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The Positive Effects of Playing Video Games on Adolescence

Kristina Martinez

Psych 463: Social and Personality Development


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The Positive Effects of Playing Video Games

It is well known that playing violent video games can have negative effects on an

individual, such as increased aggression or antisocial behavior. This has caused a major

stir in Congress and prompted our law makers to consider developing stricter laws on

video games companies. So much attention has been focused on researching violent

video games and aggression that the positive effects of playing video games have been

largely overlooked or ignored. High bias against violent video games has been shown to

exaggerate the negative aggression displayed, verses the natural positive aggression that

is displayed when faced with violence. This biased against violent video games has also

been the cause for the over shadowing of the positive effects of video games in general

and their benefits.

New studies have stepped away from the repetitive experiments on violent video

games and broadened their research to search for possible benefits of playing video

games. Recent studies have shown that playing video games can actually have positive

effects on adolescence’s behaviors and development. Video games have also been shown

to help improve visuospatial cognition, increases helpful behaviors, and even increases

physical fitness. Even violent video games have been shown to have possible positive

benefits that were never considered in previous research.

Increase in Positive Behavior Caused by Playing Video Games

In a series of four experiments by Greitemeyer & Osswald (2010), researchers set

out to see if there are always negative social outcomes to playing video games. In

particular, they wanted to examine if playing games with prosocial content could led to
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promoting prosocial or helping behavior. In their first experiment they wanted to see how

participants responded to spontaneous un-requested assistance, picking up spilled pencils,

after playing either a prosocial, neutral, or violent video game. It was predicted that the

prosocial gamers would be more likely to assist in picking up the pencils then the violent

video game players. They had 54 students ages 19-43 years old randomly assigned to

play one of the three game conditions for 8 minutes.

Participants were unaware of the actual nature of the study and thought the

experiment was how much people enjoyed playing classic video games. After the 8

minutes an experimenter, who knew the game conditions of the participant, would come

in an “accidentally” knock over a jar of pencils while reaching for questionnaire works

sheets. The experimenter paused for five seconds and participants were then observed to

see if they would assist the experimenter in picking up the spilt pencils. It was found that

those who played the prosocial video games were more likely then either the neutral or

violent video game players to help the experimenter pick up the pencils. 67% of the

prosocial game players assisted the experimenter, while only 33% of the neutral and 28%

of the violent video game players assisted. This showed that those who played prosocial

video games were more likely to participate in prosocial behavior. What was surprising

was that neutral video game players showed very little difference in their prosocial

behavior then the violent video gamers.

A second experiment was done in order to ensure that experimenter biases were

not affecting the results of the first study. In this second study Gretemeyer & Osswald

(2010) ensured that the experimenter did not know the gaming condition of the

participants. They also eliminated the violent video game option as the first experiment
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showed little difference between neutral and violent video games in prosocial behavior.

In this second experiment participants were tested under similar conditions as the first

experiment, except that their prosocial behavior was determined by whether or not they

would help a “graduate student” in completing their thesis by helping in further research.

The results showed that 100% of the prosocial video game players were willing to help

the “graduate student” in further research, while only 13/20 of the neutral gamers were

willing to help. This supports the results from experiment one and showed that

experimenter bias were not responsible for the first experiments results. Prosocial video

games really were influencing participant’s prosocial behavior in a positive way.

These results led to a third experiment were Greitemeyer and Osswald (2010)

wanted to see if these prosocial behaviors from playing prosocial games would extend to

real life situation where not helping could lead to negative consequences for the person

they did not help, in this case sexual harassment. This study had conditions similar to the

second experiment were participants were randomly assigned to prosocial or neutral

games, played for 8 minutes, and unaware of real testing objective. After the 8 minutes of

game playing a male confederate posing as an ex-boyfriend to the female experimenter

“observing” the participant would come in to the testing area. He would begin to make a

ruckus about how he wants her back and trying to get her to come with him, while the

female experimenter would keep saying she is busy and telling him to leave her alone.

Participants were observed to see if they would assist the experimenter and tell the “ex-

boyfriend” to leave, which he would if told, or ignore the situation and not help. In this

case another experimenter came in and “kicked” the confederate out. I was found that

56% of the prosocial player would intervene, while only 22% of the neutral gamers
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would help. This experiment further proves the theory that playing prosocial video games

increases helping and positive behaviors. This experiment was most important in that it

showed a real world instance in which playing prosocial games would be beneficial not

only to the individual, but to society as well.

