The Complicated Relationship Between Anger, Aggression, and Video Game Violence

Call of Duty, Modern Warfare, and Resident Evil. We have all seen them on store shelves, and we may possibly even be proud owners of these video games. But what are these violent video games really doing to us?  Many believe, and previous research has shown, that violent video games lead to an increase in aggressive thoughts. However, according to a recent study published in Aggressive Behavior, violent video games likely have different effects on people depending on their tendency to feel anger in the first place.

In the study, participants completed an anger measure and then were randomly assigned to play either a violent or a nonviolent video game. The study found that violent and nonviolent video game content can produce different effects depending on the individual’s propensity for feeling anger- what researchers call “trait anger.” According to the lead researcher, Christopher Engelhardt, “trait anger was associated with more aggressive responding following exposure to violent games, whereas trait anger tended to be associated with less aggressive responding following exposure to nonviolent games.” Among individuals high in trait anger, participants who were assigned to play a violent video game showed more aggressive behavior than the participants who were assigned to play a nonviolent video game.

Trait anger shows to be an important variable in understanding how individuals will react to the content in both violent and nonviolent video games. Interestingly, individuals high in trait anger behaved less aggressively after playing a nonviolent video game. According to Engelhardt, “this finding is consistent with other data showing that exposure to nonviolent games can activate prosocial thoughts and less aggressiveness” and “exposure to nonviolent games may be one mechanism by which angry individuals can reduce aggressive thoughts and/or behavior.” So, if you feel the urge to play a video game, try a nice game of NCAA basketball instead of picking up Call of Duty.

By Elise Rittenhouse
Elise is  a senior Psychology major with a minor in Human Development at the University of Wisconsin- Green Bay.  She plans on attending graduate school to earn a PhD in Clinical Psychology next fall.


  1. I’m wondering what you think about the relationship between video game exposure and attention problems and how this might compound the tendency for trait anger to be associated with more aggressive responding following exposure to violent games. I have some posts about this on my blog on my personal website here:

    I know in my practice I have seen a steady increase of violent video game play with younger kids and our society becomes more accepting as this as the “norm.” Children become increasingly isolated, and parents are reluctant to limit violent game play as I often hear, “This is their only social outlet” (kids often play with friends over the internet on X-box.) Too often these kids also meet ADHD criteria, and exhibit various anger control problems at home and school.

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