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How Long Do the Short-Term Violent Video Game Effects Last?

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How long do the effects of the initial short-term increase in aggression and physiological arousal last after violent video game play? Study 1 (N=91) had participants complete pre- and postvideo game measures of aggressive thoughts, aggressive feelings, and heart rate. Then, participants completed Time 3 measures after 4 min or 9 min of delay. Study 2 employed a similar procedure, but had participants (N=91) complete the hot sauce paradigm to assess aggressive behavior after a 0, 5, or 10 min delay. First, results indicated that aggressive feelings, aggressive thoughts, aggressive behavior, and heart rate initially increased after violent video game play. Second, results of the delay condition revealed that the increase in aggressive feelings and aggressive thoughts lasted less than 4 min, whereas heart rate and aggressive behavior lasted 4-9 min.
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AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIOR
Volume 35, pages 225–236 (2009)
How Long Do the Short-Term Violent Video Game
Effects Last?
Christopher Barlett
1
, Omar Branch
2
, Christopher Rodeheffer
2
, and Richard Harris
2
1
Department of Psychology, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa
2
Department of Psychology, Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas
:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
How long do the effects of the initial short-term increase in aggression and physiological arousal last after violent video game play?
Study 1 (N591) had participants complete pre- and postvideo game measures of aggressive thoughts, aggressive feelings, and heart
rate. Then, participants completed Time 3 measures after 4 min or 9 min of delay. Study 2 employed a similar procedure, but had
participants (N591) complete the hot sauce paradigm to assess aggressive behavior after a 0, 5, or 10min delay. First, results
indicated that aggressive feelings, aggressive thoughts, aggressive behavior, and heart rate initially increased after violent video game
play. Second, results of the delay condition revealed that the increase in aggressive feelings and aggressive thoughts lasted less than
4 min, whereas heart rate and aggressive behavior lasted 4–9 min. Aggr. Behav. 35:225–236, 2009.
r
2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
Keywords: video games; aggression; heart rate; duration
INTRODUCTION
The public often asks media violence researchers
the following question: ‘‘Will playing violent video
games cause my child to kill another person?’’
Although this question is very broad and vague (and
completely inappropriate considering the research
on media violence and aggression), we believe that
this question can be dissected into three different
testable research questions. The first is whether or
not long-term exposure to violent video games
increases aggressive behavior. Longitudinal research
has shown that violent video game exposure at Time
1 significantly predicts aggressive behavior at Time 2
after controlling for relevant aggression-related
variables [Anderson et al., 2007]. The second is
whether or not playing a violent video game
increases aggressive behavior immediately after
game play has concluded. This question has been
answered by research that has found that playing a
violent, vs. nonviolent, video game is related to an
immediate increase in aggressive behavior [see
Anderson, 2004]. The third question is how long
does this heightened aggression last? Research has
yet to address this question.
Focusing on the second question, there has been
extensive work on the short-term effects that violent
video games have on aggression. It has been
consistently shown that violent video games are
related to heightened levels of aggression. Several
meta-analytic reviews have been conducted, which
have found that violent video game play is related to
aggressive behaviors, aggressive feelings, aggressive
thoughts, and physiological arousal [e.g., Anderson,
2004; Anderson and Bushman, 2001]. Most research
in this domain has assessed aggression only after
video game play, rather than using a pretest, posttest
design [e.g., Anderson and Murphy, 2003; Ballard
and Lineberger, 1999; Ballard and Wiest, 1996;
Bartholow and Anderson, 2002; Carnagey and
Anderson, 2005; Pannee and Ballard, 2002; Scott,
1995]. A few studies have investigated the effects
that video games have on aggression and arousal
change within individuals. These studies have
found that there was a significant increase in
aggressive thoughts, feelings, and arousal from
Published online 10 February 2009 in Wiley InterScience (www.
interscience.wiley.com). DOI: 10.1002/ab.20301
Received 24 March 2008; Revised 3 December 2008; Accepted 26
December 2008
Correspondence to: Christopher Barlett, Department of psychology,
Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011. E-mail: cpb6666@iastate.edu
r
2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
pre- to postvideo game play [Barlett and Rodeheffer,
2009; Barlett et al., 2007]. This effect stabilizes after
the initial increase in aggression, thus Barlett and
Rodeheffer [2009] concluded that once participants
are aggressively primed, via violent video game play,
there is no additional effect of continued violent
video game play.
Overall, these findings can be explained by a
number of theoretical frameworks, including Social
Learning Theory [Bandura, 1983], Script Theory
[Huesmann, 1998], Excitation Transfer Theory
[Zillmann, 1983], Theory of Neo-Associative Net-
works [Berkowitz, 1993], and the integrative General
Aggression Model [Anderson and Bushman, 2001].
Past research has found that violent video game play
is related to aggressive thoughts, aggressive feelings,
physiological arousal, and aggressive behavior [see
Anderson, 2004], as suggested by these theories.
Further, they suggest that aggressive thoughts,
aggressive feelings, and physiological arousal med-
iate the relation between violent video game
play and aggressive behavior [see Anderson and
Bushman, 2001].
There has yet to be any empirical published study
of how long the short-term effects of video game
violence last. Certainly, longitudinal work has
suggested that prolonged violent media exposure is
related to trait aggression shifts as early as 5 months
later [Anderson et al., 2007; Study 3] and can last as
long as 15 years [Huesmann et al., 2003]. Although
insightful and important, the results from such work
cannot answer the question of how long do the
short-term effects from media violence exposure
last. Bushman and Huesmann [2006] argued that
short-term effects of media violence exposure (in
adults) are best explained by the priming of
aggressive knowledge structures (scripts, schemas),
which guide behavior. Once activated, these aggres-
sive knowledge structures can also create feelings of
hostility and general physiological arousal, owing to
their theoretically predicted correlated relationships
[see Anderson and Bushman, 2001]. However, it is
unknown exactly how long these effects will last, but
empirical evidence suggests that hostility and
aggressive thoughts may dissipate very soon after
video game play, as the former is an emotion
[Larson, 2000], and the latter are primed nodes in
memory. Arousal and aggressive behavior, on the
other hand, may not dissipate immediately.
