Violent Video Games Stress People Out and Make Them More Aggressive

Youssef Hasan, Laurent Bègue and Brad J. Bushman

University Pierre Mendès-France, Grenoble, France; The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio; VU University, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Aggressive Behavior, volume 00, pages 1-7 (2012) 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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In emergency situations, the body responds with stress. Stress is an undesirable state because it can have harmful effects on the body, such as cardiovascular disease (Weiten, Dunn, & Hammer, 2011). Most people already experience enough stress in their lives without intentionally exposing themselves to more stress. We argue that violent video game players do just that—they intentionally expose players to stressful situations in which enemies are trying to kill them. Although some video games can have a relaxing effect on players (Russoniello, O'Brien, & Parks, 2009; Whitaker & Bushman, 2012), violent video games have the opposite effect. Research has shown that violent video games increases physiological arousal, such as heart rate (Barlett & Rodeheffer, 2009), blood pressure and skin conductance (Arriaga, Esteves, Carneiro, & Monteiro, 2006), and stress hormones such as epinephrine and nor-epinephrine (Lynch, 1999). Although nobody actually dies, violent players may still experience stress.

It is well known that violent video games increase aggression (see Anderson et al., 2010 for a metaanalytic review). It is also well known that that stressful situations such as crowding, unpredictable noise, unpleasant odors, and hot temperatures increase aggression (see Bushman & Huesmann, 2010 for a review). The present research links these two well-established empirical findings by investigating increased stress as one possible explanation of why violent video games increase aggression. Rather than relying on self-report measures of stress that may be subject to demand characteristics and other biases (e.g., Nisbett & Wilson, 1977), we examine for the first time cardiac coherence as a possible mediator of the link between exposure to violent video games and subsequent aggression.We chose to focus on cardiac coherence because it is an excellent measure of reduced stress.