Study finds link between violent video games and aggression

Is the evidence strong enough to convince you?

Do video games do more harm than simply discouraging active play and tuning kids out from the real world? Perhaps. Adding new evidence to a long-standing argument that violent video games increase violent behavior, a new study claims that video games have long-term effects on aggression. Brad Bushman of The Ohio State University, along with colleagues from the University Pierre Mendès-France and the University of Hohenheim, achieved the "first experimental evidence" that there may be a cumulative effect of violent video games on aggressive behavior.

Evidence of a Cumulative Effect of Violent Video Games on Aggression

In this study, 70 participants played video games for 20 minutes on three consecutive days. Those that played violent video games were increasingly likely to predict hostile endings to a story at the end of each consecutive day. Similarly, when asked to deliver punishment to a hidden opponent, the violent video game players chose a more severe punishment day by day. The control group showed no change in their hostile expectations or aggression. The researchers suggest that the reason behind this increasingly aggressive behavior is the way in which violent video gamers view the world and expect others to act.

Studies Have Claimed Causation for Years

While this is the first study to show the increasing effects of violent video games on aggression over time, it is certainly not the first to claim a connection. Researchers have postulated for years that there is a connection between violent video games and aggression, citing reasons such as behavior modeling, reward-driven behavior, and the effects of increased arousal.

A 2001 analysis of 32 studies on the subject concluded that there is a small effect of violent video games on aggressive behavior, seen more prominently when the video games featured human and fantasy violence as opposed to sports violence. However, contrary to the Bushman study, this author concluded that longer playtime leads to less aggression.

Reason to Doubt that Violent Video Games Increase Aggression

This incongruity is not surprising. Just as there are many studies that claim a positive relationship between violent video game play and aggression, many argue that there is rather no significant effect. Others claim that there may be an effect, but it is convoluted by other variables, only true for certain populations, or simply unable to be proven thus far.

Eric Jorrey, Visiting Associate Professor of Sociology/Anthropology at Ohio University, is one of these skeptics. He tells Yahoo! Shine, "It has been my experience that, at best, you may draw some correlations between the two, but in no way has the issue of causality been established." Jorrey calls into question the methodologies of the studies that claim a causal effect. He adds, "the vast majority of gamers do not engage in violence or overtly-aggressive behavior," as the average gamer age is 34, well beyond the age when violent criminal behavior generally peaks (20 to 25 years old).

Many believers in the causation between violent video games and aggression advocate disallowing children to play video games. Perhaps, on the other hand, we should start encouraging our kids to play relaxing video games. A January 2012 study, also conducted by Bushman, showed that playing relaxing games makes people act kinder and less aggressive. A little Endless Ocean, anyone?

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