Evidence has shown that more than 5 min is
necessary to reduce arousal after exposure to violent
stimuli to baseline [Zillmann et al., 1974], while it is
unknown how long aggressive behavioral tendencies
will last.
STUDY 1
Overview of this Study
The primary goal of this study was to answer the
third research question and determine how long the
effects of the heightened aggression and physiologi-
cal arousal after violent, vs. non-violent, video game
play last. Before this research question can be
empirically tested, two conditions have to be met.
First, the violent video game has to increase
aggressive thoughts, feelings, and physiological
arousal from baseline. Second, these aforementioned
increases should not be observed for those who play
a nonviolent video game. Once these conditions are
met, the main research question will be tested by
giving one group of participants a set of question-
naires to assess aggressive feelings, thoughts, and
heart rate immediately after completion of an
aggressive behavior task, and another group of
participants will be given the same set of ques-
tionnaires 5 min after the completion of an aggres-
sive behavior task.
We predict an increase in aggressive feelings,
aggressive thoughts, and physiological arousal
after violent video game play. Then those in
the 4 min delay condition will have similar scores
on all of the variables because very little time
has elapsed since the previous questionnaire admin-
istration. We also predict a significant drop in the
scores of all dependent variables for the 9 min
condition.
The second objective was to test how many
internal state variables (aggressive thoughts, aggres-
sive feelings, and arousal) are necessary to fully
mediate the relationship between video game con-
tent and aggressive behavior. To test this prediction,
a series of mediation tests were conducted. We
predicted that all three of the internal state variables
are necessary to mediate the overall relationship,
while analyzing one or two internal state
variable(s) at a time will only partially mediate this
relationship.
METHOD
Participants
Ninety-one (69 male) participants from a large
Midwestern University participated in the current
experiment for partial credit for their General
Psychology class. The average age of this sample
was 19.45 (SD 51.90) years. The majority of
participants were first year (62.6%), Caucasian
(83.5%), undergraduate students.
226 Barlett et al.
Aggr. Behav.
Materials
Trait aggression. The Buss–Perry Aggression
Questionnaire [Buss and Perry, 1992] was used to
measure trait aggression. This is a 29-item scale that
asks participants to respond on a 1 (extremely
uncharacteristic of me)to7(extremely characteristic
of me) Likert Scale about their aggressive tendencies.
Certain items were reverse coded in order to have
higher scores indicate higher trait aggression. The
reliability for this scale for this study were accep-
table (a5.92).
Aggressive feelings. The State Hostility Scale
[Anderson et al., 1995] was used to measure
aggressive feelings, specifically state hostility. This
is a 35-item scale that asks participants to respond
on a 1 (strongly disagree)to5(strongly agree) Likert
Scale about how they are feeling right now. Certain
items were reverse coded in order to have higher
scores indicate higher aggressive feelings. The
reliabilities for this scale for this study were
acceptable at all questionnaire administration peri-
ods (all as4.80).
Aggressive thoughts. The Word Completion
Task [Anderson et al., 2003] was used to measure
aggressive thoughts. This measure consists of 98
incomplete word fragments. Participants are asked
to quickly fill in the blanks to complete the word.
For example, ‘‘K I _ _’’ could be completed as
‘‘KILL’’ or ‘‘KISS.’’ Aggressive responses were
coded and counted, such that higher scores indicate
higher aggressive thoughts activated in semantic
memory, which is indicative of aggressive related
priming.
1
Heart rate. To assess heart rate, a heart rate
device (produced by Tanita) was used. This device
instructed participants to place their right index
finger atop a sensor to produce an output of the
participant’s heart rate. In order to make this
measurement more reliable, heart rate was measured
three times, with the average of those three readings
taken as the measure of heart rate, as was instructed
by the producers of this device [see Barlett et al.,
2007].
2
Aggressive behavior. In order to assess
overt aggressive behavior, the Hot Sauce Paradigm
[Lieberman et al., 1999] was used. In this paradigm
participants are to give a cup of hot chili sauce
to ‘‘another participant’’ who does not like
hot/spicy foods. Thus, the amount of hot sauce in
the cup is indicative of overt aggressive behavior.
The current research will extend the Hot
Sauce Paradigm by having two outcome variables
[see Ritter and Eslea, 2005]. These outcomes are the
amount of sauce in the cup and the degree of
hotness of the sauce selected. These two variables
will be combined into one outcome variable.
The necessary materials for this consisted of a tray,
the hot sauce, one cup to place the hot sauce
into, a cup full of water, a spoon, and Popsicle
sticks. The hot sauce was purchased from a local
food establishment that had a ranked system of
hotness for the sauces. For this study, the four
hottest sauces were selected. The labels were
removed and the sauces were assigned a number
from one to four (higher numbers are indicative
of degree of hotness). The summation of the
standardized number of sauce selected and
the amount of weight (in ounces) is indicative of
aggressive behavior.
Demographics. A demographic questionnaire
was given to assess age, gender, ethnicity, and year
in school. This questionnaire also assessed postvideo
game qualities of the video game experience. How
violent, exciting, fun, and fast paced the video game
was perceived to be was assessed on a 1 (not at all)to
5(extremely) Likert scale [see Anderson and Dill,
2000]. Finally, the food preference of the partici-
pants was assessed. Six items assessed how much the
participants enjoyed sweet, savory, spicy, hot, bland,
and salty foods on a 1 (not at all)to5(extremely)
scale.
