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Study: Violent Video Games Encourage Racist, Aggressive Attitudes Toward Blacks

Benjamin Fearnow
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Violent video games encourage negative racial attitudes and thoughts, with white game players displaying stronger implicit and explicit aggressive attitudes toward blacks when they play as black characters. (Photo credit should read TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images)

Violent video games encourage negative racial attitudes and thoughts, with white game players displaying stronger implicit and explicit aggressive attitudes toward blacks when they play as black characters. (Photo credit should read TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images)

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Columbus, Ohio (CBS CLEVELAND) – Violent video games encourage negative racial attitudes and thoughts, with white game players displaying stronger implicit and explicit aggressive attitudes toward blacks when they play as black characters.

A new study from researchers at The Ohio State University and the University of Michigan finds that white gamers who played as black avatars exhibited more racist sentiments, including connections made between blacks and weapons and photos of black people being linked to words such as “horrible” and “evil.”

“This is a very troubling finding,” the researchers write in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

“Our research suggests that people who play violent video games as violent black characters are more likely to believe that blacks are violent people,” writes a research team led by Grace Yang of the University of Michigan and Brad Bushman of the Ohio State University. “Playing a violent video game as a black character reinforces harmful stereotypes that blacks are violent.”

The study examined the effects of playing violent video games as a black avatar (versus a white character) on racial stereotypes and aggression. Games such as Grand Theft Auto V and Saints Row 2 allow players to choose the race of their character, and the study findings suggest that a player’s aggression against others is increased “immediately afterwards” in some cases, “even more than playing a violent game as white characters would.”

“The media has the power to perpetuate the stereotype that blacks are violent, and this is certainly seen in video games,” Bushman told The Daily Mail. “This violent stereotype may be more prevalent in video games than in any other form of media because being a black character in a video game is almost synonymous with being a violent character.”

In a second portion of the study, 141 white college students – 65 percent being female — played one of two games: WWE Smackdown vs. RAW 2010, or Fight Night Round 4. They spent equal time playing as both black and white avatars.

Half the participants in one portion of the study played a violent game in which they attempted to break out of prison, “which required them to kill many guards.” Others played a non-violent game in which they were tasked with finding “a chapel somewhere in the city,” and to refrain from harming others.

After playing the games for 20 minutes, participants who played as black avatars were more likely to link photos of black faces with weapons, while those who played as white characters associated white faces with objects such as mobile phones.

They were also asked to respond to statements measured on a “symbolic racism scale” such as, “If blacks would only try harder, they could be just as well off as whites.”

Participants were also tested on a seemingly unrelated food preferences test in which they tested hot sauce, and then were asked how much another person would like the spicy food.

Among players of the violent game, those who used a black avatar gave their “partner” more hot sauce compared to those who used a white avatar. The black avatar participants gave the hypothetical food “partner” more than double (115 percent) the amount of chili sauce than participants who played as white avatars.

The researchers suggested this element of the study was “particularly noteworthy,” because “this increase in aggression occurred over and above any increase in aggression among participants playing the violent game as a white avatar.”

In addition to negative attitudes held toward black people, the study noted that women and police were depicted negatively in a way that may have aggressive effects following gameplay.

“Police are portrayed as brutal. Players witnessing or enacting these violent actions may develop a distrust of police,” write the researchers. “Other violent games portray women in a sexualized and stereotypic way” that may impact male attitudes toward women in their real lives.

According to FBI data on violent crime and murder rates, in 2012, an estimated 1,214,462 violent crimes occurred nationwide, an increase of 0.7 percent from the 2011 estimate. Of the 12,765 murder victims in 2012 for which supplemental data were received, most (77.7 percent) were male.

Concerning murder victims for whom race was known, 51.1 percent were black, 46.3 percent were white, and 2.6 percent were of other races. Race was unknown for 130 victims. Of the offenders for whom race was known, 52.4 percent were black, 45.2 percent were white, and 2.4 percent were of other races.  The race was unknown for 4,077 offenders.

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