Slamming popular belief, psychologists have claimed that feelings of failure and frustration lead to aggression in video game players rather than the videos' violent content.
The study is the first to look at the player's psychological experience with video games instead of focusing solely on its content.
Researchers found that failure to master a game and its controls led to frustration and aggression, regardless of whether the game was violent or not.
Lead author Andrew Przybylski, a researcher at Oxford University, said 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.
To tease out which aspects of the gaming experience lead to aggressive feelings, the researchers manipulated the interface, controls, and degree of difficulty in custom-designed video games across six lab experiments.
Nearly 600 college-aged participants were tasked with playing the games—many of which included violent and nonviolent variations—and then were tested for aggressive thoughts, feelings, or behaviors.
In one experiment, undergraduates held their hand in a bowl of painfully cold water for 25 seconds. They were led to believe that the length of time was determined by a prior participant, but in fact, all participants were assigned the same duration.
Next, participants were randomly asked to play either a simple or challenging version of Tetris, after which they were asked to assign the amount of time a future participant would have to leave their hand in the chilled water.
Players who experienced the difficult Tetris game assigned on average 10 seconds more of chilled water pain to subsequent players than those who played the easy version.
Across the experiments, researchers found it was not the narrative or imagery, but the lack of mastery of the game's controls and the degree of difficulty players had completing the game that led to frustration.
The study demonstrated that aggression is a negative side effect of the frustration felt while playing the video game.
The study was published online in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.