Study: Violent Games Cause Violent Behavior

by Chris Faylor, Nov 03, 2008 8:23am PST

A new study from Iowa State University suggests that playing violent video games leads to more aggressive behavior in children, CNN reports.

While the effect of violent video games has been an oft-debated subject--some argue that violent games merely draw the attention of those prone to violent behavior--the study found that players were more aggressive than before the research began.

Furthermore, the more they played violent games, the more aggressive the players were in real life. Meanwhile, those that had less exposure to violent games did not see as much of a growth in aggressive behavior.

The study is "pretty good evidence" that violent games lead to violent behavior, commented University of Michigan research director Dr. L. Rowell Huesman.

The research was conduced across three groups: 181 Japanese students ages 12 to 15, 1,050 Japanese students aged 13 to 18, and 364 US kids ages 9 to 12. The Japanese children rated their own aggressive behavior, as did the US group, though additional data on the US group came from peers and teachers.


22 Threads | 48 Comments

  • The article mentions that studies have had difficulty proving that violent video games actually CAUSE, rather than just correlate with, violent behavior. I fail to see how this one is any different.

    To really prove that claim, you'd need a longitudinal study where you tracked the same gamers and non-gamers over the course of many years to see whether the two groups really did diverge. The article mentioned this study had a time-frame of "months," which seems pretty flimsy, especially alongside all the self-reporting.

    I'm pretty willing to admit that lifelike, realistic, immersive games can have pretty lasting psychological effects, and that with violent games, those effects might not all be positive. But there's no way you're going to be able to measure them by having a kid fill out a questionnaire in August, then another one in December.

  • Even before I read the story I suspected that Anderson was involved.

    Anderson has never done a study where he didn't find that something caused aggression. He sees aggression everywhere.

    The problem with this? At least in the papers of his that I have read he never offers a clear definition of "aggression." This article is no exception.

    In one paragraph they write,"'Aggression' also is defined differently by behavioral scientists than by the general public. Social and developmental psychologists typically define 'aggression' as behavior that is intended to harm another person who is motivated to avoid that harm. In other words, aggression is an act conducted by 1 person with the intent of hurting another person; it is not an emotion, thought, or intention." (page e1068)

    However, in the next paragraph they contradict the statement that agression "is not an emotion, thought, or intention" when they state, "Existing experimental studies demonstrate that playing a violent video game causes an immediate increase in aggressive behavior, aggressive thoughts, and aggressive emotions." (page e1068)

    So does "aggression" include thoughts or emotions or not?

    Regardless, both the Japanese and the USA groups involved self-reporting of "aggression" which puts the results in doubt and there's no information on why the participants in each group were chosen (the Japanese group was actually data from another study) so there's no way of knowing if games make kids more aggressive or if aggressive kids play more games.

    Finally, the study was funded in part by the National Institute on Media and the Family (page e1070) which also calls the results into question since they are an outspoken group about the evils of videogames.

  • I'm not saying that environmental influences absolutely cannot shape behaviors. That would be a ridiculous statement. However, this study has two major flaws: sample size and control methods. The first was too small, the latter too loose.

    This environmental influence argument concerning electronic media was made about television serial westerns in the 1950s and '60s, and it was no more valid at that time than it is today concerning video games. My father was raised on those serials, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a more disciplined, self-controlled, and gentle man. Yes, the content was different -- more "white hats" and less GTA thugs, but I see that as ancillary issue to the question as a whole.

    Bad seed is bad seed, and bad parenting is bad parenting. If your kid is a violent asswipe with no self-discipline, redden his behind until he learns better. That's called parenting.

  • There's no point ignoring research like this, and living in a dream world where entertainment mediums don't have an effect on behaviour - particularly in children. Admitting that violent games can cause violent behaviour isn't the same as saying "GTAIV is a murder-simulator!!!" or "X game caused some psychopath to murder his best friend" because these are just opinions which have no real basis in fact. Whereas this study isn't exactly pioneering, its well documented that observing violent behaviour or being exposed to it at a young age can cause similar behaviour. is a classic study. It really isn't that shocking. Just because gaming is your hobby doesn't make it safe for children to have uninhibited access to it just in the same way that someone interested in guns, cars or film would not allow children to have unrestricted access to them at a young age. I really don't get why people are trying to point out methodological issues in what is actually a pretty mundane and well accepted theory about the effects of observation of violence.

  • Isn't there a huge gap between behavior you'd call "aggressive" and behavior deemed "violent"?

    Looking at the research:
    * They selected kids who already play these games, thus preventing them from eliminating an alternate theory (that aggressive kids play violent games).
    * The violence the groups were exposed to were calculated with different methods. One group simply counted the games and how much they played (and the *adventure* genre was listed as violent), while the other had researchers attempting to quantify how much violence the gameplay contained.
    * "It's not the violence per se that's the problem, it's the context and goals of the violence." Bravo on an excellent counterpoint.
    * Re: "...A 'culture of disrespect' in which children get the message that it's acceptable to treat one another rudely and even aggressively..." I counter that those changes (if it really is different than it has been in the past) are more due to: parents trying to be a kid's friend instead of their parent; other authority figures thrust into a culture of fear where the children they work with hold the power (one false accusation means they're fired); etc. The difference between a symptom and the disease has not been adequately explored.
    * As MST3K put it, Iowa State University is "the high school after high school." (This is completely an ad hominem were I serious, so disregard it freely.)