Gamers may mimic video villains in real life

The effects video games have on players has been widely speculated and studied for years. But now research published in Psychological Science says people who play the villain in video games are more likely to punish random strangers.

Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign tested 194 college students to see how playing an avatar would affect their behavior. In the first study, the participants were either a hero, a villain, or a neutral character in a game in which players fight enemies for five minutes.

In a second unrelated study, the same participants underwent a blind taste test. One taste was chocolate and the other was chili sauce. They were then asked to dish out a portion of either taste into a dish for the next participant to eat in full. Individuals who played the hero in the video game doled out double the amount of chocolate as chili sauce for the next taster, and gave more chocolate than people who played the villain or neutral avatar. However, people who played the villain poured twice as much chili sauce as chocolate for the next taster, and gave more chili sauce than the other participants. A follow-up study with 125 college participants solidified these findings.

Why did this happen? Researchers contend that playing an avatar has stronger effects than simply watching. They also said the influence the game has over a person’s behavior may depend more on how invested they are in the game, rather than how much they identify with their character. They also say that virtual games may have a stronger impact on social behavior than most people realize.

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