A new study co-authored by Virginia Tech Gaming and Media Effects Laboratory (VT G.A.M.E.R. Lab) co-director Dr. Adrienne Holz Ivory finds that profanity in video games may influence some of the same responses related to aggression that have previously been associated with violence in video games.

The study, co-authored with Dr. Christine Kaestle of the Virginia Tech Department of Human Development and published this month in the Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, was a laboratory experiment wherein participants were assigned to play an original first-person shooter game designed in the G.A.M.E.R. Lab for the study. Research participants played the game in conditions where the protagonist either used profanity or did not and the antagonists either used profanity or did not, then completed a series of questionnaires including a "story-completion" task that has been used in previous research to measure hostile expectations. Study results indicated that both protagonist and antagonist profanity increased scores for hostile expectations, an effect that has been found with some (but not all) media violence research.

Holz Ivory and Kaestle suggest two possible interpretations of the findings:

"Although this study’s observed effects of profanity in game content on players’ hostile expectations can be interpreted as cause for social concern, these results are also subject to an alternative response from those who are skeptical about effects of video game violence on aggression (e.g., Ferguson, 2007, 2010). Laboratory studies finding effects of video game violence on measures of aggressive outcomes have been used to support claims that violent video games pose a societal risk factor (e.g., Anderson et al., 2010), so this study’s finding that profanity can induce some similar effects could be interpreted as evidence that profanity in video games and other media poses a similar risk factor. This study’s findings, however, could also support an argument that the effects of media violence on aggression are not uniquely problematic because other content—in this case, profanity—can have similar effects. Such interpretations might depend on opinions regarding the validity of the aggression measures used in this and other research. In any case, this study has shown that profanity in video games may have some similar effects as video game violence, but the effect sizes observed were small and profanity had no effects on some aggression measures. More research is needed to determine whether the effects of profanity observed here represent a legitimate societal risk." (p. 237)

Holz Ivory and Kaestle's article is one of a series authored by VT G.A.M.E.R. Lab staff exploring dimensions of profanity in video games. For more information or a copy of the article, contact This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .