That violent video game looks a lot more attractive if you thought you had a chance to steal a few coins or cheat on an exam — and then the buzzkill experimenter yanked the rug out from under you, blocking your chance to get away with the petty crime. That’s the perhaps not-too-surprising conclusion of a study by Ohio State University researchers that just appeared in the journal Psychological Science.
Apparently, science had already proven that, if you block people from doing something good, they get frustrated. Brad Bushman, co-author of the latest study, said that his team proved something new when they showed that you also get frustrated when you’re blocked from doing forbidden things. I dunno, Dr. Bushman. I think the rest of the world was way ahead of you there.
The psychologists actually performed two experiments. In the first, 120 male college students could win treats if they did well on the exam. Then half of them were accidentally-on-purpose given a filled-out exam paper that was already scored 100% — meaning they could just turn in the paper and claim the prize without doing any work. However, before the miscreants could do so, the helpful researchers then sorta, kinda “realized” what they had done and yanked the paper back.
And it gets better. Half of those students were then again “accidentally” given the filled-out exam, so that one-quarter of the students did end up with the opportunity to get away with cheating.
Are you starting to get the idea that these fine folks just enjoy messing with their subjects?
While waiting for their tests to be scored and to see if they’d get a prize, the students were then asked to grade some games according to how much they wanted to play them. The frustrated subjects who’d had their chance to cheat yanked away were more attracted to the violent video games than the students who never had a chance to cheat or those students who got away with the cheating.
In a related experiment, the researchers gave 141 male college students a chance to steal some coins. The students who thought they had a chance to swipe the coins and then got blocked were much more likely to prefer violent video games than the others.
A public debate about violent video games has been underway ever since it was reported that Newton shooter Adam Lanza played hours of World of Warcraft before setting out on his spree that killed 20 children. Bushman told a PBS interviewer that violent first person games were clearly correlated with aggressive behavior in his previous research at Ohio State.
I’m not sure what the new study adds to that discussion. But now I know that, if I’m ever put to work as a lab rat, I’ll probably turn to violent video games to work off my frustrations.