Human see, human do. Learned violent behaviour


The debate as to whether violent video games and films make children more violent/aggressive has been ongoing for decades. Games that have been accused of causing violent behavior are games such as , Call of Duty, Counter Strike and Grand Theft Auto (2/3 are FPS, First Person Shooter). However, Dr Simon Goodson at Huddersfield University found that FPS games are less likely to cause violent behavior compared to games related to real life sports, such as FIFA. Dr Goodson and Sarah Pearson measured the brain activity and heart rate of 40 male and female participants, playing either a FPS game (Gears of war 2) or a sports game (Pro evolution soccer).


*Also: Road Rage is more likely to cause aggressive behavior because it’s a situation that we can relate to. Peaceful person? – Buy a bike.


They found an increase in brain activity when the subjects were playing the sports games and lesser brain activity while playing shooter games. (Therefore it doesn’t take that much brain capacity to fire a gun, but quite a genius to kick a round object in a net). The hypothesis established was that people become more emotionally engaged and more angry when presented a situation to which they can relate.

This supports that it’s not the game itself that causes violent behavior, but the emotional engagement to the game itself.


The Bobo doll experiment, conducted by Albert Bandura 1961, studied aggressive behavior associated with aggression. Bandura’s goal with the research was to support the theory that violence and aggression can be explained by social learning: “Monkey see, Monkey do”.

Bandura used a total of 26 boys and 36 girls between the ages of 3 and 6. The children were split into three groups of 24 each. Two of these groups were then exposed to scenarios with different levels aggression, and the third one was used as a control group. Half of each of the “aggression” groups observed the scenario with a same-sex adult model, and the other half observed it with a different-sex adult model. 


With the groups categorized like this:

  • Aggressive adult model scenario (24 children)      Same-sex adult model

                                                                           Different-sex adult model


  • Non-aggressive adult model (24 children)          Same-sex adult model

                                                                           Different-sex adult model


  • Control Group (24 children)


The experiment was qualitative, studying  one case at a time, isolated from the other children. The child and the adult model would enter a play room at the same time, but before entering the room the child was told that the toys in one corner were for the adult to play with, these being a toy set, a mallet and the Bobo-doll. After one minute the adult model started to show aggression ( or not) towards the doll, depending or what group were tested. 

The results were that the children behaved the same way as the adult role-model had behaved earlier towards the Bobo-doll. The children that observed the aggressive adult role model were more likely to show aggression towards the doll, supporting the social learning theory.

Playing a video game is not watching someone else do something or preform an action. It is making the choice yourself. Film on the other hand, is  watching someone else act. And if the Social learning theory is to be applied, films are more likely to cause violent behavior than video games.
Looking at it, where do we learn a “football” behavior? Cheer for a team, complain about the referee or get angry when our team is losing? – It’s probably from older generations, as children.

Further reading:

Bobo-doll experiment summary –

Dr Goodsons study summary - (Is to be taken with moderation, it’s a gaming organization that did the interview)

Dr Goodsons study #2 –

And of course The daily Mails contribution…. ( Not a source, but good read anyway)







10 comments on “Human see, human do. Learned violent behaviour

  1. psuf02 says:

    Social learning theory does not state that Vicarious reinforcement is stronger than Classical Conditioning, it just presents an alternative way in which aggression can be learned. For example Davey (2004) found that phobias are far easier to remove using systematic desensitization rather than just watching a person being unafraid of the persons phobia, although this may have problems being applied to aggression it shows that Vicarious Reinforcement is no stronger than Classical Conditioning. Also the study by Dr Simon Goodson at Huddersfield University doesn’t show anything about aggression just that it takes more concentration to play a sports game rather than a shooting game, problems with internal validity here.

    • It is true that there are problems with internal validity within this study. However, Aggressive behavior is related to stress. If a person (or animal for that matter) is stressed the reaction is “Fight or flight”. Scientific terms to describe this would be precocious; we all know what it means. This would suggest that if a person is emotionally engaged, stress level rises, and with stress aggression. However, this aggressive state is short-lived, lasts approximately 10-15 minutes. Therefore it cannot be assumed that this aggression is permanent and would affect the person’s future life.

  2. elliespsych says:

    If we simply apply the Social Learning Theory to aggression in observed behaviour, then it would make sense that films are a more influential stimulus in learning violence than video games. However, as demonstrated by Short & Ward (2009) our body schemas can adapt to include not simply objects which we associate with ourselves, such as sporting equipment, but also representations of ourselves in a virtual reality. With this in mind, could the body schemas of gamers expand to include their virtual selves? If this is the case, then perhaps the brain could be ‘tricked’ into believing that the virtual person in a FPS game is infact the individual, and so aggression portrayed by the gamer in the virtual world could be just as influential as that portrayed by others in the real world.

