Psychological Studies on Role-Playing Games
This is a reference to some psychological studies that have been
done on the effects of role-playing. There is a more complete and
international list of studies at the German site
This list has capsule descriptions of the results for many of
the studies, however. See also the bibliography at
Geek Culture: An Annotated Interdisciplinary Bibliography
Many of the references were provided by Jennifer Wilkes of the
Some mass-media sources have suggested a link between role-playing
games and suicides, criminal behavior, or social withdrawal. However,
I cannot find any psychological studies which substantiate this.
There have been individual cases of role-playing gamers who have
committed suicide or crimes, certainly. Given any large number of
gamers, however, this is to be expected. However, no study has found
any increase in suicide or criminal behavior in gamers compared with
the average population.
Psychological Studies in Order of Date
The following (in order of date) are psychological studies on
correlation between playing role-playing games and particular
psychological or social tendencies. In general, there appears
to be no significant correlation with any negative traits. Some
small correlations have been noted in limited samples (such as Douse
and McManus' study of 38 play-by-email gamers), but none of these
appear to be substantiated by other studies. If you know of other
studies not listed here, please email me with the reference(s)
- Holmes, John Eric. "Confessions of a Dungeon Master";
November 1980, pp. 84-94.
- An overview of the Dungeons & Dragons game and its basic
workings, meant as an introduction. Dr. Holmes was an
associate professor of neurology at the University of Southern
California School of Medicine and one-time editor of the Dungeons
& Dragons Basic Set RPG rule book.
- Zayas, Luis H. and Lewis, Bradford H.; "Fantasy Role-Playing for
Mutual Aid in Children's Groups: A Case Illustration"; Social
Work with Groups, vol. 9(1), Spring 1986, p. 53-66.
- An account in which the game was used for a few months to help
socially maladapted boys aged 8-9 with social problems develop
skills in mutual cooperation.
- Simón, Armando. "Emotional Stability Pertaining to the Game of
Dungeons & Dragons." Psychology in the Schools, October
1987, p. 329-332.
- This is the first and the most rigorous study of several hundred
persons from all backgrounds and of varied ages. He used the Cattall
16 PF test to measure a number of personality traits. The test was
weighted for number of years played. No significant deviation
from the control personalities was found, with the slight
exception of an increase in factor Q1 ("Experimenting; liberal,
- Hall, Alex (1988, April 27). "Investigation into the value of
FRPGs as a strategy in developing children's creative writing."
Unpublished honours paper at University of Nottingham.
- Study demonstrated improvement in both high and low level
students in writing ability, vocabulary, structural organization
and incidentally increased socialization on the part of some shy
- John Hughes (1988). "Therapy is Fantasy: Roleplaying, Healing and the Construction of Symbolic Order." Paper presented in Anthropology IV Honours, Medical Anthropology Seminar, Dr. Margo Lyon, Dept. of Prehistory & Anthropology, Australian National University. Available at http://www.rpgstudies.net/hughes/therapy_is_fantasy.html
- Primarily a psychological case study of a woman suffering from
endogenous depression, and the positive effect that role-playing
had in dealing with the disorder.
- Carroll, James L. and Carolin, Paul M. "Relationship between
Game Playing and Personality". Psychological Reports,
June 1989, pp. 705-706.
- Essentially a repeat of the Simón study done with
upper-level students at a Michigan university, with similar
- Pulling, Patricia with Cawthon, Kathy. "The Devil's Web"
Huntington House, Inc. (1989)
- A book which suggests a link between role-playing games and
occultism, suicide, and various criminal behavior. It does not
contain any controlled psychological studies. Written by the
founder of B.A.D.D.
- DeRenard, Lisa and Manik Kline, Linda. "Alienation and the Game
Dungeons & Dragons." Psychological Reports, 1990,
66, pp. 1219-1222.
- Researchers administered a questionnaire containing the
Anomia Scale to 35 members of a campus role-playing club and to
35 psychology students who had never played the game --
investigating claims that the game causes its players to become
detached and alienated from family, friends, and society.
In most respects, there were no significant differences between
the results of the two groups. Fewer game players reported
feelings of meaninglessness than did the control group;
DeRenard and Kline hypothesize that the club itself may have
given its members a sense of purpose. Game players were also
slightly higher in the area of "cultural estrangement", which
is essentially awareness of and interest in popular
entertainment. The study did find that those relatively
more involved in Dungeons & Dragons, evaluated as such by
the amount of money they spent on game materials, reported more
feelings of alienation.
- Abyeta, Suzanne and Forest, James. "Relationship of Role-playing
Games to Self-reported Criminal Behaviour." Psychological
Reports, December 1991, 69, pp. 1187-1192.
- Used questionnaires and personality factor test to rate gamers
and non-gamers, with results cross-checked twice. No differences
were found except for a significantly higher score among
non-gamers in Psychoticism (correlated with criminality).
