Aggression over Time after a spell of violent videogaming (Barlett et al., 2009)

More DoTs

This is a follow-up from Bushman and Gibson’s article on rumination after 24 hours of playing violent videogames. Christopher Barlett (Iowa State University) and company have published earlier an article on the short-term effects of videogame violence.


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.

Did I mention that I’m not funded as a graduate student?

Study 1

This experiment sets out to see how long aggressive affect, cognition and physiological arousal last after playing a violent videogame. They compared groups who were measured after 4 minutes versus 9 minutes after play.


Participants: 91 undergraduate students. 69 are men and 22 are women. Average age is 19.45 (SD = 1.9) and they are mostly Caucasians (83.5%).


Trait Aggression: the Buss-Perry Aggression Questionnaire, the questionnaire of choice for measure a person’s aggressive personality. It’s a 29-item questionnaire through a 7-point likert scale.

Aggressive feelings: The State Hostility Scale, another standard questionnaire for measure your current feelings mainly on hostility. It’s a 35-item questionnaire through a 5-point likert scale.

Aggressive thoughts: The Word Completion Task, 98 incomplete word fragments. Participants are asked to fill in the blanks with whatever that comes up first. This measure is split into three to measure changes across time in the experiment. I have some issues of splitting the questionnaire into three, such as the number of potential word fragment might tap into aggressive thoughts versus the number of neutral words. If one third has only, for example, 4 potentially aggressive words versus 8 potential words in another third, I’m worried at how the authors would account for such discrepancies and the mathematics involved correcting it.

Heart rate: Participants place their right index finger on a sensor which reads their heart rate. A single measure is done three times because putting your finger on a sensor isn’t as reliable as having an electrode to the chest. So they take the average of the three readings in their measure.

Aggressive Behavior: The hot sauce paradigm. This experiment leads participants to think they are participating in a completely different experiment whereby it is about a food preference experiment on a whatever psychological variable (e.g. personality, seasonal, etc.). The participants are asked to choose from a variety of hot sauce, which varied in spiciness and they must sample them in order to know how spicy they are, they are not allowed to mix them and they are to pour an amount of their choosing into a cup which is given to “another participant” who is nonexistent. The spiciness and the amount is then calculated into a composite score of their aggressive behaviour.

Demographics: Need I say more? Except, that participants rated the videogames (5-point scale) and their food preferences (7-point scale).

Suspiciousness: Spoiler. If you read this blog and an undergrad then I recommend not to take any experiments involving videogames because I’ve given away these secret procedures. Anyways, 12 participants suspected the deception involved and were thusly excluded from the analysis involved with the aggressive behaviour measure.

Videogame used: Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance as the violent videogame and Hard Hitter Tennis as the nonviolent videogame. All of the PS2 version.


Participants come in believing they are participating in two unrelated experiments.

Time 1 (baseline) measures: Heart rate, aggression Questionnaire, State Hostility Scale and the first-third of the Word completion Task.

Play time: Played one of the two videogames (randomly assigned), brief tutorial. Playtime is 15 minutes. The experimenter, during playtime, sets up the hot sauce experiment and told the participants that they’ll leave to check on another “participant” and left the participant alone for 5 minutes.

Should I make a fuss out of it? No, players get distracted in their bedrooms and given that it happens to all participants.

Time 2 measures: After playing for 15 minutes, the experimenter returned and stopped the game. Heart rate, State Hostility Scale and the 2nd third of the Word Completion Task.

The experiment told the participant that the “other participant” had finished the same kind of questionnaire and also the food preference questionnaire where the participant read the “other” did not like hot or spicy food.

Hot Sauce experiment: Participants knowing that the “other participant” doesn’t like spicy food must pour an amount into a cup so that the other must eat it. When the pouring is done. The experimenter takes the cup and leaves the room to bring it to the other participant.

Time 3 measures: The experimenter either comes back immediately, which is timed to 4 minutes after playtime or 5 minutes later timed 9 minutes after playtime. This is done randomly. Participants completed the food preferences questionnaire, heart rate, state hostility scale and the final 3rd of the Word Completion Task, demographics.

When it’s done, they are debriefed, given their course credit and were sacked.


The violent videogames was found to be more violent and exciting than the nonviolent videogame, the authors made note of that in further analyses. They used ANCOVAs throughout their analyses (Trait aggression as covariate)

Results on Time 2 measures from Time 1 (baseline) revealed that the violent videogame induced higher aggressive feelings, thoughts and higher physiological arousal. Gender and the excitement game differences did not affect the results when factored in nor in any further analysses.

As for the hot sauce experiment (aggressive behaviour), those in the violent videogame (M = .56) gave a hotter sauce than those in the nonviolent videogame (M = -.66). The scores were standardized due to combining the amount score and spiciness score, hence the negative in the nonviolent group.

The effect size is generally small or medium (depending on how it’s interpreted), but these results are a given and lends the ever-increasingly weight on the immediate effects.

