Social exclusion and violent video games exposure both have the ability to induce a hostile mindset and increased aggressive inclinations. Research has primarily focused on the direct links between one or the other of these and aggression. Little is known about the relationship between these two experiences, which often co-occur during adolescence. In our research, we first predicted that social exclusion would increase adolescents’ willingness to play violent video games; and then predicted that violent games would increase the detrimental effects of social exclusion on aggressive inclinations.
In our first study, adolescents were randomly assigned to a manipulation of social exclusion, using the Cyberball technique of Williams and his colleagues; these participants then evaluated the violent content of nine different video games (varying in violent, nonviolent, or prosocial content) and reported their willingness to play each game. We found that excluded participants expressed a greater willingness to play violent than nonviolent or prosocial games. This effect was not found for included participants.
In our second study, we manipulated inclusionary status, and then randomly assigned adolescent participants to play either a violent or a nonviolent video game. We then gave participants an opportunity to express their aggressive inclinations towards the excluders, using the Voodoo Doll Task of DeWall and his colleagues. We found that excluded participants who played a violent game showed more aggressive inclinations than participants assigned to the other experimental conditions.
Thus, not only did exclusion lead adolescents to have stronger preferences for violent media in Study 1, but also the combination of exclusion and violent media exposure produced the highest levels of aggressive inclinations towards the excluders in Study 2. Therefore, our research shows that social exclusion represents a risk factor that can exacerbate the negative effects of violent video games on adolescents, at least in the short term. Our findings should be of particular interest to teachers and educators. More generally, it is important for those who work with adolescents to be aware of the consequences of violent media exposure, especially when dealing with socially excluded teenagers.