The authors Jodi L. Whitaker and Brad J. Bushman tested 151 college students by having them play different types of violent and non-violent video games, including games with human targets where players are rewarded for hitting the targets' heads.
Just after playing the game for only 20 minutes, participants shot 16 bullets from a realistic gun at a life-size, human-shaped mannequin.
Participants who played a violent shooting game using a pistol-shaped controller hit the mannequin 33 percent more than did other participants and hit the mannequins' head 99 percent more often.
"In the violent shooting game, participants were rewarded for accurately aiming and firing at humanoid enemies who were instantly killed if shot in the head," said the authors.
"Players were therefore more likely to repeat this behavior outside of the video game context," they said.
The researcher's findings remained noteworthy even after controlling for firearm experience, attitudes about gun use, amount of exposure to violent shooting games, and overall level of aggressiveness of the player.
"Just as a person might train how to use a sword by first practicing with a wooden replica, the pistol-shaped controller served as a more realistic implement with which to hone skills that more easily transferred to aiming and firing a gun in the real world," the authors said.
"These results indicate the powerful potential of video games to teach or increase skills, including potentially lethal weapon use," they added.
The study appears in Communication Research, published by SAGE.