Cooldown results between Time 2 and Time 3: Main effects were found in that those in the violent videogame group had lower aggressive thoughts scores than the nonviolent group. Interestingly, the authors took a look at the means and found that the nonviolent group had an increase in score. The same results were found for aggressive feelings as well. The violent group had a higher decreasing score than the nonviolent group.

However, the results did not show any differences between the measures taken 4 minutes versus 9 minutes after play. The authors found that this suggest that aggressive feelings and thoughts don’t last more than 4 minutes. The authors, however, pointed out a limitation about the delay condition, especially those in the 9 min. condition. These participants were told to wait and were left alone, what they are doing during that time is unknown and anything could be happening during that time (e.g. texting, thinking about the videogame, etc.) that might affect their mood and thoughts. So, maybe after play, everyone should take a cigarette break or maybe eating some relaxing ice cream, chilli or soup?

Actually, eating ice cream sounds like a good idea (if only I have ice cream), their analysis on physiological arousal has found a significant interaction effect in that the violent group who were measured 9 minutes after play had a higher decrease in heart rate. Interestingly, the authors noted that the nonviolent group showed slightly higher physiological arousal score at the same time delay. So, this suggests that we’re still physiologically aroused after more than 4 minutes. Unfortunately, the authors said that the data cannot be used to show that videogame violence is physiologically arousing, it might’ve been the act of playing a videogame.

Cooldown results between baseline and Time 3: No significant results were found between baseline and Time 3 on aggressive feelings and thoughts. The authors then argued that by the time participants finished doing the hot sauce experiment; they no longer feel more aggressive nor think more aggressively. However, participants were still more aroused after 4 minutes of play, but calmed down sometime before 9 minutes after play. Interestingly, participants in the nonviolent group at the 4 min. condition: their heart rate was slightly lower than baseline. Those in the 9 min. condition: their heart rate was slightly higher. This lends more support for snack time after play.

Are they mediators? The authors wanted to test the aggression variables if they’re mediators between violent videogame play and aggressive sauce pouring. Their first analysis found that aggressive thoughts were the sole mediator in the relationship. Further mind-numbing analyses, they found that all three variables (feelings, thoughts, and physiological arousal) are highly positive mediators. It should be noted that they arrived at the conclusion by comparing participants who had substantial changes in the three mediators.

The authors noted that they used only one videogame per condition compromising generalization and surmised these games tapped into aggressive thoughts as a mediator for aggressive behaviours. They suggested trying out other games that might tap the other or multiple mediators. Right now, I’m thinking of Gears of War or God of War would tap into aggressive feelings or some violent videogame where there are lot of talkative and visibly aggressive (i.e. angry faces) characters in the game.

Another limitation in this meditational analysis that I could not wrap my head around, they wrote that they don’t have a pure “0 min.” measure and had to contend with the 4 min. condition. I don’t get it. Somebody send me a graph.

Study 2

The same as study 1, but this time they manipulated delay for aggressive behaviours. They removed several measures since they already have the data from study 1.


Participants: 91 undergraduate students. 48 are men and 43 are women. Average age is 18.6 (SD = 3.1), mostly Caucasian (76.9%).


The same as study 1, except that are no nonviolent videogames, aggressive thoughts nor aggressive feelings questionnaire. Part of me wants to keep them in the procedures, especially the nonviolent game group as a control group.


Same as study 1. The hot sauce paradigm is the independent variable, so they randomly assigned participants to either to pour hot sauce immediately after play (0 min. Condition), 5 minutes or 10 minutes after play.


The results revealed that those in the 0 min. and 5 min condition had higher scores than those in the 10min. condition. No differences were found between the 0 min. and 5 min. condition. So, the authors contended that the cooldown period for aggressive behaviours is between 5-10 minutes after play. If only they had the nonviolent videogame group for comparison, which the authors acknowledged as a limitation.

Okay, stop DoTs

The authors observed that aggressive behaviours were still primed after 5 minutes despite the data from study 1 that aggressive thoughts don’t last more than 4 minutes. They suggested that other aggression processes may be primed and contribute to aggressive behaviours, such example processes may be rumination of aggressive thoughts or feelings, hostile attribution or aggressive knowledge structure. Still, this needs further investigation and I’m still holding the idea of a structured post-game break time that would relax our aggression.

The authors suggested diversifying this line of investigation through using different videogames, genres, playtime, aggression measures, sample characteristics, and delay.

As a reminder, the authors noted increases in aggression among the nonviolent game group. In study 1, there was a small increase in aggressive thoughts after the hot sauce pouring, a slight decrease at the 4 min. condition and then a slight increase in heart rate at the 9 min. condition. This wasn’t mentioned in the discussion section of the article. Fortunately, answers may lie in a study by Sestir and Bartholow (2010). Thus, that study would become the subject of my next post, if possible.

Barlett, C., Branch, O., Rodeheffer, C., & Harris, R. (2009). How long do the short-term violent video game effects last? Aggressive Behavior, 35, 225-236. doi: 10.1002/ab.20301.


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