Gender-based reactions in video game competition: A physiological account
Student researchers

Brandon Bunce, Meghan Kitchen, Mike Sheetz, & Megan Willet (BA Students)
This paper is based on a project from an undergraduate Media Effects course.

Faculty Supervisor

Corina Constantin


Video games are becoming increasingly popular among teens and young adults, not only male, but also female. While research on gender differences and videogames has focused primarily on explaining differences in uses and adoption rates, little has been done with regards to different gender interactions. This study examines the amount of arousal experienced by male players while loosing against a male vs. a female competitor.


Previous research suggests that children are pressured to fit into gender stereotypes since a relatively young age, and this is especially the case in competitive environments (Gneezy & Rustichini, 2004). As such, boys tend to be more aggressive and agitated when loosing compared to girls. At the same time, men seem to dislike agentive, authoritative women based on prescriptive gender stereotypes (Rudman, 2000, 2001).
Thus, it was expected that male gamers would show increased levels of physiological arousal when loosing against a female competitor compared to a male competitor.


Twenty (N=20) male gamers participated voluntarily in an experiment. They were randomly assigned to one of two conditions – female vs. male competitor. They were asked to play one mission as Sub Zero (character) in Mortal Kombat Deception on an xBox 360 console. To ensure consistency between conditions, the difficulty level of the game was kept constantly high and unbeknownst to participants they were playing the computer instead of another individual. Two confederates (one male, one female) pretended to play against the participants. During game playing, the arousal level of the participant was recorded via a Biopac machine that registered his skin conductance levels prior, during, and immediately after game playing. Electrodes were placed on the bottom of participant’s feet so that SCL recording did not interfere with his manipulation of the wireless controller.


The result indicated that there was no significant difference in SCL Changes (SCL – SCL baseline prior to game playing) when loosing to female as oppsoed to male competitor.

However, such a difference was observed at the beginning of the game, with male participants experiencing increased physiological arousal when starting to play against a female as opposed to a male competitor.


While males’ competitive nature might increase the level of arousal (i.e., frustration) experienced after loosing regardless of the competitor gender, some of their reactions at the beginning of the play might still be attributable to gender stereotyping. It is not certain, however, if this increased arousal is due to projections of embarrassment if loosing, novel experience (assuming that playing against a female might not be a common experience for a male gamer), or other factors. More research is needed to clearly establish the reasons for such an increase in arousal at the beginning rather the end of a game.

For more details regarding the study contact

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar by e-mail at or by telephone at (814) 865-2173

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Media Effects Research Lab at College of Communications, Penn State University