In their final experiment Greitemeyer and Osswald (2010) wanted to see if

playing prosocial video games primed prosocial knowledge structures that promoted

prosocial behavior. The experiment had the same set up and conditions of experiments

two and three. This time participants were not only tested for prosocial behavior, picking

up pencils, but were also asked to write down what they were thinking while playing the

video game. Two independent rater assessed their responses and rated there thoughts on

the amount of prosocial and neutral content they contained. They discovered that the

prosocial players had more prosocial thoughts then the neutral game players. It was also

noted that the number of pencils picked up corresponded to the amount of prosocial

thoughts. Neutrals only picked up pencils 22% of the time where as prosocial player

picked up the pencils 63% of the time. This experiment remains consistent with the

results of the three previous experiments in the increase of prosocial behavior after

playing prosocial games.

Follow up studies by Greitemeyer and Osswald (2011) also showed that prosocial

video games helped to prime prosocial ideas. This in turn would lead a person to behave

in a more prosocial way because their thoughts are already primed for prosocial behavior.

The researcher’s (2011) study proved the existence of this prosocial priming effect after

playing prosocial video games. They had participants tested under similar conditions to

the 2010 studies, such as unaware of true experiment objectives, and randomly assigned
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to prosocial or neutral game. After ten minutes of playing their assigned game,

participants were asked to perform a lexical decision task. The results showed that those

who played the prosocial game responded faster to the prosocial words then those who

played the neutral game. Also those who played the neutral game responded quickest to

the neutral words in the lexical task. This proves that playing video games has a priming

effect and that prosocial video games can have a prosocial priming effect.

Another study by Bosche (2010) also supports the findings of Greitemeyer and

Osswald’s positive video game priming effect. The difference in this study was that

violent video games were used and the objective of the study was to show that playing

violent video games have the potential to prime positive concepts, such as engaging in

positively valenced playful fighting. This was shown through the participant’s

completion of a lexical decision task after playing either a violent video game or a neutral

game. The results showed that participants responded quickest to aggressive negative

words and positive words as well. This shows that violent video games not only prime

individuals for aggressive concepts, but positive ones as well.

In a final study by Greitemeyer et. al. (2012), prosocial video games were again

studied, but this time to see if they could reduce aggressive behavior and aggressive

cognitive thoughts. Participants were assigned to play either a prosocial, neutral, or

violent video game. They were then given an aggression questionnaire to account for

individual differences. After that they were told to write an essay that was then scored by

an examiner in another room. No matter what the participants wrote they were given a

poor score to illicit angry and aggressive feelings. They then proceeded to play their

assigned video games for 15 minutes. After the 15 minutes they were asked to rate how
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they felt from -5 to 5 and adjust some music to the volume of their choice. It was found

that the prosocial gamer rated themselves as feeling less angry and played the music

quieter then either the neutral or violent video game players. This shows that playing

prosocial video games can have a positive influence on an individual’s thoughts and

aggressive feelings. Schmierbach et. al. (2011), also supported the idea that people feel

video games do have negative benefits, but that their can also be great positive benefits

on oneself. However, some weaknesses of this study were that there was no controlled

experiment done and it relied on the participant’s subjective opinions through the filling

out of a questionnaire. All of these studies show many potential positive and beneficial

effects of playing video games and that a mood can be altered based on what video game

you choose to play.

Cognitive Benefits and Biases of Playing Video Games

In addition to the prosocial priming effects examined in the previous section,

playing video games has been shown to have cognitive benefits, such as increased

visuospatial cognition. Research studies on cognitive benefits by Chandrasekharan et. al.

(2010) revealed that video games help to improve attention, spatial cognition, and mental

rotation. Positive benefits like improved mental rotation abilities and improved attention

can be of great help to individuals. Improved mental rotation helps individuals to

recognize objects more quickly and accurately, while an improved attention span can be

beneficial to adolescence that have trouble focusing or paying attention in school. Also

mentioned were video games abilities to help individuals overcome cognitive limitations,

such as fear of flying, through simulations. This opens the window for new forms of
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phobia treatments and therapy that may help individuals who have phobias that are

normally hard to replicate, like fear of flying on a plane. Although it isn’t understood

why these cognitive benefits occur as a result of playing video games, Chandrasekharan

et. al. (2010) proposed a theory that they call the ideomotor effect. They define this

ideomotor effect as the brains common coding ability which connects an organism’s

movement, observation of movements, and imagination of movement. They showed that

the connections of the ideomotor effect do happen when individuals play video games

and may be one of the causes of the cognitive benefits that develop as the result of

playing video games. Further studies on this ideomotor effect may yield even more

positive cognitive benefits for those who play video games.

In a meta-analytic study by Ferguson (2007), it was found that playing violent

video games has a positive effect on an individual’s visuospatial cognition. It was also

found that so far, only violent video games have been shown to increase visuospatial

cognition. All other non- violent games have provided minimal effects of this positive

benefit that seems to be thus far almost exclusive to violent video games. These positive

benefits raised the question of why no one has heard of such benefits before. Ferguson

showed that these positive effects have often been ignored because of the stigma and bias

against violent video games.