However, this trait is not reliably measured and the correlation
with criminal behaviour is unconfirmed, so no conclusion can be
drawn about gaming's possible beneficial effects. The
researchers speculate that the persistent negative image of
D&D comes from hearing nothing but scare stories in the
- Douse, Neil and McManus, Ian.
"The Personality of Fantasy Game Players"
British Journal of Psychology (1992), 84(4), 505-509.
- This study is of 38 players of an English Play-by-Email RPG
("Serim Ral"), primarily male (35 of 38). It found that compared
to matched controls, the players were, in order of significance:
less feminine, less empathic, more scientific, and more
introverted. The introversion and scientific is perhaps not
surprising given that the sample is of Play-by-Email rather than
- Ascherman, Lee I. "The Impact of Unstructured Games of Fantasy
and Role Playing on an Inpatient Unit for Adolescents",
International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, Vol. 43 (3), July
1993, P. 335-344
- Researchers brought a role-playing game into a severe
psychiatric inpatient setting. Their results found that
unstructured playing in a fantasy world reinforced pathologies
and resistance to therapy.
- Phillips, Brian David.
Role-Playing Games in the English as a Foreign Language Classroom"
Proceeding of the Tenth National Conference on English Teaching
and Learning in the Republic of China,
Taipei: Crane Publishing, Ltd., 1994, 625-648.
- A study in use of RPGs in a classroom situation to teach
English to Chinese students. It introduces the nature of the
games and then gives an overview of techniques to use them
in conversational lessons.
- Leeds, Stuart.
"Personality, Belief in the Paranormal, and
Involvement with Satanic Practices Among Young Adult Males:
Dabblers Versus Gamers" Cultic Studies Journal, Vol. 12,
No. 2, 1995, pp. 148-165.
- This was a study of 217 adult male subjects: a control group of
125 non-involved, 66 fantasy role-playing gamers, and
26 satanic dabblers. It measured psychoticism, extraversion, and
neuroticism using the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire (EPQ-R);
beliefs in paranormal phenomena using the Belief in the
Paranormal Scale (BPS); and for involvement in gaming and satanic
practices using the Satanic and Fantasy Envelopment (SAFE)
survey. It found major personality differences between the
gamers and the satanic dabblers. It concludes: "The evidence is
not consistent with the hypothesis that fantasy role-playing
games are precursors to satanic practices." However, the gamers
did have higher occult interest ratings than the control group
(6% of the control group had "a fair amount of occult related
objects" vs 23% of the gamers).
- Carter, Robert, and David Lester.
"Personalities of Players of Dungeons and Dragons."
Psychological Reports 82 (1998): 182.
- The abstract reports: "20 men who played Dungeons and Dragons did
not differ in mean scores on depression, suicidal ideation,
psychoticism, extraversion, or neuroticism from unselected
- Rosenthal, Gary T., Barlow Soper, Earl J. Folse, and Gary J. Whipple.
"Role-Play Gamers and National Guardsmen Compared."
Psychological Reports 82 (1998): 169-170.
- The abstract reports: "Scores of 54 fantasy role-game players and
64 National Guardsman were compared on a neuroticism scale and
demographic variables. While the Role-gamers reported
daydreaming and sleeping more than the Guardsmen, the popular
stereotype that game players are withdrawn, emotionally immature
adolescents was not confirmed. The typical game player was male
with as many close friends as the guardsmen. Mean neuroticism
scores did not appear to differ between the two groups and were
not high enough to be considered clinically significant."
- Mulcahy, Jennifer.
"Role Playing Characters and the Self"
Unpublished anthropological study at Brandeis University (1997)
- An anthropological study for a Brandeis University undergraduate
class. An original 22-question survey was done of respondants
from the internet (the number is not reported), and the results
were evaluated subjectively with an interest in the relation
between introverted/extroverted subjects and role-playing
- Waskul, Dennis and Lust, Matt.
"Role-Playing and Playing Roles: The Person, Player, and Persona in Fantasy Role-Playing"
Symbolic Interaction Vol. 27, No. 3 (Summer 2004), pp. 333-356
- A study of ninety hours of role-playing and forty interviews with thirty role-players,
focused on how role-players carve out meaning between the persona, player, and person.
- Yee, Nicholas.
"An Exploration of the Interplay between player and character
selves in Role-Playing Games"
Unpublished psychological study at Haverford College (1999)
- A psychological study for a Haverford psychology class. This
used two rounds of studies. The first survey had 100
respondants; the second had 225 respondants. The first survey
compared the respondants to a control sample on 3 of the Goldberg
five-factor domain scales (Extroversion, Agreeableness, and
Openness). The only significant difference was a higher rating
for Openness among the roleplayer sample. The second survey used
Myers-Briggs personality types to correlate role-playing behavior
with personality, but did not compare to a control sample.
Again, if you know of other studies not listed here, please email me
with the reference(s) at jhkim-at-darkshire.net.
(The Committee for the Advancement of Role-Playing Games) is
an old organization which attempts to fight attacks on role-playing
games by mass-media and other organizations. Their major focus seems
to be against the rumors of links to satanism or suicide attempts.
