Tag Archives: aggression

Yet another study finds that violent video games don’t make teens more aggressive

Credit: Pixabay.

Many parents are concerned that some violent video games such as Grand Theft Auto might influence their children to engage in antisocial behavior — but their concerns are probably misplaced. As far as aggression goes, a new study found that British teens who played video games containing explicit violence were not more aggressive than their peers who didn’t play video games at all.

“The idea that violent video games drive real-world aggression is a popular one, but it hasn’t tested very well over time,’ said lead researcher Professor Andrew Przybylski, Director of Research at the Oxford Internet Institute. “Despite interest in the topic by parents and policy-makers, the research has not demonstrated that there is cause for concern.”

Psychologists at the University of Oxford surveyed 1,000 British teens, aged 14 to 15, about their gaming habits and behaviors, finding that half of girls and two-thirds of boys played video games. In order to minimize biases, the researchers also interviewed the participants’ parents or caretakers.

Violent content in video games was assessed as objectively as possible, with the official Pan European Game Information (EU) and Entertainment Software Rating Board (US) rating system, two official video game content rating systems, rather than the participants’ perception of violence in the games they played.

An important part of the study’s design was preregistration. Before the study began, the researchers publically reported their hypothesis, methods, and analysis technique.

“Our findings suggest that researcher biases might have influenced previous studies on this topic, and have distorted our understanding of the effects of video games,'” says co-author Dr Netta Weinstein from Cardiff University.

“Part of the problem in technology research is that there are many ways to analyse the same data, which will produce different results. A cherry-picked result can add undue weight to the moral panic surrounding video games. The registered study approach is a safe-guard against this,” says Przybylski.

It’s not hard to understand why parents can believe violence in video games might be a bad influence on their children. As anyone who has played has played an online video game knows, there’s a lot of trolling and momentary outbursts that qualify as antisocial behavior. However, repeated studies have shown no correlation between playing video games and aggressive tendencies in teenagers.

In 2016, a review of 300 studies on violent video games and children’s behavior was released by the American Psychological Association Task Force on Violent Media. The review concluded that violent video games present a “risk factor” for heightened aggression in children. However, critics have pointed out that many of the studies used to support this conclusion relied on anecdotal evidence or were poorly designed (for instance, surveying children right after they played an emotionally engaging video game).

Previously, ZME Science reported that video game aggression can stem from frustration, not violence. The study found that failure to master a game, getting stuck or losing over and over again led to frustration and aggression, regardless of whether the game was violent or not.

The authors of the new study hope that their approach might be mimicked in other fields where there’s a lot of prejudice and conclusions are often based on anecdotal evidence.

“Researchers should use the registered study approach to investigate other media effects phenomena. There are a lot of ideas out there like ‘social media drives depression’ and ‘technology addiction that lowers quality of life’ that simply have no supporting evidence. These topics and others that drive technological anxieties should be studied more rigorously – society needs solid evidence in order to make appropriate policy decisions,” Przybylski said.

The findings were reported in the journal Royal Society Open Science

Credit: Pixabay.

Zapping the brain with mild electrical current controls anger and aggression

Credit: Pixabay.

Credit: Pixabay.

Some people are born with a short fuse, instantly engaging in violence at the slightest hint of offense. We’re only beginning to understand the biological mechanisms that underpin anger and aggression, but a new study suggests that violence-triggering emotions can even be controlled by modulating a weak electric current through the skull.

Neuroscientists at Tel Aviv University, Israel, employed a technique called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), which involves placing an electrode on the forehead of an individual. During their experiments, the researchers ran a weak direct current (1.5 mA) through the electrode for 22 minutes, exciting neurons right beneath the positive pole of the electrode and, conversely, inhibiting neurons beneath the negative electrode.

Using this non-invasive procedure, the researchers modulated a neural circuit that was previously identified as being involved in impulse control. This was done while test subjects were sitting inside an fMRI machine that measured their neural activity.

