An article in USA Today discusses a new review of 130 studies which “strongly suggests” playing violent video games increases aggressive thoughts and behavior and decreases empathy. The results hold “regardless of research design, gender, age or culture,” says lead researcher Craig Anderson, who directs the Center for the Study of Violence at Iowa State University in Ames.
His team did a statistical analysis of studies on more than 130,000 gamers from elementary school age to college in the USA, Europe, and Japan. It is published today in Psychological Bulletin, a journal of the American Psychological Association.
But Christopher Ferguson, an associate professor at Texas A&M International University in Laredo, says in a critique accompanying the study that the effects found “are generally very low.” He adds that the analysis “contains numerous flaws,” which he says result in “overestimating the influence” of violent games on aggression.
Ferguson says his own study of 603 predominantly Hispanic young people, published last year in The Journal of Pediatrics, found “delinquent peer influences, antisocial personality traits, depression, and parents/guardians who use psychological abuse” were consistent risk factors for youth violence and aggression. But he also found that neighborhood quality, parents’ domestic violence and exposure to violent TV or video games “were not predictive of youth violence and aggression.”
Anderson says his team “never said it’s a huge effect. But if you look at known risk factors for the development of aggression and violence, some are bigger than media violence and some are smaller.
“If you have a child with no other risk factors for aggression and violence and if you allow them to suddenly start playing video games five hours to 10 hours a week, they’re not going to become a school shooter. One risk factor doesn’t do it by itself.”
But he notes that video game violence is “the only causal risk factor that is relatively easy for parents to do something about.”
Both of his college-age kids grew up playing video games, Anderson says, but many games rated “E” (for “everyone”) contain violence.
“The rating itself does not tell you whether it is a healthy or unhealthy game,” he adds. “Any game that involves killing or harming another character in order to advance is likely to be teaching inappropriate lessons to whoever is playing it.”