SLT: Grand Theft Auto might not be so ‘grand’


In the first year core studies we look at Bandura and his ideas on Social Learning Theory (SLT). Basically, SLT says that we learn by imitation of role models around us. In his study he exposed children to an adult role model being aggressive towards a ‘bobo’ doll and then gave that child the opportunity to imitate this behaviour. In the findings, amongst other things, he discovered that those children who had seen this aggressive display were more likely to imitate this.

So what? It’s only an inflatable doll – well there are real life applications to this study in a much wider context. If people learn through their role models what if those role models are bad role models – or those characters in violent video games?

A new series of studies by psychologists in Iowa have found some disturbing effects of violent (even cartoon-esq violence) games and investigated the effects of this on those exposed to them. Here, briefly, are some of the findings:

From Study 1:

“Even the children’s violent video games –which are more cartoonish and often show no blood– had the same size effect on children and college students as the much more graphic games have on college students. What seems to matter is whether the players are practicing intentional harm to another character in the game. That’s what increases immediate aggression –more than how graphic or gory the game is.”

From Study 2:

We were surprised to find that exposure to violent video games was a better predictor of the students’ own violent behavior than their gender or their beliefs about violence. Although gender aggressive personality and beliefs about violence all predict aggressive and violent behavior, violent video game play still made an additional difference. We were also somewhat surprised that there was no apparent difference in the video game violence effect between boys and girls or adolescents with already aggressive attitudes.”

From Study 3:

I was startled to find those changes in such a short amount of time. Children’s aggression in school did increase with greater exposure to violent video games, and this effect was big enough to be noticed by their teachers and peers within five months.”

I think this shows quite conclusively that video games can have a massive effect on children’s behaiour and they could learn this aggression from imitating it from those games. Interestingly, the studies here didn’t find as much of a gender effect as in Bandura – could this be a result of changing social roles of men and women over the last 50 years? We do have to be careful not to act too hastily on this though as it could lead to massive problems and I don’t think PlayStation would be too happy either.

Your thoughts as always welcome in the comments :)


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8 Responses to “SLT: Grand Theft Auto might not be so ‘grand’”

  1. Jamie April 12, 2007 at 5:54 pm #

    Well, in more breaking news, it could actually be the price of beer that leads to violent behaviour: ;)

  2. phil May 10, 2007 at 5:26 pm #

    Interesting regarding the study revolving around violent video games. In 1992 I was on an access to HE course, and studied the implications of videos coming onto the market, and it so happened the UK had the biggest rental of videos in Europe on an upward curve. It is not, therefore, suprising that there is (as one result of this) a more aggressive/ uncaring attitude from alot of young people and of more reported aggressive problematic young people/ teenagers – even with some adults in the UK generally. This is even with these days people have more to keep them occupied etc
    Role models in whatever form do, in my opinion, have people copying them and I have seen first hand imitation whilst I was a coach of sport – meaning there were young people who had some of my attributes/ actions – basically clones of me. So what are violent video games doing themselves to peoples minds – surely people don’t switch off from them and go in a trance and play the game and it doesn’t result in affecting them in one way or another – of course it does !!!

  3. Bim June 8, 2008 at 4:32 pm #

    Hmm.. I don’t think its neccisairly the video games fault, for instance I play violent computer games, and have done from a very young age, but Im not atall violent or abbusive.

    I think it stems from other factors such as role models, genes, upbringing, deprivation.
    Probably children who become violent from playing the games are only that way due to not having a good upbringing so don’t have any ‘good behaviour’ to compare it too.

    And with all the bad things going on in the world today, they’d pick it up just as easily, if not worse, off the news than on computer games that (normally) portray you as the good guy fighting evil.

    Just some thoughts anyway!

  4. Elana Goldstein March 20, 2009 at 5:34 pm #

    There is a lot of contradictory evidence on the subject of children and violent video games. The research from the Home Office states that video games can make children more intelligent, provide children with essential skills (like probelm solving skills and recognizing visual clues) and also can give children essential skills for higher ranking jobs in the future. However, there is also a lot of evidence that says that children who play violent video games can become withdrawn and anti-social. Most of the research is not conclusive, and it is hard to isolate violent video games in the larger media picture.
    In my opinion, I think that the best thing is for parents to monitor what their children are exposed to. I recently read some research that states that home environment has more of an impact of children’s aggressive behavior then video games, and my intial reaction is to agree.

  5. James March 27, 2009 at 1:38 pm #

    Violent games could make you aggressive but there are good sides to violent games perhaps. The good side is that violent games give you a chance to unleash your aggressive feelings in the game instead of doing it in public. The police department in New York said that kids coude unleash their violent actions in GTA or different violent games instead of in the outside world and this has a relaxing effect on children.

  6. Yoni March 31, 2009 at 3:49 pm #

    I think violent games are not so bad for all children because not all kids get bad messages from video games. I think video games can make you smarter, give you better jobs, and give you more skills. I think that you are right that violent games can make kids more aggressive, but not all kids are the same and not all kids will be aggressive from video games.

  7. jack April 2, 2009 at 2:47 am #

    Video games themselves aren’t the problem with violence but rather a small part of it. as it was mentioned role models, genes and other factors also have to be taken into account.
    Video games themselves can actually help in more ways than you may think possible such as hand eye co-ordination from playing games such as guitar hero or sharpening your mind by playing strategy games such as the age of empire series.
    I myself find that after a particularly stressful day it helps to sit in front of a TV and blast away at a few zombies with friends over the internet.
    I can understand Jack Thompson’s problem with the more realistic games like Grand Theft Auto because it is harder to separate yourself from the realism of the games
    I really don’t see why the entire human population has to be penalised because of maybe a handful of people that have murdered people and then blamed video games as a way of easing their sentence.


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    […] of Sunderland website. Chris Whitehead, the final year Psychology student, points out how previous research has focused on the adverse effects of violent video games on children, when such games are actually […]

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