In order to elicit angry emotions, 25 volunteers participated in a game in which money was awarded fairly or unfairly. Even though this was all a game, feeling cheated naturally provoked anger in the test subjects, who self-assessed the intensity of their emotions on a scale of 1 to 10. However, their level of anger was reduced when a mild current was run through the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), thereby activating the brain region. Sham stimulation designed to produce a similar sensation to the DC current on the forehead, but which did not actually manipulate neural activity, served as a control.

Credit: Cortex.

Effects of stimulation on behavioral and self-reported emotion measures. Credit: Cortex.

The vmPFC is located in the frontal lobe at the bottom of the cerebral hemispheres and is implicated in the processing of risk and fear (“fight or flight”) as well as general decision making. The vmPFC is also involved in the inhibition of emotional responses, such as aggression or anger.

You can imagine the vmPFC as a sort of filter that double checks the raw emotional response that the brain sends from the limbic system before making a decision. When someone is experiencing and expressing anger, he or she is not using the thinking (cortex) part of the brain but primarily the emotional limbic center of the brain. Within the limbic system is a small structure called the amygdala, a storehouse for emotional memories and hub where sensory information is first processed. If the incoming data triggers enough of an emotional charge, the amygdala can override the cortex, which means the data will be sent directly to the limbic system causing the person to react using the lower part of the brain. This can lead to uncontrolled bouts of rage.

 Active stimulation led to increased activity in the vmPFC.

Active stimulation led to increased activity in the vmPFC. Credit: Cortex.

Children often are very emotional to the point of throwing a tantrum partly because their prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until after adolescence. Likewise, lesions to the vmPFC can lead to “amygdala hijacking”, causing adult patients to experience diminished emotional responsivity, thus leading to a poor display of social emotions, such as compassion, shame, or guilt.

“Findings support a potential causal link between vmPFC functionality and the experience and expression of anger, supporting vmPFC’s role in anger regulation, and providing a promising avenue for reducing angry and aggressive outbursts during interpersonal provocations in various psychiatric and medical conditions,” the authors concluded.

The researchers primarily meant to identify fundamental neural circuitry involved in anger and aggression. However, the authors claim that the findings could very well one-day lead to clinical therapies for patients suffering from various psychiatric disorders and medical conditions that make them highly aggressive in interpersonal relations. At the moment, doctors mitigate aggression with drugs, behavioral therapy, and in very extreme cases, incarceration. Before that may happen, researchers need to show in a clinical setting that tDCS can reduce aggressive tendencies over a long period of time. Studies in the future would also have to show that transcranial stimulation improves outcomes in highly aggressive individuals, which this study did not address.

The findings appeared in the journal Cortex.

Roy Hamilton (left) is seen here fixing the apparatus that sent stimulated the prefrontal cortex of volunteers. The procedure reduced someone’s intent to commit a violent crime. Credit: Penn Medicine.

Scientists control aggressive and criminal tendencies by zapping the brain

Credit: Pixabay.

Credit: Pixabay.

In a new study that’s sure to raise some eyebrows, researchers performed transcranial direct-current stimulation on volunteers (i.e. zapped their brains) and saw a significant reduction in violent tendencies. The procedure might be useful in treating some patients or criminals who suffer from mental illness and display aggressive, antisocial behavior.  

The aggression trigger

It makes sense to target specific brain areas in order to elicit or inhibit certain behaviors. Our personalities are quite fragile, as Janet Cromer can attest. Cromer’s husband, Alan, used to have a personality which his wife described as being marked by “kindness, love, curiosity, and humor.” A severe anoxic brain injury following a massive heart attack and cardiac arrest, however, rewired Alan’s brain and changed his personality, turning the man into an incredibly moody individual marked by unpredictable bouts of anger and confusion. Cromer compared her husband to Jekyll and Hyde.

A 2009 study found that aggression is a common byproduct of traumatic brain injury (TBI), having a prevalence of 28.4% in a sample of 67 participants, predominantly as verbal aggression. And one cannot discuss traumatic brain injury and its potential to distort personality without mentioning the famous case of Phineas Gage, also known as “the man with a hole in his head.”

