Focusing on psychological mechanisms, media theorists Craig Anderson, Brad Bushman and L. Rowell Huesmann are among the strongest proponents of the hypothesis that violent media causes an increase in aggressive behavior and a decrease in prosocial behavior, or expressing concern for and caring about other people. While this effect has been found in studies on all kinds of media, they argue that the possible effects are even more problematic in video games, due to the interactive nature of the medium.
This is because the researchers base their findings on broader social science theories like Social Learning Theory and Script Theory. Social Learning Theory, originally advanced by psychologist Albert Bandura in 1977, argues that individuals learn behaviors from the environment around them, including both real life and mediated experiences. They then have a tendency to enact these behaviors in their own lives. On the other hand, Script Theory posits that individuals tend to rely on a set series of “scripts”, or behavioral programs they tend to use to respond to a variety of situations.
In both these theories, then, playing violent video games is expected to increase aggressive behaviors as players learn more aggressive behaviors to imitate, or are trained to privilege aggressive scripts over more passive ones.
Significantly, this research has been quoted by lawmakers repeatedly to defend their proposed laws in court and to argue for greater government regulation of video games, with Anderson and Bushman serving as frequent expert witnesses.
To explore this research more fully, the following articles provide an overall view of the current arguments for effects of violent media.
- Anderson, Craig A., and Brad J. Bushman. “Effects of Violent Video Games on Aggressive Behavior, Aggressive Cognition, Aggressive Affect, Physiological Arousal, and Prosocial Behavior: A Meta-Analytic Review of the Scientific Literature.” Psychological Science 12.5 (2001): 353-59.
- Anderson, Craig A., and L. Rowell Huesmann. “Human Aggression: A Social-Cognitive View.” The Sage Handbook of Social Psychology. Ed. Michael A. Hogg and Joel Cooper. London: Sage, 2003. 296-323.
- Carnagey, Nicholas L., and Craig A. Anderson. “The Effects of Reward and Punishment in Violent Video Games on Aggressive Affect, Cognition, and Behavior.” Psychological Science 16.11 (2005): 882-89.
- Rosenthal, R. “Media violence, antisocial behavior, and the social consequences of small effects.” Journal of Social Issues 42 (1986): 141-154.