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Study: Choosing Black Avatars in Violent Video Games Increases Aggression Toward Blacks

saints row video gameA new study observed the action of white video game players as they played violent games as a Black avatar.

Researchers found the behavior disturbing, as white players acted more aggressively after the game is over, had stronger explicit negative attitudes toward Blacks, and displayed stronger implicit attitudes linking Blacks to weapons.

These results are the first to link avatar race in violent video games to later aggression, said Brad Bushman, Ph.D., co-author of the study and professor of communication and psychology at The Ohio State University.

“And it raises another troubling impact that violent video games can have on players,” he said.

“Playing a violent video game as a Black character reinforces harmful stereotypes that Blacks are violent,” Bushman said.

“We found there are real consequences to having these stereotypes — it can lead to more aggressive behavior.”

The results appear online in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science and will be published in a future print edition.

The First Study

In the study, researchers performed two related experiments. In the first, 126 white university students (60 percent males) played the violent game “Saints Row 2.” They were randomly assigned to play the game either as a Black or white male avatar.

Before the participants arrived, the researchers set up the game with the Black or white avatar and rotated the game view so that the avatar was visible to the participant when he or she started playing.

The participants were assigned to play with a violent goal (break out of prison) or a nonviolent goal (find a chapel somewhere in the city without harming others).

Afterward, those who played with the violent goal and as a Black avatar showed stronger explicit negative attitudes toward Blacks than did those who played as a white avatar. For example, those who played as a Black avatar were more likely to agree with the statement “It’s really a matter of some people not trying hard enough; if Blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as whites.”

But the negative attitudes weren’t just explicit. All participants took the Implicit Association Test (IAT), which is designed to reveal unconscious bias. During this test, researchers measure how quickly participants link a white or Black face with a “good” word (joy, love, peace) or a “bad” word (terrible, horrible, evil).

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