Increased research into violent video games has been called for in the wake of the Dec. 14 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. The massacre prompted a debate that blames violent video games for these events. Wade Elmore, a UMKC psychology graduate student who is writing his thesis on the topic, believes otherwise.
“I think scientifically speaking we can’t make that connection. We have a lot of evidence suggesting there is increased aggression in the laboratory, but that is not the same as real world violence. We just haven’t gotten to the point where we can actually connect what we see in the lab to what might be happening in the real world,” Elmore said.
Elmore gathers information relating to violence in video games by using what is called the “emotion modulation of startle.” He exposes participants in the study to a series of pictures, both positive and negative, before and after playing video games.
Elmore described how different situations change how much one startles. People are less likely to be startled when looking at a “cute baby” than while looking at “someone holding a gun.”
“There is a violent condition and a non-violent condition. What we’ve found is that people who play the violent condition react less negatively to pictures involving violence then people who’ve played non-violent video games,” Elmore said.
Dr. Kymberley Bennett, Psychology Department associate professor, agrees with Elmore’s findings. Bennett believes that while playing violent video games for at least 20 minutes/day does desensitize players to negative and aggressive images, it isn’t enough to push someone to act aggressively.
“I think that there is a danger in taking individual studies and assuming anyone who plays video games is going to engage in violence. Some of the more situational variables, environmental input, together can make aggression more likely,” Bennett said.
Bennett explained that if playing video games results in arousing fear or anger in the player, compounded by external stresses, then “all of these situational and environmental irritants pile on and combine… and that makes aggression more likely.”
Elmore’s research suggests that repeated exposure playing violent video games for 20-plus minutes diminishes a person’s natural negative reaction to violence.
Elmore went on to say, “Does that lead to someone walking down the street and deciding to shoot everybody? No.…. Something like 90 percent of adolescent males play violent video games.”
Kirsten Peterson, UMKC senior, agrees with Elmore and Bennett. “I think that there is a misconception…just because loner types tend to play video games, but that doesn’t mean that all loners are prone to that type of violence.”
Elmore thinks it’s important to understand what the effects of violent video games are, particularly for little children. While he does believe that there are positive effects from playing video games, such as collaborations that build teamwork normally achieved through organized sports, the negative is the childhood obesity epidemic.
Elmore reflected, “I think we have to look at how video games are changing their processing. Do they view interactions with other people as more aggressive or less aggressive?”