So we have another bogus study that’s making headlines. This one comes from Cambridge University, in the UK. It’s about – supposedly – how video game “conditioning” slips over into real life.

Headed by neuroscientist Paul Fletcher, the team took 22 volunteers and had them play a cycling game. This is not exactly a large number of subjects, but let’s skip that one.

They were told they were testing a “drink delivery system”. While the game ran, every time a subject was passed by a teammate, he or she received a drink of juice. Every time an opponent passed them, they received a drink of salty tea. Ick. The very thought…

What was the point of all this? Well, the majority of subjects associated the taste of the tea with the jerseys worn by the opposition. This is hardly surprising. So when they were asked to sit in a chair, they avoided the one that had a towel with that jersey design on it.

What does this have to do with real life? Not whole a lot that I can see. There was no control group to play the game without the juice drinks. There was no third group to receive some sort of virtual reward or punishment.

No, this was just the usual quick and dirty, shoddy methodology we have come to expect when anyone does “experiments in video game playing”. Poorly thought out, and without proper controls. But of course, experiments conducted the right way likely wouldn’t make the headlines. And that seems to be all that counts today.

Still, who knows? Dedicated players of “kill zombie” games, upon meeting one in the street – they’re all over these days – would probably start reaching for a shotgun or chainsaw automatically.

Then again, maybe it’s the zombies who are conducting these experiments. That would explain a lot.

Video Game Conditioning on New Scientist