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Towards a unified theory of toxic behavior in video games

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Toxic behavior in multiplayer video games diminishes the potential revenue of gaming companies by spreading a bad mood, negatively affecting game play, and subsequently leading to the churn of players. However, research investigating why toxic behavior occurs is still scarce. To address this issue, this study disjunctively tests three different theoretical approaches (social cognitive theory, theory of planned behavior, and online disinhibition effect) to explain toxic behavior and propose a unified theory of toxic behavior.


In total, 320 respondents participated in a questionnaire study. This study analyzes the data with covariance-based statistics (i.e. regression analysis and structural equation modelling), and the approach is twofold. First, the hypotheses of three theories are disjunctively tested. Second, a unified theory of toxic behavior is proposed.


The results of this study indicate that online disinhibition best explains toxic behavior, whereby toxic behavior victimization, attitude, and behavioral control also play an important role.

Research limitations/implications

The findings of this study offer an opportunity to better understand a contemporary and especially meaningful form of negative behavior online.

Practical implications

To maintain revenue and popularity, the computer game industry can use the findings of this study to prevent and better address toxic behavior and its negative consequences.


Toxic behavior among video game players is a relatively new and unexplored phenomenon; therefore, this study makes a valuable contribution to the research field by testing the explanatory power of three theoretical approaches and proposing a unified theory of toxic behavior.
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Keywords: Behavioral sciences; Psychology; Toxic behavior; Video games

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Siegen, Siegen, Germany

Publication date: April 10, 2020

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