Violent Video Games Don't Amplify Aggression in Autistic Adults

April 19, 2015
Meghan Ross, Associate Editor

After playing violent video games, adults with autism do not display more aggression than those typically developing.

After playing violent video games, adults with autism do not display more aggression than those typically developing.

Following the 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, some speculated violent video games could spur aggressive behavior among those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This conjectured association was the catalyst for a study recently accepted for publication in Psychological Science.

The researchers examined 120 adults, 60 of whom had ASD, whose ages ranged from 17 to 25 years. The participants played 1 of 2 versions of Doom II. In one version, the quantity of violence and the graphical precision of the violent content were heightened. The other version was adapted so the graphics and narrative were nonviolent.

In the violent version, the player needed to kill demons on a military base on Mars’s moon. In contrast, the nonviolent version had the player act in a hero role. Aliens would try to hit the player with green gobs because they were confused and upset, and the player’s goal was to help the confused aliens return to their home planet.

Twenty-nine of the participants with ASD played the violent game, while the remaining 31 played the nonviolent game. The typically developing participants were evenly split between the violent and nonviolent games.

One of the methods used to measure aggressive behavior was telling participants they were competing against another player to see who could react faster by clicking on a colored square on the monitor. During the 9 trials, participants could choose the intensity and duration of a “noise blast” that would be heard by the loser of the trial.

Participants were also told they could see their opponent, but their opponent could not see them, which gave the player a sense of anonymity. However, they were not competing against anyone else; the 9 trials were programmed so they lost about half of the trials. Each player lost the first trial and heard a noise that ranked 9 of 10 in intensity and 8 in duration “in order to provoke them.”

The researchers used 2 other methods to test aggression, but they found strong evidence that violent video games do not affect adults with ASD differently than those typically developing. The researchers also found slight evidence that violent video games do not affect aggression among ASD adults at all.

"If violent video games caused adults with ASD to behave aggressively, we should have seen some evidence of this in our study, but we did not," said lead author Christopher Engelhardt, a postdoctoral fellow in the University of Missouri School of Health Professions and the University of Missouri Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders, in a press release.