3
1
Typically, this questionnaire is scored by taking the number of
aggressive responses divided by the total number of word fragments
completed [Anderson et al., 2003], creating an aggressive to total
word ratio. However, for this study the raw number of aggressive
thoughts was used as the dependent variable. This was done because
results showed that baseline measures of aggressive thoughts
(computed using the aforementioned ratio) were significantly higher
(Po.05) than Time 2 and 3. The reason for this was that participants
had a hard time at baseline completing word stems (M519.13,
SD 54.22) than Time 2 (M526.07, SD 53.59) and Time 3
(M525.67, SD 53.62). Thus, the reason why the ratio measure
did not work was because the denominator was too low, making the
overall fraction too high for Time 1.
2
Heart rate was actually measured four times. Once as soon as the
participants arrived in the lab (the data point used in the study), once
after baseline measures were completed, once after the video game
was played, and once after the participant’s respective time delay
condition was over. A paired-sample t-test revealed a nonsignificant
difference in heart rate, t(87) 5.62, P4.05, between the first two
times heart rate was measured for Study 1. Thus, the first arousal
assessment was used.
3
Linear regressions were conducted to determine whether the amount
or degree of hot sauce given was not a function of the participant
naturally liking hot sauce or feeling a great deal of distress from
giving the hot sauce. Results indicate that the models did not account
for a significant portion of variance in the amount of sauce given,
R
2
5.03, F(4,86) 50.62, P4.05, or the degree of hotness, R
2
5.04,
F(4,86) 50.91, P4.05, for Study 1. Results were similar for the
227Video Game Effects
Aggr. Behav.
Suspiciousness. Owing to the highly publi-
cized nature of video game effects, the fact that
baseline measures of aggression were given, and the
fact that deception was used, a suspiciousness
questionnaire was given that assessed whether the
participants knew the true purposes of the study
before being debriefed, whether any other partici-
pant had told them about the study before
completing the study, and whether they were aware
of any deception. Analysis of this questionnaire
showed that 12 (13.2%) of the sample did not
believe another person was down the hallway to give
the hot sauce too, and were, thus, deleted from the
analyses with aggressive behavior. None of the
participants reported being suspicious regarding
media violence effects on aggression.
Video games and equipment. Two video
games were used for this study. The first was the
violent video game Mortal Kombat:Deadly Alliance
for the PlayStation 2. This game was selected
because of its violent content, excessive amount of
blood, and because the controls are not difficult to
learn. The nonviolent video game was Hard Hitter
Tennis for the PlayStation 2. This is a nonviolent
tennis video game. The objective is to beat the
computer-controlled opponent at a standard game
of tennis. This game was selected because it does not
contain any violent content, and in fact, the two
characters are not allowed to touch one another.
Procedure
Participants entered the lab one at a time for a
study titled ‘‘Video Games and Food Preference.’’
Upon completion of the informed consent and
experimental credit cards, the participants were told
that they would be participating in two unrelated
experiments, with the first one being a video game
study and the second being a study investigating the
effects of personality on food preference, which
would be completed in that order. Participants then
had their heart rate measured three times (to assess
baseline heart rate) and then were given the
Aggression Questionnaire, State Hostility Scale
and 1/3 of the Word Completion Task to complete.
Then participants were given a brief tutorial on how
to play the video game to which they were randomly
assigned (35 male and 12 female in the violent
condition, and 34 male and 10 female participants in
the non-violent condition). This game was played
for 15 minutes.
During the 15 min time period, the experimenter
set out the materials for the food preference
experiment. This included a tray with the four hot
sauces, a plastic spoon, four small Popsicle sticks,
and two plastic cups. The experimenter told the
participant that while they were playing the video
game the experimenter would have to leave because,
‘‘there should be another participant in the waiting
area who would also take part in the food preference
experiment.’’ The experimenter took a packet of
questionnaires and an empty plastic cup and left the
room for exactly 5 min.
When the experimenter returned and the 15 min of
video game play had expired, the video game was
stopped and turned off, and the participants had
their heart rate measured and were given the State
Hostility Scale and a new 1/3 of the Word
Completion Task to complete. When these ques-
tionnaires were completed, the participants sat down
at another table that had the materials for the food
preference experiment on it. The experimenter
apologized for leaving and told the participant that
in another room down the hall there was another
participant who was with another research assistant
completing the same questionnaires the participant’s
had just finished. The participant was given an
already completed food preference questionnaire,
and was told that the other participant down the hall
had completed this questionnaire and, as indicated
by this questionnaire, does not like hot or spicy
foods.
Participants were informed that the job of the
participant down the hall was to eat hot sauce that
the actual participant would make. The purpose of
the materials in front of the participant (i.e., the hot
sauce, Popsicle sticks, cups, and spoon) was
explained and two rules were explained to the
participant. The first was that the participant could
not mix sauces and the second was that the
participant would have to try a little bit of the
sauce before deciding to give that to the participant
down the hall, so they knew how hot the sauce was.
Participants were then instructed that after the cup
was filled with the desired amount of sauce, the
experimenter would take that cup to the participant
who would ‘‘eat every drop of the given sauce.’’
After the participant completed this task, the
researcher explained that he would return momen-
tarily. For those assigned to the 4 min condition, the
experimenter left the room, placed the cup of sauce
on the floor in the hallway, and returned immedi-
ately stating that the cup was given to the other
research assistant. At that point about 4 min had
elapsed since the end of the video game. For those
(footnote continued)
amount of sauce given, R
2
5.02, F(2,74) 50.81, P4.05, and the
degree of hotness, R
2
5.05, F(2,74) 51.88, P4.05, for Study 2.
