Autism spectrum disorder in children is often defined by an inability to regulate emotions and various behaviors, as well as being awkward in social situations. It was always thought that people who have autism spectrum disorder are more impacted by the arousing content that is found in video games, specifically, the violent content. This increased state of arousal when someone with autism spectrum disorder is playing violent video games was thought to lead to an increase in aggression.
Throughout the last several decades, multiple studies have been done which looked at how the violent video games impacted aggression, but not that many studies have looked at people who have autism spectrum disorder and the relationship between the two. A researcher at the University of Missouri School of Health Professions and the University of Missouri Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders decided to look at just that, how violent video games affected people with autism spectrum disorder.
The researcher, Christopher Engelhardt, and his colleagues put a study together that had more than 100 adults in it, with ages ranging from 17 to 25, and made sure that half of the people did have an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis. The study participants were asked to play one video game out of two available, which were identical except for the amount of violence. The participants then were asked to do a task which would help measure aggression. The task was to compete against someone else in a trial to see what their reaction times were, the winner would be able to then give their competitor a loud noise. The winner was able to determine the volume and length of the noise, which is how the researchers studied aggression levels, since the louder and longer noises would mean the person was more aggressive.
The study found that whether the video game had a lot of violence or a little violence, the participants did not change their responses when it came to how aggressive they were. The people who played the more violent video game did not change how long or long the noise was that they were able to direct at their opponent, which means that their internal aggression levels stayed the same or almost the same. When the researchers compared the group of adults with autism spectrum disorder to the adults without the disorder, there was also no change in the amount of aggression. Since the study was testing the theory of violent video games making people with autism spectrum disorder more aggressive, if that was true, it would have occurred with the loud noise maker, and it did not.
The only downside to the study was that the researchers only tested the violent and nonviolent video games out for 15 minutes before asking participants to engage in the aggression task. This means there could still be some long term implications of playing violent video games, however there should have still been some change in the people with autism spectrum disorder. While the study was small and did not last very long in terms of playing the violent video games, the researchers want others to mimic the study to see if the same results are achieved. What this shows more than anything is that people with autism spectrum disorder might not be as incapable of regulating emotions and feelings or behaviors as we previously thought.
The study can also help when it comes to figuring out when a trigger is pushed for someone with autism spectrum disorder, such as if it is prolonged exposure that really triggers the aggressive response. The study can also help doctors when it comes to looking for new ways to treat people with the disorder because it is possible that their ability to regulate behaviors can help them when it comes to medications and therapy options available for the symptoms of the disorder.