Video Games Tied to Violent Thoughts, Action in 3-Year Study

Laird Harrison

March 25, 2014

Children's thoughts and actions become more aggressive as they play more violent video games, a new study suggests.

Over the course of 3 years of observation, 3034 children in Singapore reported that their fantasies and attitudes became increasingly aggressive as they played violent games, which led to aggressive behavior.

"This study found that habitual [violent game play] increases long-term [aggressive behavior] by producing general changes in [aggressive cognitions], and this occurs regardless of sex, age, initial aggressiveness, and parental involvement," Douglas A. Gentile, PhD, from the Department of Psychology, Iowa State University, Ames, and colleagues write.

The researchers present their findings in an article published online March 24 in JAMA Pediatrics.

Although previous research has also correlated aggressive behavior with violent gaming, the researchers wanted to tease out finer details about the relationship of games, thoughts, and behavior, so they recruited a larger sample than in most previous studies and collected data at 3 points over 3 years.

Participants were in grades 3, 4, 7, and 8 at study entry. They started the study with a mean age of 11.2 years.

The participants reported the number of hours they played video games and rated the games according to how often they played them and whether the games contained violent themes.

At the second and third follow-up surveys, they also answered questions adapted from the General Media Habits Questionnaire about aggressive behavior, such as "When someone has angered or provoked me in some way, I have reacted by hitting that person."

In addition, they rated the acceptability of aggressive behaviors on the 4-point Normative Beliefs About Aggression Scale, with questions such as "Suppose a boy says something bad to another boy, John. Do you think it's wrong for John to hit him?"

The children also answered similar questions about aggressive fantasies on the Aggressive Fantasy Scale and judged instances of provocation, a measure of their hostile attribution bias. Finally, they responded to questions on the Children's Empathic Attitudes Questionnaire, such as "When I see a student who is upset, it really bothers me."

Based on statistical modeling, the researchers conclude that violent game playing predicted aggressive cognition, which in turn predicted aggressive behavior.

Although boys scored twice as high for violent video game play, the violent games were just as likely to predict aggressive behavior in girls as they were in boys, the researchers determined. The authors also found that violent games affected younger children more than older ones.

The games seemed to affect children more if they started out less aggressive. Children with "low aggression" increased 16% in aggressive behavior, whereas those with "high aggression" increased 10%.

Although more empathetic children were less aggressive, children's capacity for empathy did not seem to change the degree to which violent games affected them. Parental involvement in the children's media consumption also did not appear to change the effects of the violent games.

"Given that more than 90% of youths play video games, understanding the psychological mechanisms by which they can influence behaviors is important for parents and pediatricians and for designing interventions to enhance or mitigate the effects," the researchers conclude.

The study was funded by the Ministry of Education and the Media Development Authority of Singapore. The authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

JAMA Pediatr. Published online March 24, 2014. Abstract

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