228 Barlett et al.
Aggr. Behav.
assigned to the 9 min condition, the experimenter
left the room with the cup of sauce and returned
without the cup exactly 5 min later or about 9 min
after the end of the video game. When the
experimenter returned, all participants were in-
structed to complete a packet of questionnaires that
were relevant to the food preference study, and, if
the participants saw the same questionnaires as
before, that was because the two studies were
looking at similar variables. The participant’s heart
rate was measured three times, and the packet of
questionnaires, which consisted of the State Hosti-
lity Scale, 1/3 of the Word Completion Task, a
demographic questionnaire, and a food preference
questionnaire was completed. Participants were
thanked and fully debriefed. The entire experiment
took between 45 and 50 min (depending on which
delay condition they were assigned to) and the hot
sauce procedure lasted approximately 4 min. Thus,
we labeled the condition in which the researcher
returned immediately to the room as the 4 min
condition and the condition in which the researcher
returned 5 min after the Hot Sauce paradigm
procedure was completed as the 9 min condition.
RESULTS
Video Game Ratings
In order to ensure that the games were equivalent
on several theoretically relevant variables, but
differed on perceived violence, the ratings of how
exciting, fun, and fast paced the game was perceived
to be were summed together to create an Exciting
Index (only one factor emerged from a principle
components factor analysis, to confirm such a
computation). A one-way analysis of variance was
conducted with video game as the independent
variable and the Exciting Index as the dependent
variable. Results showed that the violent video game
was significantly, F(1,89) 56.99, Po.02, partial
Z
2
5.07, more exciting (M512.66, SD 53.91) than
the nonviolent video game (M510.48, SD 53.96).
The violent video game was also rated significantly
higher, F(1,89) 5197.14, Po.001, partial Z
2
5.69,
on violence (M54.85, SD 51.63) than the non-
violent video game (M51.16, SD 50.64).
Video Game Content Effects on Aggression
and Arousal
In order to determine whether violent video game
play is related to an increase in aggressive feelings,
aggressive thoughts, and physiological arousal,
change scores were computed between Time 2 and
baseline measures of all the aforementioned depen-
dent variables.
4
One-way analyses of covariance
(ANCOVAs) were conducted with video game
content as the independent variable and trait
aggression as the covariate. Results showed a
significant main effect of content for aggressive
feelings, F(1,85) 57.55, Po.01, partial Z
2
5.08,
aggressive thoughts, F(1,87) 517.09, Po.001,
partial Z
2
5.16, and physiological arousal,
F(1,85) 512.00, Po.01, partial Z
2
5.12. Examina-
tion of Table I shows that these variables increased
more after violent video game play relative to those
who played the nonviolent game play. When gender
was entered as a factor in the analyses, the results
yielded nonsignificant main effects and interactions
for gender on all of these dependent variables (all
Fso1.10, all Ps4.05). Furthermore, when the
Exciting Index was entered as a covariate, the
results were similar to the aforementioned analyses.
A one-way ANCOVA was conducted with the
summation of the standardized amount of sauce
given and the standardized degree of hotness as
the dependent variable, video game content as the
independent variable, and trait aggression as the
covariate. Results showed a significant main effect
for content, F(1,75) 512.86, Po.001, partial
Z
2
5.15. Examination of the means and standard
deviations showed that those who played the violent
video game gave more of a hotter sauce (M50.56,
SD 51.39) than those who played the nonviolent
video game (M50.66, SD 51.56). When gender
was entered as a factor in the analyses, the results
showed a nonsignificant main effect for gender or a
significant gender by condition interaction. When
the Exciting Index was entered as a covariate, the
results were similar to the aforementioned analyses.
Delay and Content Effects on Aggressive
Thoughts, Feelings, and Arousal (Time 3 to
Time 2)
In order to determine how long the short-term
increases in aggressive feelings, thoughts, and
physiological arousal last, change scores were
4
There are a number of statistical methods used to analyze multiple
time point data. We elected to use change scores in order to account
for any variability in the preassessment measures that may impact
that postassessment measures. The main effect results reported were
identical to a time condition interaction if we elected to use a
repeated measures analyses of variance [2 (time: baseline, Time 2) 2
(content)]. Also, the results from these analyses were similar when we
conducted a one-way ANCOVA with Time 2 as the dependent
variable, video game content as the independent variable, and trait
aggression and baseline scores as covariates.
229Video Game Effects
Aggr. Behav.
computed between Time 3 and 2. Multiple 2
(content) 2 (delay) ANCOVAs were conducted
for each of the aforementioned dependent variables
with trait aggression as the covariate. Results
showed a significant main effect of content,
F(1,73) 58.20, Po.01, partial Z
2
5.10, for aggres-
sive thoughts (see Table II). Examination of the
means and standard deviations showed that those in
the violent video game condition had a decrease in
their aggressive thoughts (M51.07, SD 52.58),
whereas those in the nonviolent condition had a
small increase in aggressive thoughts (M50.68,
SD 52.80). Analysis with the aggressive feelings
variable also yielded a significant main effect for
content, F(1,70) 54.23, Po.05, partial Z
2
5.06.
Examination of the means and standard deviations
showed that those in the violent condition had a
higher decrease (M58.85, SD 513.18) than those
in the nonviolent condition (M53.19, SD 510.24).
However, there was no significant interaction be-
tween delay and content for either aggressive feelings
or aggressive thoughts indicating that there was no
significant additional decrease in these variables
between delays of 4 and 9 min. These results suggest
that the effect of the violent games on aggressive
thoughts and feelings lasts not more than 4 min.
