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Study Counters Idea that Violent Games Spark Aggression in Those with Autism

No change in aggression seen after adults with autism play violent video game; response similar to that of adults without autism
April 15, 2015

In a new study, researchers tested the idea that adults affected by autism might be more vulnerable than usual to the aggression-inducing effects of violent video games.

“If violent video games caused adults with autism spectrum disorder to behave aggressively, we should have seen some evidence of this in our study,” says lead investigator Christopher Engelhardt, of the Missouri University Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders. “But we did not.”

The Thompson Center is one of 14 sites in the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network (ATN).

The full report, accepted for publication in the journal Psychological Science, is available online.

The researchers enrolled 120 young adults, ages 17 to 25, in their study. Sixty had autism and sixty did not, with nine women in each group. Each participant played one of two 15-minute video games – a violent or nonviolent version of a shooting game. Next came a fictional competition designed to measure aggression.

In the task, the participant was told he or she was competing in tests of reaction time against an unseen person on another computer. When the participant won, he or she could blast the opponent with a loud noise, dialing up the volume and length on a scale of 1 to 10.

All the participants “lost” the first round and received a blast at level 9 volume and level 8 duration. The computer program then set them up to lose four out of eight additional tests.

The researchers analyzed the length and volume of blasts each participant delivered as a measure of aggression.

Bottom line: The study found no significant differences in the aggression shown by gamers who had autism and those who did not. Nor did they see a significant difference in aggression following the violent versus nonviolent version of the video game.

“There are some caveats to our findings,” Engelhardt admits. “We exposed participants to violent or nonviolent games for only 15 minutes before measuring their willingness to behave aggressively. This study, therefore, cannot speak to the potential long-term effects of violent-video-game exposure.”

* Learn more about the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network here.
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