Do Video Games Make Kids More Violent?


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Let me first go on record as saying that I've been a lifelong gamer. Ever since I was a kid and I got my first Nintendo® Game Boy®, complete with Pokémon®: Yellow Version (which I really should have kept), I've been proud to identify myself with the nearly 58% of Americans who play video games on a regular basis. So, naturally, I have a little bit of bias when it comes to this subject. However, when it comes down to scientific inquiry, I have to admit that I was interested in what actual science existed behind both sides of this debate. As it turns out, my search produced some mixed results, and so I've decided to split my discussion into two parts: this post, regarding increases in violent tendencies in children as a result of exposure to violent video games, and a second that will discuss other effects researchers have potentially linked to this same exposure to virtual violence.

On to the topic at hand: do video games actually inspire violent tendencies in children and vulnerable teens? On a personal note, this topic has bugged the living daylights out of me for as long as I can remember; largely because I can say with all the sincerity that my body can muster that I am not a violent person. Nothing that I have ever experienced in any video game has made me want to pick up an assault rifle, run outside, and start gunning down my neighbors. Yet, I recognize that my anecdotes hold little ground with the thousands, maybe even millions, of concerned parents across the globe. And rightfully so, might I add. From an adult's standpoint, one who will someday surely have children of his own, I'm not entirely sure that I want my kids playing Grand Theft Auto® and killing hookers like it's America's favorite pastime. It's perfectly understandable that parents everywhere are concerned about their kids becoming "emotionally disconnected" from the real world as a result of their gaming tendencies. But has the evidence supporting these claims been grossly overestimated, fueled by horror stories of shootings and the like? Recent studies completed by researchers in the United States and the UK have shed new light on the subject.

A massive study of some 11,000 children in Britain has found that playing video games, even as early as five years old, does not lead to behavior problems later in life. The study, conducted by the University of Glasgow, used the surveys of thousands of mothers to track the behavior of their children over time. Their objective was to establish a connection between screen time and the development of behavioral or emotional troubles later in life. In the survey, these mothers reported how often their 5 year olds watched TV or played electronic games. They then reported any "conduct problems, emotional symptoms, peer relationship problems, hyperactivity/inattention, or changes in prosocial behavior." The key findings of the study are as follows:

  • Exposure to video games had no effect on behavior, attention, or emotional issues
  • Watching 3 or more hours of television at age 5 did lead to a small increase in behavioral problems between the ages of 5 and 7
  • Neither television nor video games lead to attentional or emotional problems
  • There was no difference between boys and girls in the survey results

With a study of this size, researchers have been left confident in the solidity of their results - all of which point to video games having little impact on the development of emotional or social ailments.

The second study was performed by Christopher Ferguson of Stetson University and independent researcher Cheryl Olson, and focused exclusively on the impact violent video games had on children from various ethnic groups who had clinically elevated attention deficit or depressive symptoms. The 377 children, who were on average 13 years of age, were part of an existing large federally funded project that examines the effect of video game violence on youths. Ultimately, the study found "no evidence that violent video games increase bullying or delinquent behavior among vulnerable youth with clinically elevated mental health symptoms". In fact, the researchers found that the playing of such games actually had a very slight calming effect on youths with attention deficit symptoms and helped to reduce their aggressive and bullying behavior. In his closing statement, Ferguson added: "Statistically speaking it would actually be more unusual if a youth delinquent or shooter did not play violent video games, given that the majority of youth and young men play such games at least occasionally" - speaking directly to concerns about some young mass homicide perpetrators having played violent video games.

However compelling these results may be, they aren't foolproof. As we have learned, there can always be a confounding variable present; one that could be driving youths toward both negative psychosocial tendencies, and a strong desire to play violent video games. It is this sentiment that has been at the forefront of gaming advocates' fight against game bans throughout the last several years, and so it shall likely remain in the coming years. With gaming technologies constantly pushing the boundaries between reality and fiction, it comes as no surprise that this debate will continue to press on into the future. What side do you see yourself on? I'm always open to input, especially on topics like these.


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2 Comments

Hey Jacob.

I wrote a blog post on video game violence and its affect on crime too!

Heres a link to it:
http://www.personal.psu.edu/afr3/blogs/siowfa13/2013/12/are-violent-video-games-harmful.html

The study that I looked at actually found that violent video games can increase aggression in youth groups. However, after I analyzed it, I concluded that there still wasn't enough evidence to support the claim that the games are causing real life crime. What I found most interesting though is the chart that I put at the end of my post which shows that while video games sales have been increasing over the last 10 years, youth violence has significantly decreased.

I'm currently in comm 180 & we talked about this subject in class. It is definitely a common question asked in today's society. I read a few articles about studies invoking this topic, and they seem to come up with similar conclusions. It is tough to say that violent video games make children violent, but it is also tough to say it is a harmless matter. In an article published in PBS, it states that study that would be most reviling for this topic would require both a lot of people & time.
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/next/body/what-science-knows-about-video-games-and-violence/

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