Institute of HeartMath Newsletter
Violent Video Games Stress People Out

Violent Video Games Stress People Out, Make Them Aggressive

The increasing popularity of violent video games over the last two decades or so has raised concern among parents, health professionals and others about their effects on players’ health and tendencies toward violence in their real lives.

Considerable research concludes these types of games do affect players negatively. (It should be noted, however, there is other research in this area that draws the opposite conclusion.)

With the holiday season approaching, millions of people already are trolling the multibillion-dollar video game industry for gifts. A recently completed study that utilizes a unique measure, cardiac coherence, to assess the effects of violent video games may be of interest to holiday shoppers as they prepare to hit stores in person or online.

Look for alternative nonviolent video games at the end of this article.

Study Uses Coherence to Measure Effects of Violent Video Games

The three researchers who conducted the study set out to answer the question: Do violent video games increase aggression by inducing stress in players? As the title of the study, Violent Video Games Stress People Out and Make Them More Aggressive, clearly indicates, the research answers the question in the affirmative. The researchers on the project were Youssef Hasan and Laurent Bègue of the University Pierre Mendès-France in Grenoble; and Brad J. Bushman of The Ohio State University in Columbus and VU University Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

"Consistent with many previous studies," the researchers wrote, "participants who played a violent video game were significantly more aggressive afterwards than were participants who played a nonviolent video game."

Study Uses Coherence to Measure Effects of Violent Video Games

That’s precisely the result they expected, but their purpose and the focal point of their trials was to see if cardiac, or heart coherence could be a viable measure of the stress and aggression such games cause.

The study consisted of 77 French university students, mostly women, who were randomly assigned in pairs to be opponents of one another either in one of three violent video games or, for comparative purposes, one of three nonviolent games. The stress levels of participants were assessed based on their cardiac coherence, measured according to the degree of synchronization between their breathing rhythms and heart rhythms. Heart coherence, which the Institute of HeartMath has researched for more than two decades, refers to the stability or smoothness of heart rhythms; the more stable heart rhythms are, the higher the heart coherence, which is a highly beneficial state, mentally, emotionally and physically.


Aggression Measured by Noise

The amount of aggression participants displayed after playing one of the three violent video games was measured according to the decibel levels of noise with which the winners in the games could blast their playing partners, which the researchers noted was a well-validated measure of laboratory aggression.

Aggression Measured by Noise "The winner could blast the loser with loud noise through headphones," the study states.

"The noise levels ranged from … 60 decibels to … 105 decibels (about the same level as a fire alarm). A nonaggressive no-noise option … was also provided. The winner could also determine the duration of the loser’s suffering by controlling the noise duration."

Also, the researchers wrote, "After playing the game, participants rated how absorbing, action-packed, arousing, boring, difficult, enjoyable, entertaining, exciting, frustrating, fun, involving, stimulating and violent (they were)."

The study concludes: "Violent game players are placed in an emergency situation in which many enemies are trying to kill them. One consequence of this exposure is an increase in stress. The present research showed that violent games reduced cardiac coherence. … Thus, violent games may increase aggression in part by stressing players out. Although nobody actually gets killed in a violent game, players do experience increased stress, which makes them more cranky and prone to aggress against others."


HeartMath Provides Healthy Alternative

Along with researching the causes and mental, emotional and detrimental physical effects of stress, the Institute of HeartMath has explored ways and developed a variety of tools, technology and products that have been scientifically tested to be effective in reducing it. Among these are two nonviolent video games HeartMath recommends.

  • Tropical Heat Jet Ski Racing Tropical Heat™ Jet Ski Racing gives video game lovers the thrill of riding ocean waves at a full clip or leisurely cruising around a lake, all the while honing your heart-coherence skills as you play.

    Tropical Heat is played in conjunction with HeartMath’s scientifically developed and proven emWave® Desktop or emWave®2 for Mac and PC. The game has been adapted to incorporate the science of coherence. Players practice increasing and maintaining coherence by controlling their Jet Skis’ speed and direction while navigating different courses and challenges. As players’ abilities to maintain balance and coherence improve, these skills can carry over into their daily activities.

  • Dual Drive Pro Dual Drive™ Pro is a multiplayer auto-racing software program powered by coherence. It is aimed at players who have learned emotion self-regulation skills and would like to hone their abilities to achieve higher levels of coherence – and have fun doing it. Dual Drive works in tandem with the emWave® Desktop program (PC version only), which controls the game in the background.

    As individuals navigate any of the nine courses and race through the Lost Desert, Aztec Swamp and other courses, their goal is to cross the finish line first. The greater your heart coherence level, the better chance you have of getting there. Scientists developed this challenging racing game to help players improve their lives on and off the course.