Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Video Violence Lowers Self-Esteem

By Stephen Luntz

People see themselves as less humane after playing the violent games.

Participation in violent video games makes people rate themselves lower on measures of humanity than playing non-violent games like online tennis, a paper in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology reports.

Dr Brock Bastian of the University of Queensland’s School of Psychology studied players competing in violent and non-violent computer games, both against each other and against computer-generated avatars. Afterwards participants answered an eight-question survey rating themselves and the other person for characteristics such as interpersonal warmth, open-mindedness and refinement.

“There are good reasons to be concerned: the negative effects of violent video games have been well-documented and appear to be more significant than those associated with other forms of violent media,” Bastian says.

People saw themselves as less human, or at least less humane, after playing the violent games, irrespective of whether they were working with or against another person.

However, while their assessment of the other person was lower if they had competed at Mortal Kombat than Topspin Tennis, there was not a similar lowering effect in the perception of the other player if the two combined at a violent game rather than uniting on the same side of the net.

Bastian says the surveys were taken immediately after the game, and he imagines that occasional short games would have negligible effects on long-term behaviour and attitudes. Although some research has shown that people respond more aggressively immediately after playing brutal games, violent crimes have decreased in the developed world over the period in which digital games have become more popular and realistic, leading to suggestions that the games may be cathartic.

However, Bastian is concerned that extensive playing could damage players’ empathy and perceptions of others. “Policy is a hop, skip and jump from what we have found, but I guess I am arguing for a harm minimisation approach,” he says. “People need to be aware prolonged exposure may be harmful.”