    • Interesting theory there! I would support this idea with the brain being tricked into believe that the virtual self is a part of the individual. If that would be the case, It can be assumed that the gamers emotional engaged would increase. This referring back to Dr Goodson’s study, pointing out that it’s the individuals Emotional Engagement that decided the “lever of stress/aggression” and not the game itself. Goodmans study more shows that an individual is not more likely to be violent, than a person that spend his time playing Fifa, Starcraft or Legend of zelda. It is all about the Emotional Investment in the game.

  3. psuf10 says:

    Hey MrNorthernstorm
    I strongly disagree with your idea that video games don’t create violent individuals. If you looking at data from all around you; there must be evidence that video games create violent adolescence. For example the teenagers who committed columbine massacre played two very early video games, Doom and Wolfenstein 3D. This is said to be the reason they went into a school a shot their fellow classmates and teachers. Jerald Block, a US psychiatrist, differed with the FBI opinion, he says “immersed in games their lives were most gratifying while playing in a virtual world”. However even if you can argue that it causes it surely must cause desensitization due to video games make violence seems normal and expectable. This is the problem with video games, it creates a pro violent society. This was proved in this study

    • Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold (Columbine Massacre) may have played these games. Anders Breivik ( Utøya shooting and Oslo bombing, Norway) played WoW along with 11miljon other people who doesn’t decide to kill innocent youngsters. in 1996 there were a coupled that got arrested for animal cruelty for starving their pets, they got set free on their defense that they would just reset their pets when they were bored with them – Tamagotchi.
      The list is ongoing. For a person who has problems with reality perception, i can see if video games could affect their behavior, however these cases are rare.

      Even Tamagotchis got blamed for causing inhumane behavior, but then again, is it really the games that should be blamed? People used to blame Cameras for being evil, then Rock N’ Roll, then VHS/TV today it seems to be Video Games (or LGBT(?)).

  4. ppp0001 says:

    Interesting topic, I found this study by Polman, H. et al (2008). He conducted a study with the aim of finding out whether there was a difference in aggressive behaviour when playing or watching the same violent video game. He had a sample of 57 children aged between 10 and 13. Aggression was then measured by observing the children after the activity. The results found that boys who had played the violent game behaved more aggressively than boys who had watched the violent game. The researcher also stated that the violent game had no effect on encouraging aggressive behaviour in girls.

    • Can this be used to assume that Boys are more violent then Girls, Nature vs Nurture again. E.g Social learning. Could these findings point at when doing something yourself, in a videogame, your are more connected to the characters actions, and therefore violent behaviour increases. They where the character, and still think they are – another form of play. Reality barrier and so on because of the childrens young age. Reality barriers etc. So all of these experiments should be done again using older subjects to see if there is only a change in behaviour in young age.

  5. ppp1003 says:

    This is a really interesting blog and one that really gets you thinking, my main stance on the violent video game debate is simply rather a question of where the blame should lie. If there is in fact a link between violent video games and children committing serious crimes, is it the video games to blame or is it society? The truth is the world we live in is so heavily influenced by technology, video games, movies, I-pods, the internet that it is no wonder peoples brains are spiralling out of control, people don’t communicate face to face anymore, family time and playing bard games is often replaced with gaming, children are occupied with technology instead of playing with toys. My issue with video games is that children are playing these and are playing on a reward scheme basis, you kill someone, you reap the reward, you move up a level. However wether or not violent video games are to blame is a very controversial topic. PPP0001 pointed out a study by Polman, H. et al (2008) which indicted that aggression increased in boys but not girls after video game play, however when researching it, there seems to be a lot of conflicting research on these matters, Cooper and Mackie. (1986) carried out a similar study and found that aggressive behaviour increased in girls but not boys. With so much conflicting evidence in these types of study, it is definitely worth wondering if it is violent video games to blame or is it the world we live in and changes in society’s norms and values as a whole?.

  6. In my opinion playing a computer game is not social learning . Playing a game where we have to shoot people is definitely not the same as witness someone shooting another person in real life . I think that if a child is raised in an environment without violence and where violent behaviours are disapproved is not the fact that the child plays a certain type of video games that is going to make him more or less violent .
    The Bobo doll experiment (Albert Bandura 1961) shows that children will act like their role models , because that is what they see as the right behaviour. They will learn their how to act by social learning. Again this is something completely different from a game this will be learned in real life.
    Aggressive computer games can also relieve stress and stop the child of breaking something in real life
    As long as children can distinguish a computer game of real life I think there is no harm in a child’s life.

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