Numerous studies have indicated that violent video games lead to more aggression and anger. But for the first time, someone's checked to see whether the opposite is true, and found that relaxing video games can make people happier and more kind.
"Until recently, we couldn’t tell if relaxing video games improved people’s moods, because such games didn’t exist," says Brad Bushman, professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University.
"Most video games try to rev people up rather than calm them down. But there’s a new genre of games available that provide a calming experience."
The researchers conducted two studies. In the first, 150 college students were were randomly assigned to play a relaxing, neutral or violent game for 20 minutes.
They then participated in a reaction time task in which they were told - wrongly - that they were competing with an unseen other player. The goal was to see who could push a button faster when prompted, with the winner receiving a small amount of money, and the loser beingblasted with noise through headphones.
The participants chose how much money their competitor would get if he or she won, and how loud and long of a noise blast they would get if they lost.
The results showed that people who played a violent video game were more aggressive than those who played neutral or relaxing games, while those who played the relaxing game gave their opponent more money.
"The results were clear: relaxing video games made people kinder and less aggressive," says Bushman.
In a second study, after playing a violent, neutral, or relaxing video game for 20 minutes, participants completed a questionnaire that measured their mood.
The experimenter then announced the study was over, but said she could really use help sharpening some pencils. The number of pencils that participants chose to sharpen was used to measure pro-social behavior.
Results showed that people who played the relaxing video games chose to sharpen more pencils than those who played a violent video game.
"In the first experiment, it didn’t take any effort to give someone money, because the experimenters provided the money. But in this experiment, people had to use their own time to help the experimenter with a boring task," says Bushman.
The reason seems to be that relaxing games put people in a better mood. People who played the relaxing game rated themselves as feeling more happiness, love, joy and related positive emotions than those who played the violent games. And people who reported more positive emotions were the ones who also sharpened more pencils, Bushman said.
"Relaxing video games put people in a good mood. And when people are in a good mood, they are more inclined to help others, and that’s better for everyone," Bushman said.