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Study Claiming Video Games Make Players Better Real-Life Shooters Gets Shot Down

The 2012 study was pulled following accusations of irregularities in the data set.

Back in 2012 an academic study in the Communications Research journal lent some credibility to the idea that playing a lot of first-person shooters effectively trained you to use firearms in real life. Now, though, that study's been retracted due to "irregularities" with its data.

Titled "'Boom, Headshot!': Effect of Video Game Play and Controller Type on Firing Aim and Accuracy," the study was chiefly the work of Ohio State University's Brad Bushman and Jodi Whitaker, his Ph.D. student at the time. (You can read an archived version here.) Bushman has produced several other studies on violence in media and served as a member of former President Obama's committee on gun violence, and his faculty page proudly reports that a colleague calls him a "myth buster," with the "myths" in question including the idea that "violent media has a trivial effect on aggression."


Essentially, the study argues that players who played a violent video game focusing on headshots with a digital handgun were able to accurately score headshots on mannequins with real handguns afterward. As Retraction Watch notes, though, the study's been under fire since 2015 from Villanova University's Patrick Markey and Malte Elson at Germany's Ruhr University Bochum. Their own findings regarding video game violence run contrary to Bushman's, to the point that Markey has a book coming out in March titled Moral Combat: Why the War on Video Games is Wrong.

Specifically, Markey and Elson's objections center on "irregularities in some variables of the data set," or as Elson says in a more forceful statement to Retraction Watch, "severe errors." It's not quite clear what those irregularities are, as Elson's record of the email correspondence leading up to the retraction has been removed, and Markey and Elson themselves had a hard time getting anyone to take action on their findings because Bushman's original research records disappeared. Eventually, though, Markey and Elson's arguments became convincing enough that Ohio State University agreed a retraction was warranted, as did one of the new editors of Communications Research.

Bushman, for his part, has long been convinced that Markey's work represents a personal attack on him, going so far as to say in a 2015 email that Markey "wants to discredit my research and ruin my reputation." Eventually, though, Bushman himself agreed to the retraction.

It's not the first time Bushman has had to issue corrections to a data set. Just last July, he posted a correction to a 2010 study of his called "Like a Magnet: Catharsis Beliefs Attract Angry People to Violent Video Games." An OSU spokesperson toldRetraction Watch that the data difference didn't "demonstrably change" the findings, but as in the case of "Boom, Headshot," the original raw data was missing.

There's also a small chance that the retraction may not even result in a change in the findings. The retraction notice states that "a replication of the study by Dr. Bushman is in review," but it's currently not known what the results of that new study are.