In a new study, teens who played violent video games ate more chocolate and were more likely to steal raffle tickets during a lab experiment than were teens who played nonviolent games.
These findings were strongest among teens who scored the highest on tests of moral disengagement — the ability to convince oneself that ethical standards don’t apply to in particular situations.
“When people play violent video games, they show less self-restraint. They eat more, they cheat more,” said Dr. Brad Bushman, co-author of the study and professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University. “It isn’t just about aggression, although that also increases when people play games like Grand Theft Auto.”
The study included 172 Italian high school students, ages 13 to 19. They played either a violent video game (Grand Theft Auto III or Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas) or a nonviolent game (Pinball 3D or MiniGolf 3D) for 35 minutes.
During the study, a bowl of chocolate M&M’s was placed next to the teens, who were told they could freely eat the candy, but were warned that eating a lot of candy in a short time was unhealthy. Interestingly, teens who played the violent games ate more than three times as much candy as did the other teens.
“They simply showed less restraint in their eating,” Bushman said.
After playing the game, the teens worked on a 10-item logic test in which they could win one raffle ticket for each question they answered correctly. The raffle tickets could then be redeemed for prizes.
After being told how many answers they got correct, the teens were asked to take the appropriate number of raffle tickets out of an envelope — without supervision. Unbeknownst to the players, the researchers were aware of how many tickets were in the envelope so they could later determine if a player took more than he or she had earned.
Results showed that teens who played violent games cheated more than eight times more than did those who played nonviolent games.