Gage and his “constant companion”‍—‌his inscribed tamping iron‍—‌sometime after 1849. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

A railway worker in Vermont, US, Phineas was responsible for clearing away rocks in order for railway tracks to be laid down. For really big rocks, he would drill a hole in the ground, set explosives, then light a fuse to blow up the ruble. On September 13th 1848, this routine procedure took a turn for the worst when an iron rod scraped the side of a rock, lighting a spark that set off the gunpowder early. The iron rod — one meter long and 3 cm in diameter — plunged right into his skull, just under his left eye, landing some 30 meters away.

Phineas remarkably survived another 12 years, but his life was changed forever. The man became unpredictable, often swearing and making inappropriate remarks out of the blue. Psychiatrists today would class him as ‘disinhibited’, meaning he no longer cared for norms in a social and emotional context. For science, this was an important moment, however — Phineas’ case was one of the first to demonstrate that damage to the brain could affect our behavior and personality.

For some time, modern science has known that the prefrontal cortex is linked to the control of aggressive behavior, with damage to this brain area being associated with more violent and antisocial behavior. It was never clear, however, whether damage to prefrontal cortex drive violent behavior or some other reason might be at play.

A reverse lobotomy

Roy Hamilton (left) is seen here fixing the apparatus that sent stimulated the prefrontal cortex of volunteers. The procedure reduced someone’s intent to commit a violent crime. Credit: Penn Medicine.

Roy Hamilton (left) is seen here fixing the apparatus that sent stimulated the prefrontal cortex of volunteers. The procedure reduced someone’s intent to commit a violent crime. Credit: Penn Medicine.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore designed an experiment in which they investigated what happened when they would stimulate the prefrontal cortex with electric currents.

“The ability to manipulate such complex and fundamental aspects of cognition and behavior from outside the body has tremendous social, ethical, and possibly someday legal implications,” said Roy Hamilton, a neurologist at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine and the senior paper author.

They recruited 86 healthy adult participants, half of whom were given 20 minutes of non-invasive brain stimulation, half of whom were given a mild low-current stimulation for 30 seconds. This was a randomized double-blinded trial, meaning neither the participants nor the people running the experiment knew who was assigned what. Each participant was asked to read two hypothetical scenarios, one about a physical assault (someone bashing a glass on a fellow’s head for chatting up his girlfriend) and one about sexual assault (intimate foreplay leads to rape).

After the transcranial-stimulation sessions, each person was asked how likely they would be to picture themselves as the person perpetrating the violence in those scenarios, on a scale from 0 (completely unlikely) to 10 (extremely likely). They were also asked to rate how morally reprehensible these acts felt to them.

The people in the group who had the electrical stimulation were 47% and 70%, respectively, less likely to relate to the violent person depicted in the two scenarios than the control group (mild stimulation).

In order to pacify or treat extremely violent individuals suffering from various mental illness, historically, doctors have always manipulated the brain in some way. In the past, for instance, frontal lobotomies — an extremely invasive procedure that involves severing fiber tracts connected to the frontal lobe — were routinely used.

Now, rather than removing parts of the brain linked to potentially aggressive behavior, the team of researchers chose to stimulate them. Counter-intuitively to the old school of thought, violent tendencies were actually reduced.

“Historically we haven’t taken this kind of approach to interventions around violence. But this has promise. We only did one 20-minute session, and we saw an effect. What if we had more sessions? What if we did it three times a week for a month?” said psychologist Adrian Raine, a Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor and co-author on the paper.

The findings suggest that this simple, non-invasive biological intervention — either separate or in conjunction with traditional psychological interventions such as cognitive behavioral therapy — could have the potential to reduce violent behavior at large. Before this happens, however, more studies are needed to assess the efficacy of the procedure; the findings need to be replicated and validated with a larger sample size. Additionally, the long-term effects of such an intervention need to be assessed.

“This is not the magic bullet that’s going to wipe away aggression and crime,” Raine says. “But could transcranial direct-current stimulation be offered as an intervention technique for first-time offenders to reduce their likelihood of recommitting a violent act?”

