Psychology Ph.D. Dissertations


Assessing the Effects of Observing Non-Performance-Based Aggression during Online Violent Video Game Play on Aggressive Behavior

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Eric Dubow, PhD

Second Advisor

Carolyn Tompsett, PhD (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Anne Gordon, PhD (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Jorge Chavez, PhD (Committee Member)


In this study, I sought to extend the body of research linking violent video games to increases in aggression by further examining the effects of experiencing verbal non-performance-based aggression (NPBA) while playing an online multiplayer video game. The study also investigated whether trait aggression, trait empathy, and social dominance orientation moderated the relation between playing a violent game while experiencing verbal NPBA and aggressive outcomes. The study included 126 participants randomly assigned to four experimental groups: The first group played a violent game against a confederate who engaged in verbal NPBA, the second played a nonviolent game against a confederate who engaged in verbal NPBA, the third played a violent video game against a confederate who engaged in neutral comments, and the fourth played a nonviolent game against a confederate who engaged in neutral comments. After playing the video game, participants completed measures of their aggressive cognitions, affect, and behavior. Participants' verbal responses during the video game play were also recorded and coded to obtain a measure of their use of verbal NPBA during the game. Participants completed online measures of trait aggression, trait empathy, social dominance orientation, and demographic information before participating in the experiment. A series of ANOVAs were completed to examine between group differences for the four aggressive outcomes and whether these were moderated by personality variables. Contrary to study hypotheses, no significant differences between groups were found on aggressive cognitions, affect and behavior. Significant group differences were found for participant use of verbal NPBA, such that those in the group that played the nonviolent game against the confederate who engaged in verbal NPBA made significantly more NPBA statements themselves compared to the other experimental groups. Moderation analyses revealed that the relation between playing a violent game and increases in aggressive cognitions was only significant for those who were high in trait aggression. Trait aggression was also found to moderate the relation between video game condition and aggressive affect, although contrary to expectations, only those who played the nonviolent game and were highest in trait aggression had significantly higher increases in aggressive affect. No moderation effects were found for trait empathy or social dominance orientation. Possible limitations of the study design were discussed including difficulty creating a realistic interaction between the participant and confederate while maintaining experimental control, problems with using only those with a previous history of exposure to violent video games and NPBA, and difficulties finding comparable violent and nonviolent games. The possible effects of these limitations on the current studies results were discussed, along with directions for future research.