Violent Video Game Play Increased Aggression

Aggressive behaviors and understanding increased with habitual playing of violent video games

(RxWiki News) More than 90 percent of youth in America play video games. Many of these games are violent and contain mature themes. Are they changing the way children and teenagers think about aggression?

A recent study found that children and teenagers who habitually play violent video games had increased levels of long-term aggressive behaviors.

The researchers discovered that these increases in aggressive behaviors happened through changes in basic understanding of normal and acceptable aggressive behavior in the real world.

"Discuss your child's video game habits with a psychologist."

The lead author of this study was Douglas A. Gentile, PhD, from the Department of Psychology at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa.

The study included 3,034 children and teenagers from six elementary schools and six middle schools in Singapore.

At enrollment, these participants were in either third, fourth, seventh or eighth grade. Their average age was 11 years old, and 73 percent of the participants were boys.

The researchers collected data each year for three years.

These researchers asked the participants to list their three favorite video games and report how often they played each game and how frequently each game contained violent or prosocial (beneficial to other people) themes.

In addition, aggressive behaviors, aggressive cognitions (basic mental functioning and understanding) and empathy were assessed through questionnaire.

There were three types of aggressive cognitions:

  • Beliefs about acceptable types of aggression (e.g., if it is wrong to hit somebody for doing something)
  • Fantasies of being aggressive towards others (e.g., imagining hitting someone)
  • Tendency to think the intent of provocation is hostile

The researchers also evaluated parental involvement in the children and teenagers' video game playing.

The findings showed that the initial level and change in video game playing in the first two years of the study predicted aggressive behaviors in the third and final year of the study. This finding was not affected by sex or prior level of aggression.

The association between initial level of video game playing and initial aggressive cognitions was slightly stronger among the elementary school students than among the middle school students.

However, all of the children and teenagers were found to be significantly affected by video game playing; therefore, the researchers suggested that the children who began playing video games at a younger age were more apt to have a larger initial increase of aggressive cognitions.

The researchers discovered that parental involvement was not a significant factor.

The participants' history of aggression did not influence later aggression, meaning that video game violence did not affect only the participants who had a history of aggression.

Empathy did not affect levels of aggressive behaviors.

The findings revealed that continual play of violent video games increased long-term aggressive behaviors through changes in aggressive cognitions and the way that the children and teenagers viewed acceptable and appropriate forms of aggression in the real world.

Dr. Gentile and team believe that more research is needed to improve the public understanding of the effects of playing violent video games. These findings may have important implications for theory, public health and intervention strategies.

Dr. Gentile and colleagues mentioned a few limitations of their study. First, the data was self-reported. Second, aggressive behaviors were not measured in the first year. Third, more attention should be paid to empathy because it is a combined emotion and cognitive state.

This study was published on March 24 in JAMA Pediatrics.

The Ministry of Education and the Media Development Authority of Singapore provided funding.

Review Date: 
March 24, 2014