How science links violent video games to aggressive behavior

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 13 2013 6:00 a.m. MST

Joey Ferguson, Deseret News

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A new, comprehensive "research brief" out today from non-partisan watchdog group Common Sense Media summarizes the latest scientific data about the connection between violent media and aggressive behavior, especially as it relates to children and teenagers.

Common Sense Media’s report generally concluded that children who play violent video games are more likely to behave aggressively, and also called for additional or fresh research in several specific areas.

“Not all children who play violent video games will become violent — but there is a greater chance that they will, especially if there are multiple risk factors operating at the same time,” the Common Sense Media brief concluded. “And while it is tempting to think in terms of mass incidents such as Columbine, Aurora, or Sandy Hook, it may be that the more important relationship between media and behavior lies with the ‘everyday’ violence of pushing and hitting rather than with the more shocking — and rare — rampages of mass murder.”

Some of the specific findings of Common Sense Media’s research include:

  • “Research on the amount of violence in media consumed by children and teenagers is woefully out of date and incomplete”
  • “Certainly there are gaps in the research, especially in monitoring children’s cumulative exposure to violence across multiple forms of media, including advertising, music, social media and other online venues”
  • “From the research that has been conducted in the past, we can roughly estimate that about 90 percent of movies include some depictions of violence, as do 68 percent of video games, 60 percent of TV shows and 15 percent of music videos”
  • “Most researchers, whether their specialty is media, psychology, violence or criminal justice, reject the idea that any single factor can ‘cause’ an otherwise nonviolent individual to become violent, particularly when it comes to violence on the scale of a massacre”
The Common Sense Media findings are very much in line with “Shooting in the Dark,” an article in Tuesday’s New York Times by acclaimed science reporter Benedict Carey about the neurological effects of violent video games.

“A burst of new research has begun to clarify what can and cannot be said about the effects of violent gaming,” Carey wrote. “Playing the games can and does stir hostile urges and mildly aggressive behavior in the short term. Moreover, youngsters who develop a gaming habit can become slightly more aggressive. … Yet it is not at all clear whether, over longer periods, such a habit increases the likelihood that a person will commit a violent crime, like murder, rape, or assault, much less a Newtown-like massacre.”

Jamshid Ghazi Askar is a graduate of BYU's J. Reuben Clark Law School and member of the Utah State Bar. Contact him at jaskar@desnews.com or 801-236-6051.

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