“Perhaps,” Hamilton concludes, “the secret to holding less violence in your heart is to have a properly stimulated mind.”

The findings appeared in the Journal of Neuroscience.


Humans and chimp brains may have a turbo-charged fight-or-flight response

Humans and chimpanzees have a much more active fight-or-flight response than any other primates, a new study reports. The findings point to the role aggression and warfare played in our evolutionary history and that of our closest relatives.


Image via Pxhere.

Biology has no qualms letting organisms get dirty, even downright aggressive, to secure their interests. Faced with so many potential crazies, our brains (along with those of most complex organisms) have evolved a protocol whose single purpose is to determine whether we should throw the towel or a fist when faced with a threat. New research suggests that this protocol is unusually active in humans and our closest relatives, the chimpanzees, suggesting an evolutionary history fraught with aggression and large-scale conflict.


Aptly dubbed the ‘fight-or-flight’ response, this hard-wired security protocol is primarily controlled by the automatic nervous system (ANS) — a division of the nervous system that oversees the activity of smooth muscles (those in your organs) and glands throughout the body. For the most part, the ANS works outside of our conscious perception or control and regulates heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, pupillary response, urination, and sexual arousal.

According to a new paper by a team of US and Korean researchers, this system is much more active in humans and chimps compared to other primates. They note that humans and chimps are the only primates known to frequently engage in warfare (i.e. large-scale conflict), suggesting that this adaptation of the fight-or-flight response evolved in response to frequent aggression or threat of conflict.

To find evidence of this adaptation, the team looked at how different primate species regulate a gene called ADRA2C. The gene’s main function is to temper the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, which plays a central role in forming the fight-or-flight response. To that end, they analyzed the genomes, transcriptomes (the entire set of genes expressed in a cell), and epigenomes (the compounds external to DNA which can bind to it to affect gene expression) from humans, chimps, and other primates.

They report that humans and chimps evolved both genetic and epigenetic changes that decrease ADRA2C expression — in other words, that increase both the fightiness and the flightiness of their brains. Macaques don’t have these changes, and they’re not universal in bonobos, suggesting that the gene variants spread through the population recently (after we parted ways on the tree of life), most likely in response to the threat of conflict. The team further used CRISPR/Cas9 to show that reverting to the genetic states of macaques and bonobos will restore ADRA2C expression to higher levels.

Variations in ADRA2C gene expression can have significant effects on behavior. For example, changes in the gene that occurred during chicken domestication likely resulted in the somewhat aloof and un-aggressive birds we know today. The team notes that finding adaptations associated with a reduced expression of ADRA2C in chimps and humans but not in their relatives suggests that it was inter-group aggression — rather than an outside threat, such as that of predators — which shaped these genes. They also believe such adaptations could form the evolutionary roots of human warfare — which, in turn, could have shaped much of society as we know it.

The paper “Selection on the regulation of sympathetic nervous activity in humans and chimpanzees” has been published in the journal PLOS Genetics.

Drunk octopi.

Alcohol makes you aggressive by impairing the polite parts of your brain

Drinking and fighting are an age-old pair — but why? Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), Australian researchers found that as little as two drinks can impair the part of the brain that tempers our aggression levels.

Drunk octopi.

Image credits Adrian Scottow / Flickr.

We don’t actually know why people become more aggressive after imbibing. We have our hypotheses, sure — mainly that alcohol-related fisticuffs are borne of an impaired prefrontal cortex — but there wasn’t much neuroimaging evidence to back that hypothesis up.

Gray matter matters

That’s a chink in the data that a team from the University of New South Wales in Australia patches up in their new paper. Led by Thomas Denson, the team recruited fifty healthy young men and gave each two drinks — either vodka or a placebo. After the volunteers downed their drink, the team placed them in a fMRI machine and pitted them against a standard test aimed at observing levels of aggression in response to provocation.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging allows researchers to see changes in blood flow throughout the brain — which they can then use to infer brain activity. They used these readings to see what parts of the areas this task activated. They also used the brains of participants in the control group as a baseline and compared the readings of those in the alcohol group to this baseline.

