Violent video games make children more violent
The cause for concern
There is concern among
- teachers, and
at large, that children who play violent video games, particularly for extended periods of time,
- might then engage in violent behaviour, or
- even copy acts of violence experienced during game play.
Research to address these concerns is important given that
What questions should be asked?
Researchers need to distinguish correlation from cause.For example,
- individuals with greater levels of pre-existing aggression could prefer to play more aggressive video games. Here, a correlation would not suggest that the games caused the aggression.
- exposure to aggressive games may be the cause of more aggressive behaviour.
Violent Video Games – Hen or Egg or Cock?
Evidence in support of the assumption that exposure to aggressive games may be the cause of more aggressive behaviour would need to use two matched groups,
- one exposed to the aggressive games,
- another exposed to some similarly arousing / engaging but not aggressive activity.
An increase in aggression should be observed only in the later behaviour of the aggressive game group.
Even here, we need to ask,
- what behaviour will be measured, and
- how much later should we expect to see the effects
- half an hour?
- The following week?
- Five, Ten oder 20 years later
In addition it should be important, that we distinguish between aggressive and violent behavior.
What’s the evidence?
Not all studies have found a relationship[iii] between exposure to violent video games and aggression in children. However, the vast majority of work does show a relationship.
A meta-analysis published 2014 of 98 studies,
involving 36,965 participants, violent video games were convincingly shown to influence social behaviour[iv]. The fact that studies have taken a variety of forms strengthens the certainty of the relationship.
- Some work looks at the causal effect of game play by asking some individuals to play violent games in the lab,
- others play non-violent games, then measuring the behaviour of each group in social tasks afterwards.
These studies have shown that
playing violent games results in immediate changes to behaviour[v].
- after playing violent games participants are more likely to ‘punish’ unseen opponents in a task with loud noise bursts, compared to peers who had played a non-violent video game.
- Young adults also show physiological desensitisation, as measured by less of an increase in heart rate and skin conductance, to scenes of real life violence[vi].
- Individuals who had played violent, compared with non-violent, games were also less likely to report hearing a fight staged outside the laboratory, judged the fight as less serious, and were slower to respond when they offered help[vii].
Desensitisation to violence is thought to link violent game play with later aggressive behaviour[viii].
Longitudinal studies of effects of violent video games
Individuals have been followed over time and video game play at point A has been related to aggression at later point B: Both in the lab and also in real life!
The size of the effects found in most studies is small to medium, but pretty consistent.
… this indicates that violent games do influence behaviour, rather than just indicating that violent children engage in video games.
although playing violent games does predict both short-term and long-term aggressive behaviour, other factors such as being
- male and
- living in poverty
have a greater impact on these outcomes[x].
The effects vary across individuals
The effects of violent games don’t seem to be equal for everyone.
- Short-term effects in the laboratory are found to be larger for undergraduate men than women[xi], and
- younger children are more likely to be affected by violent games
- if they have a high score on the personality trait ‘neuroticism’ and
- a low score on the traits ‘agreeableness’ and ‘conscientiousness’[xii].
- violent games with a personalised avatar have been found to result in more arousal and more aggressive behaviour than when playing with a generic character[xiii].
The good news pro-social games have also effects
Pro-social games, where the main aim is to help someone else, have a positive effect on behaviour[xiv] to the same extent that violent games have a negative effect.
One study asked different groups to play the game (Halo II) but gave them different objectives, with either
- co-operative or
The authors found
increased pro-social behaviours only in those playing co-operatively, suggesting that context rather than content might be important[xv]. So the power of video games is potentially beneficial for social development. Playing action video games has been used to
- enhance visual attention and
- results in faster reaction times[xvi]
(See ‘You can train your brain with digital media’ for more on this).
There are still notable questions that have not been adequately considered.
- Is there a real-life impact of violent game play on violent crime?
The rise seen in video game play over recent decades has not been accompanied by a rise in youth crime rates, and in fact violent crime in youth has fallen over this period.
However, there are so many factors that influence crime rates that it would be difficult to pinpoint the effects of any given one.
- Another major question is whether the same games have a greater impact on the behaviour of younger than older children.
- How important is it that parents obey the ratings on games?
For example, is Call of Duty likely to have more of an effect on 8 year olds than on the 18 year olds for whom it is intended?
There is currently some evidence that younger children are more effected by violent games than are older children[xvii], but this is a sorely neglected area of research at the moment.
Take the rough with the smooth
Although the link is still debated, and other factors could have a bigger influence on aggression and violence. The impact of video games on the behaviour of children and young adults is undeniable both in the short-term and the long-term.
Strikingly, one group have noted that the relationship between exposure to violent media and aggressive behaviour is as higher than the link between exposure to lead and IQ scores in children[xviii].
