MONDAY, March 19, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- People who play crash-and-bang car-racing video and computer games may be more aggressive, risky drivers in the real world, new research suggests.
A series of studies found a consistent relationship between dangerous driving in the virtual world of video screens and aggressive feelings and actions behind the real wheel, German psychologists report.
One particularly impressive example of how computer games can affect behavior came when participants in one trial took a test used by German officials to help determine whether driving licenses should be restored to those who lost them because of bad behavior.
"When they take your license in Germany, you must do a specific test to get it back. We took a special part of that test to measure risk-taking behavior," said Peter Fischer, assistant professor of psychology at Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich, and one of the leaders of the studies.
The 83 men in that trial first played a computer racing game in which winning required major violations of traffic rules -- driving on the sidewalk, speeding excessively, crashing into other cars.
"When they took the special part of the road test to measure risk-taking and were confronted by a critical situation, their behavior became more and more risky," Fischer said.
In another study of 198 drivers, both male and female, those who reported playing more car-racing games were likelier to report getting into accidents.
And in a third study, men who played even one racing game took significantly higher risks on a computer simulator of critical traffic situations than those who played a game that did not involve driving.
"Our results pose the question whether playing racing games leads to accidents in real-life road traffic," the researchers wrote.
While the new research didn't answer that question, Fischer said: "I think the games can be problematical. I wouldn't go so far as to prohibit them, but there should be awareness of the risks."
The researchers also noted that children start playing such games at age 10, on average, potentially creating future generations of dangerous drivers.
"Kids play them very often, and there really has been no research on the effects of the games," Fischer said. "Our results indicate that risk can be increased. The most important implication is that parents and participants should be aware that playing these games can make you more inclined to take risks on the road."
The findings are in the March issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, which is published by the American Psychological Association.
David S. Bickham, a research scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health Center on Media and Child Health, said the German research appears to be the first of its kind.
"The studies parallel violent game research, and my advice to parents is the same: Be aware of what your children are doing," he said.
For players young and old, a computer game "basically is a driving simulator teaching patterns that can be the opposite of what other people should be teaching you," Bickham said.
Last November, researchers reported that a study of teens found that violent video games stir up the brain's emotional-response center while reducing activity in regions linked to self-control.
"After playing a violent video game, these adolescents had an increased activity in the amygdala, which is involved in emotional arousal," said lead researcher Dr. Vincent Mathews, professor of radiology at Indiana University School of Medicine. "At the same time, they had decreases in activity in parts of the brain which are involved in self-control," he added.
The video game findings were presented in Chicago at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.
For more on children and video games, visit the Kaiser Family Foundation.