April 9, 2014 at 6:12 AM ET
If you've ever screamed in rage or thrown down a controller after missing a jump in a video game or getting shot from across the level, new research exonerates your behavior. It's not violent games that make people angry and aggressive — it's difficult ones.
The research, from the University of Rochester in New York and Oxford University in the U.K., tested aggressive behavior in almost 600 participants after they played played a variety of games both violent and nonviolent. It found the level of violence didn't really matter.
In one case, the subjects first had to hold their hand in ice-cold water for 25 seconds, then after playing a game were asked to determine how long the next person would have to put their hand in. In reality, everyone got 25 seconds — but the researchers found that subjects who had played difficult versions of games assigned the next player 10 seconds more on average than people who had played an easy game.
Players of violent games, on the other hand, didn't seem to exhibit this aggressive tendency at all. Lead researcher Andrew Przybylski of Oxford summed it up in a release describing the research: "When people feel they have no control over the outcome of a game, that leads to aggression."
"Our effects held up whether the games were violent or not," he continued.
Surveys of gamers and other experiments conducted by Przybylski and co-author Richard Ryan, of Rochester, further bore out this effect, as people self-reported that "their inability to master a game or its controls" was what frustrated them.
That the violent aspect of games contributed so little may baffle critics who argue that is what causes aggression. But this research had little to do with the idea that violent media desensitize people to violence — a question that is still up for discussion.