Video games can be a helpful tool for developing children’s fine motor skills, problem-solving abilities, and cooperative play behaviors. However, a growing body of scientific literature suggests that violent video games have a causal relationship with aggressive acts.
The Impact of Video Games on Teens
A 2012 study conducted at Brock University in Ontario, Canada, which analyzed the behavior of 1492 high school students, found a direct correlation between aggressive behaviors and violent video game play. The more time the teens in the study spent playing violent video games, the more aggression they displayed later on. It was also found that nonviolent video games did not increase aggression. But the study also noted that there is less evidence to support a long-term relationship between violent video game playing and increased aggressive behavior.
This is in line with earlier studies, including the Gentile et al study, "The effects of violent video game habits on adolescent hostility, aggressive behaviors, and school performance," which was published in the Journal of Adolescence in 2004, and Bushman and Anderson’s 2002 "Violent video games and hostile expectations: a test of the general aggression model," which appeared in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
According to the Gentile et al study, behaviors that violent video game players exhibited included:
- Confronting teachers and peers
- Physically fighting with peers
- General aggression
- Underperforming in school
Recently, Dr. Anderson told The New York Times that he believed violent video games and violent media are just some of many risk factors leading to school shootings and youth-led violence.
Indeed, many scholars believe that violent video games have become a scapegoat for youth-led violence. They report that current scientific literature does not examine whether avid violent game players are exposed to other avenues of violence, which could also be a factor in violent behavior.
The Impact of Violent Video Games on Young Children
Dr. Anderson recently published "Mediators and moderators of long-term effects of violent video games on aggressive behavior practice, thinking, and action" in JAMA Pediatrics (May 2014). This 3-year longitudinal study examined 3034 children who were in grades 3, 4, 7, and 8 when the study began. Seventy-three percent of the children surveyed were male. Interestingly, Anderson’s team found that aggression levels declined across the board. However, when looking at a subset, those gamers who spent more time playing violent video games exhibited increased aggressive behaviors, despite the overall decline in aggressive action.
Implications for Families
Many families do not regulate the type of video games their children play or the amount of time their children spend gaming.
The American Academy of Child & Family Psychologists recommends that parents take measures to limit children’s game playing, including:
- Enforcing the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) ratings for game play at home. Games may be rated E (for everyone), T (for teen), or M (for mature or adult content)
- Setting family rules regarding how long children can play video games, and what types of games are acceptable
- Actively warning children about the "stranger danger" element of interacting with other gamers via chat rooms and live gameplay
- Ensuring that children engage in a range of healthy play behaviors, and don’t spend all their time playing video games
Parents should not receive the message that video games are "all bad," just because some games glorify acts of violence. However, parents should keep an eye out to ensure that their children are not engaged in behaviors that put themselves and their peers at risk.
- Bushman BJ, Anderson CA. Violent video games and hostile expectations: a test of the general aggression model. Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2002;28(12):1679-1686. psp.sagepub.com/content/28/12/1679.abstract.
- Carey B. Shooting in the dark. New York Times website. February 11, 2013. www.nytimes.com/2013/02/12/science/studying-the-effects-of-playing-violent-video-games.html?_r=0, time.com/34075/how-violent-video-games-change-kids-attitudes-about-aggression.
- Children and video games: playing with violence. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. No. 91; March 2011. www.aacap.org/aacap/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/Facts_for_Families_Pages/Children_and_Video_Games_Playing_with_Violence_91.asp.
- Gentile DA, Lynch PJ, Linder JR, Walsh D. The effects of violent video game habits on adolescent hostility, aggressive behaviors, and school performance. J Adolescence. 2004;27:5-22. drdouglas.org/drdpdfs/Gentile_Lynch_Linder_Walsh_2004.pdf.
- Willoughby T, Adachi PJC, Good M. A longitudinal study of the association between violent video game play and aggression among adolescents. Dev Psychol. 2012;48(4):1044-1057. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22040315.