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Violent Games Increase Hostility in Teens with a Specific Combination of Personality Traits, New Study Finds

Research led by Villanova psychology professor discovers model that indicates some video game players are prone to greater aggression

Villanova, Pa. – Violent video games are unlikely to have a negative affect on teenagers except for those whose personalities are predisposed to be highly neurotic, less agreeable and less conscientious.

That is the conclusion of a new research study conducted by Patrick M. Markey, Ph.D. an associate professor of psychology at Villanova University in collaboration with Charlotte N. Markey, Ph.D. a Rutgers University associate professor. The pair’s work, titled, “Vulnerability to Violent Video Games: A Review and Integration of Personality Research” is published in the June issue of the Review of General Psychology, a journal of the American Psychological Association.

The study’s results allay ongoing fears that violent video games (VVGs) incite aggression in most players while delineating the combination of personality traits that make some players more susceptible to intensified hostility.

“Individuals are not ‘blank slates.’ One’s general disposition moderates the effect of violent media,” Dr. Patrick Markey said.

He continued, “General policy recommendations based on the notion that violent video games are simply ‘bad’ and individuals who play violent video games will inevitably become aggressive appear to be unwarranted. Instead it is crucial to consider the dispositional characteristics of the person playing the video game when predicting the type of effect the violent video game might have on his or her hostility.”

In characterizing the type of individual prone to greater hostility as a result of playing violent video games the study examined the Five-Factor Model (FFM), the most popular model of personality traits, to determine which traits VVG affect.

The research uncovered “the ‘perfect storm’ of FFM traits: high neuroticism (e.g., easily upset, angry, depressed, emotional, etc.), low agreeableness (e.g., little concern for others, indifferent to others feelings, cold, etc.) and low conscientiousness (e.g., break rules, don’t keep promises, act without thinking, etc.) as a vulnerable combination.

Markey then created his own model, focusing on these three traits, and used it to help predict the effects of violent video games in a sample of 118 teenagers. Each participant played a violent or a non-violent video game and had their hostility levels assessed. The teenagers who displayed the “perfect storm” traits tended to be most adversely affected by VVGs. Participants who did not possess these personality characteristics were either unaffected or only slightly negatively affected by VVGs.

The study’s authors caution against linking their findings to “the anecdotal evidence describing the personality characteristics of perpetrators of school violence who also played VVGs.”

“It appears that the vast majority of individuals exposed to VVGs do not become violent in the ‘real world,” the study observed.

With more than half the video games on the popular video game market containing some form of violence, the negative effects of VVGs is a perennial concern. Video games rated “M” or mature because they contain violence, are most popular, according to Markey. The online game that gets the most play currently, he added, is “Modern Warfare 2,” a violent first-person shooter game.

The ultimate questions for researchers, policymakers, and laypersons, the study concludes, become ‘Why do some individuals appear to be affected by VVGs while others are not?’ and ‘Who is most likely to be affected by VVGs?”

Full text of the article published in the Review of General Psychology is available at