The potency of video games is an important issue for society,
- their effects can be negative,
- but also because they can, and could be, positive;
It would be difficult to argue for one of these positions without the other. What’s vital is that we understand what aspects of games or game play behaviour have an impact, and on whom.
The verdict? Although not everyone agrees, the evidence comes down on the side of neuro-hit.
For a range of expert opinions see: Bavelier, D., Green, C. S., Han, D. H., Renshaw, P. F., Merzenich, M. M., & Gentile, D. A. (2011). Brains on video games. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 12, 763-768.
Source: Center for Educational Neuroscience (CEN)
[i] Lenhart, A., Kahne, J., Middaugh, E., Macgill, A. R., Evans, C., & Vitak, J. (2008). Teens, video games, and civics (Report No. 202-415-4500). Washington, DC: Pew Internet and American Life Project.
[ii] Buchman, D. D., & Funk, J. B. (1996). Video and computer games in the ’90s: Children’s time commitment and game preference. Children Today, 24, 12-16.
[iii] Ferguson, C. J., Garza, A., Jerabeck, J., Ramos, R., & Galindo, M. (2013). Not worth the fuss after all? Cross-sectional and prospective data on violent video game influences on aggression, visuospatial cognition and mathematics ability in a sample of youth. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 42 (1), 109-122. doi: 10.1007/s10964-012-9803-6
[iv] Greitemeyer, T., & Mügge, D. O. (2014). Video games do affect social outcomes: A meta-analytic review of the effects of violent and prosocial video game play. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40 (5), 578-589. DOI: 10.1177/0146167213520459
[v] Anderson, C. A., Carnagey, N. L., Flanagan, M., Benjamin, A. J., Eubanks, J., & Valentine, J. (2004). Violent video games: Specific effects of violent content on aggressive thoughts and behavior. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 36, 199-249.
[vi] Carnagey, N. L., Anderson, C. A., & Bushman, B. J. (2007). The effect of violence on physiological desensitization to real-life violence. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 43 (3), 489-496.
[vii] Bushman, B. J., & Anderson, C. A. (2009). Comfortably numb: Desensitizing effects of violent media on helping others. Psychological Science, 20, 273–277.
[viii] Engelhardt, C.R., Bartholow, B.D., Kerr, G.T. & Bushman, B.J. (2011). This is your brain on violent video games: Neural desensitization to violence predicts increased aggression following violent video game exposure, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 47 (5), 1033-1036. doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2011.03.027
[ix] Willoughby, T., Adachi, P. C., & Good, M. (2012). A longitudinal study of the association between violent video game play and aggression among adolescents. Developmental Psychology, 48, 1044-1057.
[x] See Bavalier, D., Green, C. S., & Dye, M. (2010). Children, wired: for better and for worse. Neuron, 67, 692-701.
[xi] Bartholow, B. D., & Anderson, C. A. (2002). Effects of violent video games on aggressive behaviour: Potential sex differences. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 38, 283–290 doi:10.1006/jesp.2001.1502
[xii] Markey, P. M., & Markey, C. N. (2010). Vulnerability to violent video games: A review and integration of personality research. Review of General Psychology, 14 (2), 82-91. DOI: 10.1037/a0019000
[xiii] Fischer, P., Kastenmüller, A., Greitemeyer, T., Media violence and the self: The impact of personalized gaming characters in aggressive video games on aggressive behaviour. (2010). Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46 (1), 192-195. doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2009.06.010
[xiv] Greitemeyer, T., & Osswald, S. (2010). Effects of prosocial video games on prosocial behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98, 211-221.
[xv] Ewoldsen, D. R., Eno, C. A., Okdie, B. M., Velez, J. A., Guadagno, R. E., & DeCoster, J. (2012). Effect of playing violent video games cooperatively or competitively on subsequent cooperative behaviour. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 15 (5), DOI: 10.1089/cyber.2011.0308
[xvi] Dye, M. W. G., Green, C. S., & Bavelier, D. (2009). The development of attention skills in action video game players. Neuropsychologia, 47 (8-9), 1780-1789.doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2009.02.002
[xvii] Anderson, C. A., Keio, A. S., Ochanomizu, I., Swing, E. L., Bushman, B. J., Sakamoto, A., Rothstein, H. R., & Saleem, M. (2010). Violent Video Game Effects on Aggression, Empathy, and Prosocial Behavior in Eastern and Western Countries: A Meta-Analytic Review. Psychological Bulletin, 136 (2), 151–173. DOI: 10.1037/a0018251
[xviii] Bushman, B., & Anderson, C. A. (2001). Media violence and the American public.
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