They report that being provoked had no influence on the participants’ neural responses. However, when behaving aggressively, those who had consumed alcoholic drinks had a dip in their prefrontal cortex activity. This dampening was also seen in areas f the brain involved in the reward pathways, and the hippocampus — a part of the brain associated with memory — saw heightened activity.

“Although there was an overall dampening effect of alcohol on the prefrontal cortex, even at a low dose of alcohol we observed a significant positive relationship between dorsomedial and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex activity and alcohol-related aggression,” Denson explains.

“These regions may support different behaviors, such as peace versus aggression, depending on whether a person is sober or intoxicated.”

The results are consistent with other current research on the neural basis of aggression, and its relationship to the prefrontal cortex, the limbic system, and reward pathways in the brain (you can find all of those structures here). The team says the results are encouraging, and call for “larger-scale investigations” in the relationship between alcohol and aggression using larger samples and stronger doses.

“Doing so could eventually substantially reduce alcohol-related harm,” adds Denson.

The paper “The neural correlates of alcohol-related aggression” has been published in the journal Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience.

Scientists discover ‘hunting circuits’ that can turn fuzzy rats into fuzzy murderous rats

Two sets of neurons have been identified in the amygdala that, when activated, can turn mice into highly effective killers, a new study reports. The findings could help determine how hunting behavior evolved, hundred of millions of years ago.

Image credits Alexas_Fotos / Pixabay.

Here’s one the conspiracy theorists will love.

A team from Yale university have managed to hack the brains of mice into highly efficient killing machines. They ramped up the animals’ aggression by activating two sets of neurons in their amygdala, the paper states.

“The animals become very efficient in hunting,” says Ivan de Araujo, associate professor of psychiatry at Yale University and an associate fellow at The John B. Pierce Laboratory in New Haven.

“They pursue the prey [a live cricket] faster and they are more capable of capturing and killing it.”

Tampering with these neurons caused the mice to attack even inanimate objects — sticks, bottle caps, and an insect-like toy. Dr De Araujo says that the animals bit the toy “intensively” and even used “their forepaws in an attempt to kill it.”

Bloodlust, but with manners

The mice saved their aggressiveness only for prey, as De Araujo reports that the furry rodents didn’t attack one another even with both sets of neurons activated. These results offer a glimpse into how the brain changed hundreds of millions of years ago when jaws first developed. It was the first time any brain had an efficient tool with which to kill prey, a change that “must have influenced the way the brain is wired up in a major way,” De Araujo says.

Just like the military has a chain of command to make sure everything is where it’s supposed to be in battle, brains needed to re-wire to allow for specialized hunting circuits. These serve to govern and coordinate the movements of predators’ jaws and neck muscles, turning a clumsy beast into a deadly predator.

“This is a very complex and demanding task,” De Araujo says.

The team used mice since we know these animals are predatory — they hunt and eat whatever they can, really, mostly insects and worms. One species, in particular, is known as the killer mouse for its habit of feeding on live prey, even other mice at times.

By watching brain scans of hunting mice, they discovered one set of neurons that activated when chasing prey and another that would flare up when biting or killing something. Both of these bundles of neurons are located in the amygdala, which is involved in regulating emotion and motivation.

The next step was to use optogenetics to create mice in which these sets of neurons could be activated using a laser.

“When we stimulate [both sets of] neurons […] they assume the body posture and actions usually associated with real hunting

“It is as if there is a prey in front of the animal,” De Araujo says.

The team found evidence of similar “hunting circuits” in other species that relied on hunting to survive — including humans.

Knowing how the brain processes hunting and killing gives us a glimpse of how — and when — these behaviors evolved. It might also help us understand how aggression, in general, is handled by the brain.

The paper “Integrated Control of Predatory Hunting by the Central Nucleus of the Amygdala” has been published in the journal Cell.

Credit: Anchorman, 2004

Training men how to read women might help curb sexually aggressive behaviour

Credit: Anchorman, 2004

Credit: Anchorman, 2004

For many men, judging whether a woman is flirting or just being polite can be difficult. Some might miss out on romances because they couldn’t take a cue, others might make a fool of themselves. That’s how life is — but it becomes a serious problem when this poor judgement call leads to sexual harassment and even rape.

