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Ohio State study: Violent video games could be reinforcing negative racial stereotypes

A recent study by an OSU professor found video games could be reinforcing negative racial stereotypes. Credit: Courtesy of MCT

A recent study by an OSU professor found video games could be reinforcing negative racial stereotypes.
Credit: Courtesy of MCT

Video games could be reinforcing negative racial stereotypes, according to one Ohio State professor’s recent study.

OSU professor of communication and psychology Brad Bushman conducted a study that found white video game players are more likely to act aggressively, have negative attitudes against black people and link black people to weapons after playing as a black character in a violent video game.

The study was the first to link an avatar’s race in violent video games to later aggression, according to an OSU press release.

The research involved two experiments, Bushman said.

“In the first (experiment), people played a violent or nonviolent video game as either a black or a white avatar and we measured both explicit attitudes — like attitudes that black people are lazy — and we also measured implicit attitudes using something called the IAT, the implicit association test,” Bushman said. “In the implicit association test, sometimes white faces are paired with good words, like joy or happiness, whereas black faces are paired with bad words, like horrible or terrible, and then other times it’s reversed.”

The researchers measured how quickly people responded, and if they responded faster when a black face was paired with negative words than when a white was paired with them, it was considered “an implicit measure of their prejudice,” Bushman said.

He said after playing a violent video game as a black avatar, players had more racist attitudes.

In the second experiment, blacks were associated with guns, knives and hand grenades, while whites were associated with less violent objects, such as cellphones and clocks, and visa versa, Bushman said. It was found people were more likely to associate blacks with the weapons after playing as a black avatar.

After the second experiment, the team measured aggressive behavior by pairing participants with an imaginary partner who hated hot sauce, then giving them the opportunity to force the partner to eat various amounts of hot sauce, Bushman said.

“If your partner hates spicy food, and you give them lots of hot sauce to eat, that’s being aggressive. That’s not nice,” Bushman said.

Participants gave 115 percent more hot sauce to partners who hated spicy foods after playing violent video games as a black avatar, Bushman said.

Bushman said he found the overall results of the study worrisome.

“It’s troubling that blacks are associated with violence in the media,” he said. “When white participants play a violent game as a black character while they’re committing violent acts, it reinforces those stereotypes that blacks are violent, and I think that’s terrible. It’s a terrible thing.”

Stephen Cameron, an OSU second-year in computer science and engineering, said he plays video games about six hours a day and recently claimed the title of No. 1 rated sniper in Columbus for his favorite game, “Battlefield 4.” Cameron said he wants to enter the video game industry after graduation.

He said he didn’t think the games created racist attitudes.

“I don’t think video games bring out anything that’s not already there,” Cameron said. “Video games are almost a front of who you already are. With the racism, if you already are a racist person, you’re going to believe in the stereotypes, and you’re going to be more racist when playing as a black character. Same with gun violence, if you have underlying issues to begin with, it’s going to just come out because you’re playing.”

He said, however, playing video games has left him feeling aggressive in the past.

“I’m very competitive with them. I personally have been aggressive after playing them — but for a very short time, and that’s usually after losing,” Cameron said.

Isaac Nnyanzi, a second-year in biochemistry, said he plays video games about every other day and plays a lot of action, first-person shooter and strategy games.

“I usually pick the default character, and I don’t play many games where you get to choose the avatar, but I’d say there’s definitely some games where they do reinforce racial stereotypes,” he said.

Nnyanzi said, though, he’s happy to play a game rated for everyone versus a mature-rated game if it’s entertaining.

“If I have a game that I can play, and then I can hand the controller to my little brother, who is 6, it’s an enjoyable game,” he said.


  1. Cool, let’s do this study at a racist university with low diversity…don’t pay attention to this study.

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