Long-term study finds video games linked to aggressive behaviour in children

A three-year study has found that long-term participation in violent video games may increase violent thoughts and behaviour in children.

A three-year study has found that long-term participation in violent video games may increase violent thoughts and behaviour in children.

(Credit: Game On! image by The World According to Marty, CC BY-ND 2.0)

Long-term exposure to violent video games can cause children to become more aggressive than children who don't play violent video games, a new study has found. Led by Craig Anderson, director of the Center for the Study of Violence at Iowa State University, the study examined 3034 students in Singapore, and found a negligible increase in the likelihood that children who play violent games display violent attitudes.

For three years, the students — aged eight to 17 at the commencement of the study — were monitored by the researchers. This consisted of an annual survey, which asked the students how often they played games, which three games were their favourites, and how much violence was in those games. The study also took into account whether or not parents monitored their children's play, and how old the children were.

The children were also asked questions about violence, such as whether they would hit someone if provoked, whether they thought hitting was acceptable, or whether they had ever daydreamed about hurting someone else.

Overall, the study found that, over time, violent attitudes declined, as children tend to grow out of aggressive behaviour as they grow older. However, when the researchers compared the results of the children who played violent games to those of children who didn't, they found that there was a slightly increased chance that violent attitudes would prevail.

According to study co-author David Gentile, just as children's bodies can be affected by what they eat, their minds can be affected by what they see and do.

"What this study does is show that it's media violence exposure that is teaching children and adolescents to see the world in a more aggressive kind of way," Anderson said. "It shows very strongly that repeated exposure to violent video games can increase aggression by increasing aggressive thinking."

However, other experts do not agree, questioning the methodology and pointing out that the results do not show a causal link. "This study shows an association, of unclear magnitude, of violent video game-playing with subsequent aggressive behaviour," said professor David Spiegelhalter of University of Cambridge, who was not involved in the study. "It does not, and cannot, show that the association is causal."

And Christopher Ferguson of Stetson University, who studies the effects of media on behaviour, says that there is no clear connection between video games and aggression; if there were, we would be seeing a much sharper rise in acts of violence, consistent with the rise in popularity of violent games.

"The research we have now has been very inconsistent," Ferguson told Reuters. "There may be a connection to relatively minor acts of aggression, the equivalent of kids sticking their tongues out at each other."

The full study can be viewed online in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

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About the author

Michelle Starr is the tiger force at the core of all things. She also writes about cool stuff and apps as CNET Australia's Crave editor. But mostly the tiger force thing.

 

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