They have a number of news articles and links concerning the popular
image of RPGs and RPG players. While there are many opinion articles
from either side, there is not much on scientific psychological
B.A.D.D. ("Bothered About Dungeons & Dragons") is a small
organization founded by Patricia Pulling following the suicide of
her son Irving Pulling in June of 1982. She also became involved in
the murder trial of Darren Lee Molitor in 1984. The organization
appears to be inactive following Mrs. Pulling's
death of cancer in 1997.
There appears to be no active site for these claims, which have been
thoroughly investigated and debunked in
"The Pulling Report" (1990), written by Michael A. Stackpole.
This is a small set of links to other sites on the web related to
the psychological effect of RPGs.
Related Psychological Studies
The following are a set of psychology articles referring to the
concept of "role-playing", but not about published role-playing games.
- Bell,RL (1970): Practical aspects of psychodrama: Systematic
role-playing teaches social skills. Hospital & Community
Psychiatry 21, 189-191.
- Blatner,Adam; Blatner,Allee (1991): Imaginative interviews: A
psychodramatic warm-up for developing role-playing
skills. Group Psychotherapy, Psychodrama &
Sociometry 44, 115-120.
- Bowman,Claude C (1949): Role-playing and the development of
insight. Social Forces 28, 195-199.
- Fukuoka,M (1956): Psychodrama, sociodrama, role-playing and
school guidance. Educational Psychology 4,
- Johnson,David R (1980): Fluid and rigid boundaries of paranoid
and nonparanoid schizophrenics on a role-playing
task. Journal of Personality Assessment 44, 5.
- Johnson,David R (1988): The Diagnostic Role-Playing
Test. Arts in Psychotherapy 15, 23-36.
- Kawai,Sakura (1993): Observation of the effects of warming-up
and role-playing in psychodrama in terms of mood
rating. Japanese Journal of Psychology 64, 59-66.
- Kipper,David A (1988): The differential effect of role-playing
conditions on the accuracy of self-evaluation. Group
Psychotherapy, Psychodrama & Sociometry 41,
- Lockwood,G et al. (1978): The effects of videotape feedback on
self-concept, role-playing ability and growth in a leaderless
therapy group. Journal of Clinical Psychology 34,
- Miflin,Alice B; Baum,Zena E (1954): A settlement house uses
role-playing. Group Psychotherapy 7, 227-237.
- Wolff,Timothy K; Miller,Deborah A (1993): Using roleplaying to
teach the psychiatric interview. Group Psychotherapy,
Psychodrama & Sociometry 46, 43-51.
- Soltz,Zvi (1975): The application of structured scoring
techniques in a comparison of the performance on the Thematic
Apperception Test with performance in psychodramatic
roleplaying situations. Dissertation Abstracts
International, 36(1-B), 459-460, .
- Ackernecht,Lucy K (1967): Roleplaying of embarrassing
situations. Group Psychotherapy 20, 39-42.
- Balinsky,B; Despenzieri,A (1961): An evaluation of the lecture
and role-playing methods in the development of interviewing
skills. Personnel & Guidance Journal 9,
- Geller,DM (1978): Involvement in role-playing simulations: A
demonstration with studies on obedience. Journal of
Personality and Social Psychology 36, 219-235.
- Gutride,ME; Goldstein,AP; Hunter,GF (1973): The use of modeling
and roleplaying to increase social interaction among asocial
psychiatric patients. Journal of Consulting & Clinical
Psychology 40, 408-413.
- Janis,IL; Mann,L (1965): Effectiveness of emotional
role-playing in modifying smoking habits and
attitudes. Journal of Experimental Research in
Personality 1, 84-90.
- King,BT; Janis,IL (1956): Comparison of the effectiveness of
improvised versus non-improvised role-playing in producing
opinion changes. Human Relations 9, 177-186.
- Pancrazio,JJ; Cody,JJ (1967): A comparison of role-playing and
lecture-discussion instructional methods in a beginning course
in counseling theory. Counselor Education & Supervision
- Schlanger,PH; Schlanger,BB (1968): Adapting role-playing
activities with aphasic patients. Journal of Speech and
Hearing Disorders 33, 128-131.
- Shaftel,FR; Shaftel,G (1982): Role-Playing in the
Curriculum. Second ed. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs,
- Yablonsky,Lewis (1992): Psychodrama: Resolving Emotional
Problems through Role-Playing. Brunner Mazel, . 300
pages. (published in 1976 by Basic Books, NYC)
- Zimbardo,PG (1965): The effect of effort and improvisation on
self-persuasion produced by role-playing. Journal of
Experimental Social Psychology 1, 103-120.
- Bryer,SJ; Wayne,R (1963): The didactic value of role-playing
for institutionalized retardates. Group Psychotherapy
- Wells,RA (1976): A comparison of role-playing and "own-problem"
procedures in systematic facilitative training. Psychotherapy:
Theory, Research & Practice 13(3), 280-281.
John H. Kim <jhkim-at-darkshire-dot-net>
Last modified: Sun Mar 16 10:58:20 2008