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German researchers reckon that playing computer driving games encourages people men to take more risks when driving in the real world. Researchers carried out three studies using three racing games - Burnout, Midnight Racer, Need for Speed - and three non-racing control games - Tak, Crash Bandicoot and Fifa 2005. All games were played on a Sony PlayStation 2 using a 72in TV screen. One study also used Medal of Honour to see if a violent shoot 'em-up would have the same effect.

The evidence suggests, with some reservations, that playing aggressive driving games does change how people look at risky behaviour. The article says playing racing games:

  • Increases the accessibility of thoughts that are positively related to risk taking.
  • Leads to enhanced arousal and excitement.
  • Cincreases risk-taking behaviour in critical road traffic situations.

Participants had to view video footage of driving situations after playing one of the games.

Although both sexes showed "affected risk-promoting cognitions" only men actually increased their risk-taking behaviour. Researchers found that males taking the tests, after playing racing games, responded about a second later to critical driving situations than men playing neutral games.

But researchers warned of two important limitations to their study. Firstly the results could show a "frustration-aggression hypothesis" - that playing racing games puts people through a series of frustrating events which lead them to take more risks. Or that playing such games leads to arousal and excitement which again changes attitudes to risk.

You can read the article, as a PDF, from the Journal of Experimental Pyschology: Applied here. ®

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