In contrast, the results from the analysis on
physiological arousal showed a significant main
effect for content, F(1,72) 55.07, Po.03, partial
Z
2
5.07, qualified by a significant content delay
interaction, F(1,72) 56.78, Po.02, partial Z
2
5.09.
A simple effects analysis was used to probe this
significant interaction, and the results showed a
nonsignificant main effect for video game content in
the 4 min condition, F(1,72) 50.07, ns, coupled with
a significant main effect of content for those in the
9 min delay condition, F(1, 72) 511.27, Po.01,
partial Z
2
5.13. Examination of the means and
TABLE II. Means and Standard Deviations for Aggressive Feelings, Aggressive Thoughts, and Heart Rate Change (T3T2) for
Violent and Nonviolent Video Game Play across Delay Conditions in Study 1
Variable Content Delay T2 T3 Mean change
Aggressive feelings
Violent 4 69.33 (9.91) 62.77 (9.41) 7.90 (9.69)
Nonviolent 4 65.53 (15.18) 62.06 (12.93) 3.47 (11.83)
Violent 9 74.53 (20.11) 63.78 (16.28) 9.94 (16.60)
Nonviolent 9 65.40 (12.19) 62.50 (11.54) 2.90 (8.67)
Aggressive thoughts

Violent 4 6.09 (1.85) 5.09 (2.02) 1.00 (2.53)
Nonviolent 4 4.61 (1.79) 5.83 (2.03) 1.22 (1.93)
Violent 9 6.79 (2.59) 5.63 (1.64) 1.16 (2.71)
Nonviolent 9 4.65 (2.50) 5.10 (2.00) 0.45 (3.56)
Heart rate
Violent 4 82.25 (17.69) 82.31 (16.85) 2.94 (11.73)
Nonviolent 4 78.48 (10.07) 74.39 (9.51) 4.09 (6.93)
Violent 9 88.52 (22.94) 76.40 (12.74) 12.11 (17.51)
Non-Violent 9 77.44 (8.99) 79.63 (16.66) 2.19 (14.53)

Po.01,
Po.05 (main effect for content). Note: Positive scores indicate an increase in the score of the dependent variable, while negative scores
indicate a decrease in the score of the dependent variable.
TABLE I. Means and Standard Deviations for Aggressive Feelings, Aggressive Thoughts, Aggressive Behavior, and Heart Rate
Change (T2T1) for Violent and Nonviolent Video Game Play in Study 1
Variable Content T1 T2 Mean change
Aggressive feelings

Violent 61.65 (10.21) 71.80 (15.62) 8.74 (12.54)
Nonviolent 63.69 (10.98) 65.46 (13.45) 2.10 (9.68)
Aggressive thoughts

Violent 4.93 (1.81) 6.41 (2.22) 1.60 (2.37)
Nonviolent 5.76 (2.10) 4.63 (2.16) 0.75 (2.91)
Heart rate

Violent 76.76 (14.84) 86.80 (20.16) 8.24 (13.16)
Nonviolent 78.15 (13.18) 77.93 (9.45) 0.59 (10.35)
Aggressive behavior

Violent 0.56 (1.39)
Nonviolent — 0.66 (1.54)

Po.01 (main effect for content). Note: Positive scores for the mean change column indicate an increase in the score of the dependent variable,
whereas negative scores indicate a decrease in the score of the dependent variable. Aggressive behavior scores are standardized, and there are no
change scores to report.
230 Barlett et al.
Aggr. Behav.
standard deviations for the 9 min delay showed
that those in the violent condition had a substantial
decrease in their heart rate (M512.11,
SD 517.52) compared with right after the game
(T2) whereas those in the nonviolent condition had a
slight increase in their heart rate (M52.64,
SD 514.79). These results suggest that the arousal
effect of violent video games lasts more than 4 min.
Delay and Content Effects on Aggressive
Thoughts, Feelings, and Arousal (Time 3 to Time 1)
In order to further test the duration of the short-term
effects of violent and nonviolent video game play,
change scores were computed between Time 3 and 1. If
the effects do not last even 4 min, then there should not
be a significant change from baseline to Time 3 for any
condition. However, if the effects last longer than
4 min, then we should see significant change from Time
1 to 3. Multiple 2 (content) 2 (delay) ANCOVAs with
trait aggression as the covariate and with aggressive
feelings, aggressive thoughts, and physiological arousal
as the dependent variables were conducted. Results
showed no significant main effects or interactions for
the aggressive feeling or aggressive thought variables
(Fso2.95, Ps4.05). This suggests that by the time the
Hot Sauce paradigm procedure was completed no
matter what delay, participant’s levels of aggressive
thoughts and feelings returned to baseline.
However, consistent with the results reported
above, there was a significant delay content inter-
action for the arousal measure, F(1,71) 55.72,
Po.02, partial Z
2
5.08. Examination of the means
and standard deviations showed higher than baseline
heart rate at the 4 min delay (M57.59, SD 514.29),
and slightly lower than baseline heart rate at the min
delay (M51.94, SD 59.54) after violent video
game play. Slightly lower heart rate was observed for
those in the 4 min (M52.90, SD 57.57) condition,
compared with the slightly higher heart rate for those
in the 9 min (M51.03, SD 515.38) delay condition
after nonviolent video game play.
Taken together with the observed differences
between Time 2 and 3 reported above, these results
all support the conclusion that the immediate effects
of violent video game play on aggressive feelings and
thoughts last less than 4 min, whereas the effects on
arousal last more than 4 but less than 9 min.
