Politicians pushed for a crackdown on violent video games after speculation arose that they spurred Newtown school shooter Adam Lanza – who had autism spectrum disorder – to commit one of the deadliest massacres in U.S. history, killing 26 children and educators before taking his own life.
But a new study from the University of Missouri indicates that violent video games do not increase aggression in adults with autism spectrum disorder any more than they do in people without autism.
“We wanted to try to provide some evidence on the issue,” says lead author Christopher Engelhardt, a postdoctoral fellow in the University of Missouri School of Health Professions and the Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders. “We couldn’t specifically study [what triggers violence in individuals] because it's not ethical to do so. But what we could do is study the willingness to aggress following exposure to violent video games.”
The study – which was recently accepted for publication in the journal Psychological Science – is the first of its kind to test the effects of violent video games on aggression in adults with autism spectrum disorder, according to Engelhardt.
Researchers examined 120 young adults – 60 who had autism spectrum disorder, and 60 who showed normal neurological development. Participants played one of two versions of a violent video game. The first, which contained heightened graphic imagery, called for players to shoot aliens on a military base in space. The second game had subdued graphics and a noble mission to help the creatures find their way back to their home planet.
After playing one of the two games, participants engaged in a task for the researchers to measure aggression. They were told they were competing against another person in a trial to test their reaction times. If an individual won that challenge, he or she could “blast” their opponent with a loud noise. Researchers measured aggression levels in participants from both groups by monitoring how long – and how loudly – each participant “blasted” the defeated party.
The results, experts say, were surprising – and not just because they found that short-term exposure to violent video games didn’t amplify aggression in adults with autism.
“The more surprising finding to most researchers in this field will be that the effect of playing violent video games on the immediate aggressive behavior, aggressive thoughts and aggressive emotions of normally developing youth was not found to be statistically significant,” says L. Rowell Huesmann, a professor of communication studies and psychology at the University of Michigan, who was not involved in the study.
Read the full article "Study: Video Games Don't Trigger Aggression in Adults With Autism" at US News.