“You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait,” Donald Trump in 2005.

Studies have attempted to explain this sort of behaviour. High levels of testosterone, alcohol and an overestimation of a woman’s sexual interest play a key role. One new study suggests this poor judgement stems, in part, from disproportionately assessing a woman’s level of attractiveness instead of following her emotions. Men who have a history of sexual aggression were the most likely to behave this way, the study also found.

Some women with a long history of dealing with overzealous men might be already rolling their eyes, but there’s some good news. Even though previous research suggests that information-based programs don’t help sexually aggressive men mend their ways, the new study found evidence to the contrary. Yes, sexual bullies can be helped if they’re taught to read women better.

Now, that looks like a ten!

Teresa Treat, a clinical psychologist at the University of Iowa, recruited 183 heterosexual or bisexual male students, then asked them to ‘study’ hundreds of full-length photos of female students and gauge their level of sexual interest.

Credit: American Psychological Association

Credit: American Psychological Association

The female students were actually professional actresses who are asked to pose different levels of friendliness, sexual interest, sadness, and rejection. The young women involved in the study varied in attractiveness and clothing (i.e. more or less provocative).

The yardstick group was made up of the researchers themselves, which also included nine undergraduate women. Each author rated the women’s levels of sexual interest just like the male students but used two separate systems. First, they rated sexual interest specifically ignoring attractiveness and clothing, and secondly they rated the provocativeness of their clothing while ignoring sexual interest.

A benchmark for sexual attractiveness was made by averaging the ratings offered by a large group of male students separate from the participants. Yes, ZME women, the researchers sort of endorsed giving women marks. This is a study largely made by women, so you’ll be the judge.

At the end of the study, finding suggest that the male participants relied more on the women’s actual emotional display than attractiveness and clothing to gauge interest. That doesn’t mean they didn’t take attractiveness and clothing into account, though. For instance, the most attractive women, as well as those dressed sexy, were assumed to show more sexual interest, although their emotions didn’t necessarily reflect this.

Those men who self-reported a history of sexual aggression based their judgement to a greater degree on attractiveness when compared to the low-risk men.

After the first round of tests was done, however, these alpha males were shown the light. The researchers gave them crucial feedback instructing them what the ‘correct’ answer ought to be for a series of photos they judged earlier.

The men who received feedback became better at using women’s emotions more, and their dress and attractiveness less, when gauging sexual interest. The results were confirmed by a new task in which the male students were asked to categorize photos of women based on how sexually interested they were. The effect was strongest among low-risk men, but was there in those with a history of sexual aggression as well, albeit to a weaker degree.

Critically, these findings should be taken lightly as there are many limitations to this type of study. The sample size is too small and the benchmark the researchers used might have been inadequate. Working only with testosterone-packed male students who rate women on a daily basis anyway might not be the best focus group either. It remains to be seen if these results can be translated into real-world applications.

“Perhaps the current work can point the way to improved prevention efforts that include both informational and active learning components,” Treat said.

Inmates who watch nature shows in prison are 26% less aggressive than their counterparts

An experiment carried out at Snake River Correctional Institute found that inmates who were shown nature videos were less likely to be aggressive behind bars. The team believes that the images help relax the inmates, reducing negative emotions and behaviors such as distress, irritability, and nervousness which can cause them to lash out in aggression.

Just look at this beautiful lake. And the mountains. It's all so very nice. You know what else would be nice? Not shiv-ing other inmates in the showers. Ahhh, nature. Image via pexels

Just look at this beautiful lake. And the mountains. It’s all so very nice. You know what else would be nice? Not shiv-ing other inmates in the showers. Ahhh, nature.
Image via pexels

“We need nature for our physical and psychological well-being,” said clinical psychotherapist Dr Patricia Hasbach, of ecospychology practice NorthWest Ecotherapy in Oregan, who presented the research.

“Although direct contact with real nature is most effective, studies have shown that even indirect. nature exposure can provide temporary relief from psychological stress in daily life.”