Testing Direct and Indirect Effects
In order to test the direct effect of video game content
on aggressive behavior and the indirect effect of video
game content through aggressive thoughts, aggressive
feelings, and physiological arousal, the raw scores of the
dependent variables were standardized and a multiple
mediation test was conducted using Amos [Arbuckle,
2002]. Results indicated that the direct effect of video
game content to aggressive behavior was significant,
b5.23, Po.05. However, this effect was reduced to
nonsignificance (though not to zero) with the presence
of the three internal state variables (aggressive thoughts,
aggressive feelings, and arousal) as mediators, b5.12.
This suggests that at least one of the standardized
5
internal state variables was a significant mediator. The
standardized coefficients showed that aggressive
thoughts were the only significant mediator, because
only this mediating variable significantly predicted
aggressive behavior b5.22, Po.05 (see Fig. 1). In
order to test the number of internal state variables that
are needed to render the direct effect of violent game
playing on aggression insignificant, this model was run
with only one internal state variable or combinations of
two internal state variables. Results showed that all
three were needed to render the direct effect of video
game content to aggressive behavior nonsignificant.
When each of the internal state variables were analyzed
one at a time or in pairs (e.g., thoughts and feelings,
thoughts and arousal, or feelings and arousal) in the
mediator role, results showed that the link between
video game content and aggressive behavior was still
statistically significant (all Pso.05).
To further confirm these effects, we categorized
each participant by whether or not they had a
substantial change in the aggressive thoughts, aggres-
sive feelings, and arousal. ‘‘Substantial’’ was defined
as a change less than 2 or greater than 2 on any
variable. Participants were called ‘‘increase only’’ if
they increased by 2 on all three potential mediators
(n510); called ‘‘decrease only’’ if they decreased by 2
on all three (n51); or called ‘‘mixed’’ if they increased
by 2 on some and decreased by 2 on others (mixed
5
The effect was similar when the data were not standardized.
However, in order to calculate an appropriate aggressive behavior
measure, the amount of hot sauce given was multiplied by the degree
of hotness. The distribution of this new dependent variable had an
extreme positive skew. In order to correct for this skew, the scores
were log transformed (Tabachnick and Fidell, 2001). Using the log-
transformed score as the aggressive behavior measure, the results
were similar to the analysis using the standardized scores as the
dependent variable and mediators. Specifically, the link between
video game content was significant between aggressive feelings
change (b5.30, Po.001), aggressive thoughts change (b5.41,
Po.001), physiological arousal change (b5.35, Po.001), and
aggressive behavior (b5.25, Po.05). Further, the link between
aggressive thoughts change and aggressive behavior was statistically
significant (b5.22, Po.05). Finally, when all three mediators were
entered into the model, the results showed a nonsignificant relation-
ship between video game content and aggressive behavior (b5.13,
ns). The goodness-of-fit indices were also similar (w
2
51.59, P4.05,
GFI 5.99, AGFI 5.97, CFI 5.99, RMSEA 5.001).
231Video Game Effects
Aggr. Behav.
group; n518). If all the mediators play some role,
then participants who increased on all three potential
mediators should have higher aggressive behavior
scores compared with the other two groups. This is
exactly what we found, F(2,26) 55.14, Po.02, partial
Z
2
5.28. Pairwise comparisons showed that those in
the increase only group behaved significantly
(Pso.027) more aggressively (M51.14, SD 51.04)
than those in the mixed group (M50.27,
SD 51.47) and the person in the decrease only group
(M52.18). The difference between the latter two
groups did not approach significance (P50.18). The
results were the same when we removed the decrease
only group (owing to low sample size), F(1,26) 57.14,
Po.02, partial Z
2
5.22 (M
increase
51.14, SD
increase
5
1.04; M
mixed
50.27, SD
mixed
51.47).
DISCUSSION
Results indicated that those who played a violent
video game had a significant increase in aggressive
feelings, aggressive thoughts, physiological arousal,
and overt aggressive behavior over baseline com-
pared with those who played a nonviolent game.
Also, the time delay analyses revealed the short-term
increases in aggressive thoughts and aggressive
feelings last less than 4 min, whereas heart rate after
violent video game play may last more than 4 but less
than 9 min. Finally, results show that, while all three
internal state variables may play some role in
mediating the relation between violent video game
play and aggressive behavior, aggressive thoughts by
far plays the most important role.
STUDY 2
Overview of the Current Study
Although Study 1 focused on determining how
long violent video game effects last for aggressive
feelings, aggressive thoughts, and heart rate, and
showing that these internal state variables mediate
*p < .05, ** p < .01
χ2 = 1.27, p = .74, GFI = .99, AGFI = .97, CFI = .99, RMSEA = .001
Video Game
Content
-1 non-violent
1 violent
Aggressive
Behavior
(standardized)
.23*
Direct effect of video game content on aggressive behavior
Video Game
Content
Arousal (T2-T1;
standardized)
.37**
.26**
Video Game
Content
-1 non-violent
1 violent
Aggressive
Thoughts (T2-
T1;
standardized)
Aggressive
feelings (T2-T1;
standardized)
.22*
Aggressive
Behavior
(standardized)
.12
.03
.06
Indirect effect of video game content on aggressive behavior
.41**
Fig. 1. Results of the Multiple Mediated Model in Study 1.
232 Barlett et al.
Aggr. Behav.
significant effects on aggressive behavior, Study 2
was designed to determine how long the effects of a
violent video game last on overt aggressive behavior.
To accomplish this objective, participants completed
the hot sauce paradigm 0, 5, or 10 min after violent
video game play. To simplify the procedure, no
condition with a nonviolent game was included in
this study as the comparison between violent and
nonviolent games had already been done in Study 1.
