Although there has been much research examining the relationship between violent video games and aggressive behaviors, there has been relatively little research concerning the relationship between prosocial games and helping behaviors.
In 2010, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published a study that investigated just that: whether prosocial video games could influence prosocial behavior.
The study was conducted by Tobias Greitemeyer of the University of Sussex and Silvia Osswald of the Ludwig-Maximilians University.
To test the relationship between prosocial video games and helping behavior, Greitemeyer and Osswald conducted four separate experiments.
In the first experiment, participants played either the prosocial video game Lemmings, the aggressive game Lamers, or Tetris. After playing the video game for eight minutes, the researcher told the participant that the experiment had ended and then, while reaching for a questionnaire, knocked a cup of pencils off a table and onto the floor. Whether or not the participant helped the researcher pick up the pencils was recorded.
Of those who played the game Lemmings, 67% helped the researcher, while only 33% of those who had played Tetris helped and only 28% of those who played Lamers helped.
In the second experiment, participants played either Lemmings or Tetris. After eight minutes, the participants were informed that the experiment had ended and asked if they were willing to assist in further studies. If willing to assist in a further study, they were also asked how much time they were willing to devote.
Similar to the results of the first experiment, those who had played the prosocial video game Lemmings were more likely to agree to assist in further research than those who played the neutral video game Tetris. They also tended to agree to devoting more time.
In the third experiment, the participants played either the prosocial game City Crisis or Tetris. At the end of this experiment, a confederate entered the room and pretended to be the ex-boyfriend of one of the female researchers. This confederate harassed the female researcher by shouting, kicking a trash can, and eventually attempting to pull her out of the room by her arm. If the participant intervened in this situation, then the ex-boyfriend left the room. If after two minutes the participant had not intervened, then another researcher entered and removed the rowdy ex-boyfriend.
As in the first two experiments, those who had played the prosocial video game were more likely to help than those who had not. According to Greitemeyer and Osswald,
“56% of the participants in the prosocial video game condition helped, whereas 22% in the neutral video game condition did so.”
The fourth and final experiment replicated the first experiment, except the participant was also instructed to write down all the thoughts that he or she had while playing the video game. As Greitemeyer and Osswald expected, those who played Lemmings wrote down more prosocial thoughts compared to those who played Tetris.
In all of these experiments, the participants were told that the goal of the experiment was to test the enjoyability of classic video games and none of them seemed to suspect what the real goal of the experiment was.
According to Greitemeyer and Osswald, the increased likelihood of helping after playing a prosocial video game is probably the result of an increased accessibility to prosocial cognitions. As they explain,
“In none of our experiments could affective measures account for the effect of playing a prosocial video game on prosocial behavior. In sum, it appears that the effect of playing video games on social behavior works primarily through the cognitive route, and this can be applied to negative effects of violent video games as well as to positive effects of prosocial video games.”
Greitemeyer, T. & Osswald, S. (2010). Effects of Prosocial Video Games on Prosocial Behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 98, No 2: 211-221.