No Evidence to Support Link Between Violent Video Games and Behavior

Summary: A new study from University of York researchers backs up previous findings that there is no evidence to support the theory that violent video games increase real life aggressive behavior in gamers.

Source: University of York.

Researchers at the University of York have found no evidence to support the theory that video games make players more violent.

In a series of experiments, with more than 3,000 participants, the team demonstrated that video game concepts do not ‘prime’ players to behave in certain ways and that increasing the realism of violent video games does not necessarily increase aggression in game players.

The dominant model of learning in games is built on the idea that exposing players to concepts, such as violence in a game, makes those concepts easier to use in ‘real life’. This is known as ‘priming’, and is thought to lead to changes in behaviour. Previous experiments on this effect, however, have so far provided mixed conclusions.

Researchers at the University of York expanded the number of participants in experiments, compared to studies that had gone before it, and compared different types of gaming realism to explore whether more conclusive evidence could be found.

Reaction time

In one study, participants played a game where they had to either be a car avoiding collisions with trucks or a mouse avoiding being caught by a cat. Following the game, the players were shown various images, such as a bus or a dog, and asked to label them as either a vehicle or an animal.

Dr David Zendle, from the University’s Department of Computer Science, said: “If players are ‘primed’ through immersing themselves in the concepts of the game, they should be able to categorise the objects associated with this game more quickly in the real world once the game had concluded.

“Across the two games we didn’t find this to be the case. Participants who played a car-themed game were no quicker at categorising vehicle images, and indeed in some cases their reaction time was significantly slower.”


In a separate, but connected study, the team investigated whether realism influenced the aggression of game players. Research in the past has suggested that the greater the realism of the game the more primed players are by violent concepts, leading to antisocial effects in the real world.

Dr Zendle said: “There are several experiments looking at graphic realism in video games, but they have returned mixed results. There are, however, other ways that violent games can be realistic, besides looking like the ‘real world’, such as the way characters behave for example.

“Our experiment looked at the use of ‘ragdoll physics’ in game design, which creates characters that move and react in the same way that they would in real life. Human characters are modelled on the movement of the human skeleton and how that skeleton would fall if it was injured.”

Combat games

The experiment compared player reactions to two combat games, one that used ‘ragdoll physics’ to create realistic character behaviour and one that did not, in an animated world that nevertheless looked real.

video game controller
Priming’ is thought to lead to changes in behaviour image is adapted from the University of York news release.

Following the game the players were asked to complete word puzzles called ‘word fragment completion tasks’, where researchers expected more violent word associations would be chosen for those who played the game that employed more realistic behaviours.

They compared the results of this experiment with another test of game realism, where a single bespoke war game was modified to form two different games. In one of these games, enemy characters used realistic soldier behaviours, whilst in the other game they did not employ realistic soldier behaviour.

Further work

Dr Zendle said: “We found that the priming of violent concepts, as measured by how many violent concepts appeared in the word fragment completion task, was not detectable. There was no difference in priming between the game that employed ‘ragdoll physics’ and the game that didn’t, as well as no significant difference between the games that used ‘real’ and ‘unreal’ solider tactics.

“The findings suggest that there is no link between these kinds of realism in games and the kind of effects that video games are commonly thought to have on their players.

“Further study is now needed into other aspects of realism to see if this has the same result. What happens when we consider the realism of by-standing characters in the game, for example, and the inclusion of extreme content, such as torture?

“We also only tested these theories on adults, so more work is needed to understand whether a different effect is evident in children players.”

About this neuroscience research article

Source: Samantha Martin – University of York
Publisher: Organized by
Image Source: image is adapted from the University of York news release.
Original Research: Full open access research for “No priming in video games” by David Zendle, Paul Cairns, and Daniel Kudenko in Computers in Human Behavior. Published online September 17 2017 doi:10.1016/j.chb.2017.09.021

Cite This Article

[cbtabs][cbtab title=”MLA”]University of York “No Evidence to Support Link Between Violent Video Games and Behavior.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 16 January 2018.
<>.[/cbtab][cbtab title=”APA”]University of York (2018, January 16). No Evidence to Support Link Between Violent Video Games and Behavior. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved January 16, 2018 from[/cbtab][cbtab title=”Chicago”]University of York “No Evidence to Support Link Between Violent Video Games and Behavior.” (accessed January 16, 2018).[/cbtab][/cbtabs]


No priming in video games

Video games depict a variety of different concepts. Models of learning in games like the GLM (General Learning Model) and GAM (General Aggression Model) predict that exposing players to these in-game concepts can lead to important changes in player behaviour.

Priming effects are thought to be key to determining these changes in behaviour. However, recent research has suggested problems with the priming effects that have previously been observed in the video game literature. Indeed, widespread methodological issues with this body of research make it unclear whether priming effects occur at all in video games.

Two experiments (total N = 532) investigated whether priming effects still occurred in video games when known confounds in the literature were accounted for. Priming was observed in neither study. However, in both studies a novel negative priming effect was observed instead, in which exposure to a specific concept inhibited players’ reactions to things that were related to that concept.

These studies support previous research which indicates there may be serious confounding in the video game literature. They also suggest that the priming-related effects of video games may be overestimated. Finally, they highlight the potential existence of negative priming as an effect of video game play.

“No priming in video games” by David Zendle, Paul Cairns, and Daniel Kudenko in Computers in Human Behavior. Published online September 17 2017 doi:10.1016/j.chb.2017.09.021

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