and thats why the can kill without a conscious. Does this mean the trained killers..(The US Military) are all going to start killing folks one day because they trained to defend us? I'm a long time gamer..some 20 years and average way over 15 hours a week. Games don't kill people..people kill people. lack of stimulus has shown up on many occassions with seriously derranged people. Again...Its the lack of response in the 2 of eleven that is scary.
Posted by (2 comments )
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Oh yeah
One last thing...Am I violent..Only if my life is threatened or my family. What about the good that comes out of video games. my eye hand coordination is ten fold most other individuals. Doctors are now playing video games to increase their eye hand coordination and the Military trains routinely with video games on a large scale called simulators....Again...fear the non stimulated test subjects.
Posted by (2 comments )
Link Flag
The Debate Rages On
Imagine that - brain activity while engaged in a stimulating activity! I think the more serious case would be an indication of NO brain activity while engaged. Is this report saying that we should not do stimulating things in our lives? Count me out! I, like most people seek pleasurable experiences. The problem with this report is that it is open-ended, leaving it open to political leverage on both sides of the "virtual divide" arguement. Agression is not a "bad" thing. It is found in our daily competitive lives in work and play. The issue should not be about "brain activity" it should be about social responsibility and in the case of adolescents - parenting.
Posted by OverLord56 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
duh!
Isn't this just normal behaviour being observed? 'Mirror Neurons' have long been known of in humans, and recently discovered in 'not so higher order' chimps. Seeing somebody doing something (ie, anything) causes you to mimick the same movements and actions in your own brain, this activity occurs towards the frontal area of the brain.
Have the test subjects watch people hand out flowers and gifts and the same 'violent and aggresive' brain activity will be seen in a MRI scan.
Posted by (1 comment )
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This just in!
Studies show that watching boobies in games stimulates woodies!

In other news, studies show that reading "news" of the blatantly obvious stimulates readers to respond sarcastically and to look elsewhere for actual news.
Posted by just_some_guy (231 comments )
Reply Link Flag
No cause between games and violence was established
The only thing these 'studies' have ever shown is that people with higher then average aggression are likely to be attracted to violent video games.

Lets see what happens in a test with people NOT attracted to violent video games.
Posted by Bill Dautrive (1179 comments )
Reply Link Flag
NO CAUSATION! (great comic strip parody of this issue)
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.ctrlaltdel-online.com/?t=archives&#38;date=2005-10-12" target="_newWindow">http://www.ctrlaltdel-online.com/?t=archives&#38;date=2005-10-12</a>

That about sums up what we gamers think about this whole issue. I am a 20 year old gamer and have been playing violent video since the advent of doom. I do not own a gun nor plan to own a gun nor do I have any real feelings toward killing someone and then going ahead and blaming it on a game that I played often. God help us if people go and kill other people and then proceed to blame it on GTA3 and get away with only going to a psych ward. Basically I have one main question. Guess who bought those video games for the younger than 17 teens? yea.. the parents.
Posted by battlecow (5 comments )
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Amen brutha
Allowing these right wing conservative freaks to continue their self serving personal agendas to feed their god complex egos allows the truth to be concealed and the ones really at blame to get sympathy and avoid their proper punishment. Their are bad people in the world who do bad things and no video game made them that way. And if a video game was all it took to make them kill someone then they were too close to the edge anyway. A job loss, girl breaking up with the, or any number of things would have eventually set them off.
Posted by dentonez (1 comment )
Link Flag
What's the control?
There is no mention of any kind of control for this experiment. Did they try monitoring brain activity while the same users played *non-violent* video games, and see whether the same brain activity pattern did or did not register?
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Right.
I'm not surprised at all by these "findings"

As others have said, its not surprising that while playing a violent video game your brain reacts similiary to real violence.

The question is there any real link between playing of video games, and actually making someone a violent person.

Which I do not beleive there is, as video games sales have skyrocketed in the last 10-15 years, and crimerates have gone down.
Posted by Madrone (43 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Overblown
When the study is published, we can learn the details...

Until then, it seems unremarkable.

Imagining or otherwise simulating an activity has been shown
many times to activate the same regions of the brain that are
active during the real thing. But it has no connection I've heard
of to changing future behavior or thoughts.

The study (as I understand it) says absolutely nothing about
whether playing video games makes you more violent.

Early in a romantic relationship, parts of your brain involved in
addictive behaviors (like drug addiction) are activated. But I
highly doubt being infatuated repeatedly leads to increased use
of addictive substances. (And I haven't of any any research
claiming this either.)

The media frequently fail to interpret findings in science.
Likewise, scientists often fail to communicate important findings
to the public. It's a shame.

BTW, I'm a cognitive scientist familiar with the methodology
used in the study.
Posted by mgreere (332 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Free trial offer game
When a boy is turning a Playboy magazine pages &
His heart is pumping and his leg &.
Why? His brain and body is not incompetent.
Is that called Stimulation?
Is that called Aggression?

Here comes a free trial offer  Playboy SA game.
SA  stands for Satisfaction!?
Posted by mk. smith (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
But where is the science?
I don't know why anyone even bothered to do this study, much less to publish this article. It was almost as if they tried to do this study with as little scientific credibility (and budget) as possible. First of all did they do any test to see what affects a non violent video game, no they did not. Did they even test various video games of various levels of quality (as "Tactical Ops: Assault on Terror" is supposed to be an average game and it could be angering the players with its less then great game play) no they did not. Also : where the other players paying with the one in the fMRI or was the subject playing alone, what difficulty was the game set to for the players, was it comfortable for them to be in the fMRI and playing and there are many other factors that would also need to be tested to prove anything. It almost seems like you did only the work that could prove that video games caused aggression and excluded any tests that could prove that information wrong.
Posted by (1 comment )
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Yes, what about Tetris?
Well said, Benoit, there isn't a lot of ruling out done here... a questionnaire based on the 'frustratingness' of the game would perhaps be a start, comparing the scans with the players subjective experience. After all, i've seen a pretty violent response to some entirely non-violent games eg. tetris.

details of whether the subjects were regular game players would be useful too.

we'd really have to have access to the study itself before complaining too much though, as has been said already, journalists have their own agendas for messing around with existing data.

The idea that this could affect later behaviour though... is crazy. Simulating violent behaviour on a computer game doesnt make you a violent person in the same way that saturday night karaoke doesn't make you a pop star.
just because the simulated activity invokes the same brain response does not mean that the individual is not aware of the gap between fantasy and reality.

articles like this make me just want to bang my head on the table. i wonder if that too counts as violent activity...
Posted by (1 comment )
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