Ferguson (2007), found that publication bias was one of the main contributors to

the bias results being published about both violent and non-violent video games. He also

discovered that many studies used un-standardized measures of aggression when studying

the effects of violent video games on aggression. It is not to far off to assume that many

of the studies done on video games, specifically violent video games, contained
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experimenter or participant biases as well. The most impacting discovery was made when

Ferguson adjusted the studies for the publication bias. He found that with the adjustment,

visuospatial cognition still showed significant increases after participants played violent

video games, while the association between violent video games and aggression no

longer held true to the popular belief. He also pointed out that it is easy to find “proof” of

violent video games causing aggressive behavior when 98% of adolescence play video

games. This study shows the importance of carefully scrutinizing results and being aware

of popular influences that may cause biases to occur in an experiment.

More biases in the scientific community were found in a future research by

Ferguson (2010). He found that moral panics are often responsible for such high

publication biases in the scientific community. Moral panics are when certain members

of society, usually older members, try to impose their beliefs on the larger society. In the

case of violent video games high members of society have spoken out against them and

made claims that they increase aggression or lead to individuals committing violent

crimes. These authority figures of society then fund research that will support their

claims. This is the beginning of the biases found not only in violent video games, but in

video game research in general.

Researchers will then play into the moral panic in order to receive funding for

their research. Their research was found to be conducted with invalid aggression

measures. This gave inaccurate results. Ferguson listed several factors that are the cause

of the biases found in video games research. The first was that “third” variable effects,

like a violent home environment, where not take into consideration. Other factors such as

citation bias, publication bias, and lack of scrutinizing peer reviews contributed to more
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violent video games equal increased aggression studies being published. All opposing

studies, such as those that showed positive benefits or those that did not support the moral

panic claim, were highly criticized and the results generally ignored. The media, such as

the nightly news, also helped fuel the bias flames by constantly reporting inaccurate

studies findings. These biases have only recently been exposed and the research on the

positive cognitive effects of playing video games has already begun to come to light.

Physical Fitness Increase and Health Care Benefits

Video games have also been proven to have benefits for our physical health,

especially with the invention of the Wii, Playstation Eye Toy, and Xbox kinects. All three

of these new gaming technologies require users to physically move in order to control the

game. A recent study by Maddison et.al. (2012) showed that these physically active game

systems may hold the key to battling the recent epidemic of obese children. Their study

found that by just playing one hour of the Playstation eye toy or Wii, children reduced

their BMI (body mass index) by 8% and their body fat by as much as 50%. All the

researchers did was have these normally sedentary gamers replace one of their gaming

hours with a physically active game for 24 weeks. This study opens up a whole new

window for the interventions of obesity in children and provides a treatment that not only

works, but that the child will actually use.

The health care industry is another area which has shown a positive benefit for

playing video games. Various video games have been used in the health industry to treat

burn victims, asthma patients, physical therapy, diabetes, bowel dysfunction, cancer, and

even improve doctor’s surgical skills. Specialized games have been developed tailored to
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a particular medical condition and have proven to raise children’s understanding of their

disease. These tailored games also play an important role in motivating children and

increasing their self efficacy when dealing with their ailments. The case of the specialized

game for burn victims, called Snow World, has been especially effective in reducing pain

by tricking the brain into thinking it is cold and drawing attention away from the burning

sensation. With these studies, video games have shown themselves to have positive

benefits for physical heath and the health care industry.

Conclusion

Overall these studies have shown several benefits and positive effects of playing

video games. They can improve cognitive abilities, such as increase visuospatial

cognition, mental rotation, attention, and help individuals overcome cognitive limitations.

Video games can also prime natural positive aggression, helping behaviors, and prosocial

behaviors. They can even be of service to the healthcare industry, such as in the treatment

of burn patients. Improving our physical health by helping to combat the obesity

epidemic in adolescent children is another positive benefit of video games that we are

only beginning to explore. These positive effects show that playing video games may do

more good then harm. Such findings can influence real world policy making and show

proof to Congress that stricter regulation on video games is unnecessary. Further research

is needed to show the many positive benefits that have only recently come to light and

overcome the many bias and faulty experiments of the past.


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References

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Journal of Media Psychology: Theories, Methods, and Applications, 22, 139-146.

Chandrasekharan, S., et. al. (2010). Ideomotor design: Using common coding theory to

derive novel video game interactions. Pragmatics & Cognition, 18, 313-339.

Ferguson, C. J. (2007). The good, the bad and the ugly: A meta-analytic review of

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Ferguson, C. J. (2010). Blazing angels or resident evil? Can violent video games be a

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Greitemeyer, T., & Osswald, S. (2010). Effects of prosocial video games on prosocial

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