Study: Violent games 'harmless for vast majority'

The effects of violent video games are a constant topic of debate. A study in the Review of General Psychology contends that such games are safe for most kids.

Don Reisinger
CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
2 min read
Modern Warfare 2
Modern Warfare 2 Activision

Those who worry that violent video games are dangerous for all youths may want to hear what researchers had to say in a recent journal from the American Psychological Association.

According to the Review of General Psychology, the Texas A&M researchers examined 118 teens and found violent video games are actually quite safe for most youths to play. The only youths who shouldn't play violent video games, researchers found, are those who tend to be "highly neurotic, less agreeable, and less conscientious." Those who didn't posses those personality traits were not adversely affected by video games.

"Recent research has shown that as video games have become more popular, children in the United States and Europe are having fewer behavior problems, are less violent and score better on standardized tests," Christopher J. Ferguson, guest editor of the journal, said in a statement. "Violent video games have not created the generation of problem youth so often feared."

During their study, the researchers found that a "'perfect storm' of traits" cause children to be negatively affected by violent video games. Patrick Markey, one of the researchers, found that children who express a combination of certain emotions can have trouble with violent games. Those traits include "anger," "depression," having "little concern for others," "acting without thinking," and "typically breaking rules." When children have a mixture of those traits, they will likely show increased hostility, the researchers determined.

"These results suggest that it is the simultaneous combination of these personality traits which yield a more powerful predictor of violent video games," Markey said in a statement. "Those who are negatively affected have pre-existing dispositions, which make them susceptible to such violent media."

Ferguson put it another way. Comparing violent video games to "peanut butter," he said that violent titles "are harmless for the vast majority of kids, but are harmful to a small minority with pre-existing personality or mental-health problems."

Of course, the Texas A&M study will not end the debate over whether violent games really do hurt children.

A recent study from Iowa State University that combined 130 research reports on violent video games claims youths are, in fact, negatively affected by violent games. "We can now say with utmost confidence that regardless of research method--that is experimental, correlational, or longitudinal--and regardless of the cultures tested in this study [East and West], you get the same effects: that exposure to violent video games increases the likelihood of aggressive behavior in both short-term and long-term contexts," the ISU study's researchers said.