METHOD
Participants
Ninety-one (48 male) participants from a large
Midwestern University participated in the current
experiment for partial credit for their General
Psychology class. The average age of this sample
was 18.60 (SD 53.10) years. The majority of
participants were first year (69.2%), Caucasian
(76.9%) undergraduate students.
Materials
The same hot sauce and video game equipment
that were used in Study 1 were used in this study. As
the focus of this study was on the delay effects on
aggressive behavior, the only questionnaires used
were the Buss–Perry Aggression Questionnaire,
demographic questionnaire, food preference ques-
tionnaire, and suspicious questionnaire. Study 1
showed that the violent video game condition was
related to more aggression than the nonviolent video
game condition, and hence, this study did not utilize
a nonviolent video game.
Procedure
A similar procedure to Study 1 was used in this
study, except for a few modifications. First, different
participants completed the Hot Sauce paradigm at
different times after playing the video game. Those
in the 0 min condition completed the Hot Sauce
paradigm immediately after video game play (19
male, 16 female). For those in the 5 min delay
condition (14 male, 14 female), the researcher left
the room after video game play to ‘‘get the other
participant’’ to do the food preference experiment.
Exactly 5 min later, the researcher came back, and
participants completed the hot sauce paradigm.
Finally, a 10 min condition (15 male, 13 female)
was implemented that mirrored the procedure for
the 5 min condition, except the researcher left the
room for 10 min. All participants in all conditions
then completed the demographic questionnaire,
food preference questionnaire, and suspiciousness
questionnaire [analysis revealed that 14 (15.4%) of
participants did not believe another was down the
hall to give the hot sauce to] after the hot sauce
procedure was completed. Finally, all participants
were thanked and debriefed.
RESULTS
Delay Effects on Aggressive Behavior
A one-way ANCOVA was conducted with the
delay period as the independent variable, aggressive
behavior (defined identically as in Study 1) as the
dependent variable, and trait aggression as the
covariate. Results showed a significant main effect
for delay condition, F(2,72) 55.43, Po.01, partial
Z
2
5.13. Bonferroni corrected pairwise comparisons
showed that those in the 0 min condition (M5.39,
SD 51.90) and the 5 min condition (M5.56,
SD 51.44) had significantly (Po.01) higher scores
than those in the 10 min condition (M5.86,
SD 51.25). There was a nonsignificant difference
between the 0 and 5 min conditions (see Fig. 2).
When gender was entered as a factor in the factorial
design, there was a nonsignificant main effect for
gender or a significant delay by gender interaction.
DISCUSSION
Analysis of the delay conditions showed that the
effect on aggression of playing a violent video
game lasted between 5 and 10 min. This finding
-1.00
-0.80
-0.60
-0.40
-0.20
0.00
0.20
0.40
0.60
0.80
Zero Five Ten
Delay Condition
Standardized summation of the amount of
sauce and degree of sauce given
Fig. 2. Effect of Time Delay on Aggressive Behavior in Study 2.
Positive scores indicate higher aggressive behavior, while negative
scores represent lower aggressive behavior.
233Video Game Effects
Aggr. Behav.
supplements the results of Study 1 by showing that
5–10 min are needed for the effects of aggressive
behavior to dissipate.
GENERAL DISCUSSION
These two studies add to the existing literature
that shows that violent video games increase
aggressive behavior, aggressive feelings, aggressive
thoughts, and arousal from baseline to postvideo
game play. Taken together, the results of Studies 1
and 2 suggest that it takes approximately 4 min or
less for the short-term increases in aggressive
feelings and aggressive thoughts to return to base-
line, whereas it takes approximately 5–10 min for
heart rate and aggressive behavior to return to
baseline. These results are consistent with what we
know about the short-term effects of thoughts,
feelings, and arousal. For instance, state hostility is
an emotion, which is defined as short lived [Larson,
2000]; aggressive thoughts should dissipate once
primed as soon as other thoughts, memories, or
knowledge structures get primed (an idea similar to
masking in the perception literature); and research
has shown that physiological arousal after exposure
to violent stimuli lasts longer than 5 min [Zillmann
et al., 1974]. However, we are unaware of any
literature that has attempted to determine how long
the probability of using aggressive behavior lasts
after violent media exposure.
Regarding the mediation analyses, results showed
that aggressive thoughts were the lone predictor of
aggressive behavior and the one significant mediator
of the effect of violent video games on aggression.
The lack of a significant correlation between physio-
logical arousal or aggressive feelings and aggressive
behavior does not suggest that these variables are
unimportant to aggression. Only one violent and one
nonviolent game were used in this study, and for
these games the most important route (to use GAM
terms, Anderson and Bushman, 2001] to aggressive
behavior was aggressive thoughts. Other studies using
other games might find that other routes (feelings,
thoughts, and/or arousal) are the important media-
tors. More work is greatly needed to clarify this issue.
The results of the mediation analysis also raise an
interesting theoretical issue: Primed aggressive
thoughts were the primary mediator in the relation
between video game content and aggressive beha-
vior; however, aggressive thoughts seemed to be
activated for only 4 min, whereas increases in
aggressive behavior were detected at more than
5 min. This suggests that the longevity of aggressive
behavior involves other processes. Aggressive prim-
ing may be the primary route for initially increasing
aggressive behavior. But, once the priming of
aggressive thoughts dissipates, participants may
continue to engage in a variety of cognitive or
emotional processes, which may be a result of
aggressive priming and directly influence aggressive
behavior. Some of these processes may include the
rumination of aggressive thoughts/feelings after
aggressive priming [see Miller et al., 2003],
the activation and maintenance of aggressive knowl-
edge structures [scripts and schemas; Huesmann,
1998], increased hostile attribution bias [see
Anderson et al., 2007], learned associations between
aggressive thoughts and behaviors [Anderson et al.,
2007], or attributional and other decision processes
in whether or not people behave aggressively
[Anderson and Bushman, 2001]. Theoretical models,
such as GAM suggest that these (and other)
processes may be activated after the initial aggres-
sive priming. However, the literature does not make
claims regarding how long these processes may last
compared with aggressive priming. But, if these
processes last longer than 4 min, they may describe
why aggressive priming is the primary mediator but
is shorter-lived than aggressive behavior. However,
this is speculative and future research is needed to
elaborate on these assumptions.