The team performed their study at the Snake River Correctional Institution in Oregon which houses 48 inmates. Half of them were given nature videos to view during their scheduled indoor recreation time, three to four times a week over the course of a year. These videos included images of a wide range of environments, such as oceans, forests, rivers, or the Earth viewed from space and cloud fly-throughs. They also included anthropic settings such as aquarium scenes or logs burning in a fireplace. The other half, the control group, were not offered the chance to view the videos.

“Inmate surveys and case study interviews with inmates suggested that negative emotions and behaviors such as aggression, distress, irritability and nervousness were reduced following the viewing of videos and lasted for several hours post-viewing,” said Dr Hasbach.

Prisoners who viewers the videos were involved in 26% fewer violent events compared to the control group, though the change can’t be directly attributed to the videos. Still, the experiment had such good results that other prisons are starting to showcase nature videos.

“This is equivalent to 13 fewer violent incidents over the year, a substantial reduction in real world conditions, since nearly all such events result in injuries to inmates or officers,” Hasbach said.

Prison staff, however, reported through interviews and written surveys that viewing the videos appeared to have a positive effect on the inmates — so much so that they started using the videos as a targeted intervention when they see warning signs that an inmate may be about to act out.

Still, the American prison system is just bad, and no amount of nature videos is going to change that — but there are some things that would.



Video gamers’ aggression linked to frustration, not violent games

Video games have been getting more and more attention, partly due the fact that more and more children (and adults) are playing them, and partly due to the fact that some advantages of playing them are starting to surface. Now, a new study has shown that gamers’ hostile behavior is linked to the experience of failure and frustration during play – not necessarily the game’s content.

credit: Steven Andrew, flickr, Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0

Games such as Grand Theft Auto get a lot of bad rep – and for good reason. You walk around, get in a car, run people over, chainsaw them, shoot them, hang out with prostitutes – you get the point. It’s not exactly what you’d want your kid to play. Naturally, many have claimed that due to the violent nature of the games, children tend to grow up to be more violent as well; that sounds like a fair assumption, but is it actually true?

This study is the first to look at the player’s psychological experience with video games instead of focusing solely on its content. They found that failure to master a game, getting stuck and/or losing over and over again led to frustration and aggression, regardless of whether the game was violent or not. I know it doesn’t have any scientific relevance, but personally, I can confirm that.

“Any player who has thrown down a remote control after losing an electronic game can relate to the intense feelings or anger failure can cause,” explains lead author Andrew Przybylski, a researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute at Oxford University, who said such frustration is commonly known among gamers as “rage-quitting.”

“Rage-quitting” is when you get so annoyed and angry with the game that you instantly quit it, regardless of playing alone or with other people. But as it turns out, this experience is not really limited to video games – it happens in all types of games and sports.

“When people feel they have no control over the outcome of a game, that leads to aggression,” says Richard Ryan, a motivational psychologist at the University of Rochester. “We saw that in our experiments. If you press someone’s competencies, they’ll become more aggressive, and our effects held up whether the games were violent or not.”

To test the degree to which this happens, researchers manipulated the interface, controls, and degree of difficulty in custom-designed video games across six lab experiments. Some games were violent, some weren’t. For example, in one experiment, undergraduates held their hand in a bowl of painfully cold water for 25 seconds. They were told that the duration was established by a previous student. They were then randomly assigned to play a simple or a very difficult version of tetris and then assign the duration for the next student. Undergrads who played the difficult version assigned on average 10 seconds more of chilled water pain.

The results were conclusive – it’s not the violent nature of the game which causes violent and aggressive behavior, it’s the frustration it induces. Scientists also surveyed 300 avid gamers to identify how real world gamers might experience the same phenomena. When asked about pre- and post-game feelings, gamers replied that their inability to master a game or its controls caused feelings of frustration and affected their sense of enjoyment in the experience. Just as a sidenote – this isn’t to say that violent games are good, or that they don’t have any negative repercussions – just that they don’t generally cause violent or aggressive behavior.