Putting a Time Frame on Video Game Effects
The results of the two studies suggest that the
short-term effects of playing a violent video game on
aggressive thoughts and feelings last less than 4 min,
but the effects on arousal and aggressive behavior
last 5–10 min. This is just one of many pieces of
information that allows researchers to be able to put
a time frame on short-term violent video game
effects. Another piece is the research that has shown
that playing a violent video game from anywhere
from 10 to 20 min stimulates an increase in
aggressive feelings, aggressive thoughts, and physio-
logical arousal [e.g., Barlett et al., 2008; Carnagey
and Anderson, 2005]. A third piece has been the
finding of a stabilization effect, showing that once
there is an initial increase in aggression, continued
violent video game play does not continue to
increase aggression [Barlett et al., 2007; Barlett and
Rodeheffer, 2009). In other words, the short-term
increase in aggression and arousal will stay higher
than baseline but remain stable. The final piece is
how long the effects last, which was the focus of the
current research. We believe these results to be an
important first step in determining the duration of
234 Barlett et al.
Aggr. Behav.
time necessary for the short-term effects to drop.
More work needs to be done to see whether these
findings replicate across a variety of violent video
games, different lengths of violent video game play
time, and using different measures of aggressive
thoughts, aggressive feelings, and arousal, and for
different individuals. For instance, will these results
replicate for a sample of heavy violent video game
consumers?
It is important to note the time frame for the
duration of the short-term increases in aggression
and arousal to last. It can be speculated from the
results that aggressive feelings and aggressive
thoughts may last as few as 4 min. Critics, parents,
teachers, and violent video game consumers should
not interpret these results to suggest that the time
frame is so miniscule that violent video game
effects are unimportant. If one considers the course
of how quickly people can be put in a situation
where they perceive they are being provoked, then
time frame for feeling hostile and thinking aggres-
sively after violent video game play are very
important. Furthermore, this study suggests
that thoughts and feelings and arousal may start
aggression promoting processes that last much
longer than 4–9 min.
Limitations and Future Research
Like all psychological studies, there are potential
limitations to the current research. The first is the
order of the tasks in the procedure. Because the
mediating role of all three internal state variables
was very important to the current research and the
existing literature, the Hot Sauce Paradigm
procedure had to be completed before the time
delay manipulation in Study 1. Thus, the 0 min
condition, was actually a 4 min condition (which was
the approximate length of time it took to complete
the Hot Sauce Paradigm). This is a limitation
because we were not able to precisely determine
the length of time the short-term increase in
aggressive feelings, aggressive thoughts, and heart
rate last because there was no true 0 min or 5 min
condition. Future research using a ‘‘pure’’ 0
and 5 min condition is needed to make such a
comparison.
The second limitation was the generalizability of
the video games in Studies 1 and 2 and the lack of a
nonviolent video game in Study 2. Specific to the
former, as only one exemplar of a violent and
nonviolent game was used, we cannot accurately
generalize our findings beyond the games we played
[see Wells and Windschitl, 1999]. Future work
should attempt to replicate these studies using
multiple games to see whether the results are
consistent. Relating to the latter limitation, future
work should use a nonviolent control game for
Study 2. However, given the results of Study 1, it is
unlikely that aggressive behavior would decrease
substantially for those who play a nonviolent video
game in Study 2, but future research is needed to
empirically test this assumption. No nonviolent
video games were used in Study 2 because the
results from Study 1 clearly showed that playing this
game had no effect on aggressive thoughts, aggres-
sive feelings, aggressive behavior, or physiological
arousal.
Third, we did not know what the participants in
the delay conditions did while the experimenter was
gone. All participants were told to wait until the
experimenter returned, without telling them exactly
when that would be. None of the participants played
the video game. Thus, we believe that the partici-
pants just sat in their chair while the experimenter
was gone, but we are unsure whether or not they
played video games on their cell phones, text
messaged their friends, or talked on their cell phone.
Also, participants may have been thinking about the
video game they just played, about how much sauce
they gave the other person, or about their other
classes, friends, family, or anything else. Future
work should attempt to either control these vari-
ables by specifically asking participants what they
did or thought about while the researcher was gone.
Finally, the results of Study 1 cannot disentangle
the distinction between playing a violent video game
or just a video game regarding the physiological
arousal findings. Thus, we are unable to state with
perfect precision that the arousal results are owing
to playing a violent video game compared with any
video game (independent of content). Although past
research has shown that violent video game play is
related to more arousal than nonviolent video game
play [see Anderson, 2004], we cannot make such a
distinction here.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
We thank Dr. Jerry Frieman, department head at
Kansas State University, and Dr. Richard Harris for
allowing this research to be conducted at Kansas
State University. Thanks are also warranted to
Dr. Craig Anderson for reading an earlier version of
this paper and his countless suggestions for this
paper. Finally, we are indebted to Dr. L. Rowell
Huesmann for his suggestions and thorough editing.
235Video Game Effects
Aggr. Behav.
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