BYU Hinckley lecture: Science is clear, violent video games cause aggression

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  • I know it. I Live it. I Love it. Provo, UT
    Feb. 16, 2014 2:04 p.m.

    Random Fact: Video Game conventions & competitions don't result in people throwing punches nearly as often as you find in any soccer, basketball, football, or hockey game.

    I love BYU, but perhaps they should invite people to study the effects of college football on aggressive behavior. Somehow I don't think that would be accepted.

  • Owl Salt Lake City, UT
    Feb. 15, 2014 5:36 p.m.

    If media exposure had no effect on people's behavior, Madison Avenue has wasted more of advertisers money than I thought. Fashion, language, brand names, violence, social behavior and weapons are used to entertain and often become societal norms.

  • Cougar in Texas Houston, TX
    Feb. 15, 2014 12:57 p.m.

    Screen Name1
    Bushman's conclusion from the 300+ studies is that "Playing violent video games increases aggressive thoughts, angry feelings, emotional arousal and aggression." They also make people "numb to the pain and suffering of others." He made no claims to an impact on overall societal violent crime.

    One look at the comments sections of US News outlets shows the numbness many feel toward the pain and suffering of others.

    As for the reason for the decrease in violent crime since the mid 1990s, the most offered cause is our aging population. Most violent crime is perpetrated by males between the ages of 15 and 29. When that group's relative numbers go down, so do violent crime rates.

    CNN says that criminologists offer the following causes of the decrease: "...a more settled crack cocaine market, an increase in incarcerations, an aging population, data-driven policing, and changes in technology that include a big increase in surveillance cameras." No mention of video gaming.

  • Cougar in Texas Houston, TX
    Feb. 15, 2014 12:42 p.m.

    Church member

    The term "science" covers a large spectrum. It ranges from a single discovery to years of accumulated controlled statistical studies. In the case of Bushman's assertion, he relies on what he claims are hundreds of controlled studies that support his claim.

    You distinguish science you can trust from junk science by actually reading the studies that are produced. In this way you can understand the scope, organization, and assumptions of the study to then properly interpret the results and apply the conclusions.

    Therefore, you indeed CAN have it "both ways". Not all studies are conducted with the same discipline, controls, and care. And scientific discoveries providing a single date point can rightly be called "science", but usually tell us little about the world around us.

  • Screen Name1 Decline, CA
    Feb. 14, 2014 9:40 p.m.

    FBI statistics indicate that violent crime rates have fallen substantially in the US from the early 90s through the present. /about-us /cjis /ucr /crime-in-the-u.s /2011 /crime-in-the-u.s.-2011 /tables /table-1

    Per the table linked above the rate of crime decreased markedly across all categories of violent crime through this period.

    I don't have a cite handy, but I think it's clear during the same period of time there was an increase in the absolute number of video game users; the proportion of the population using video games; time spent gaming/user; and in the quantity and realism of video game violence. In fact, it seems that the increase in video game usage increased across all a range of age groups during this time, with players first playing younger and older people playing at higher rates than they did in the 90s.

    The link above is deliberately broken as DN is calling it a non-wrapping long line. Remove the extra space before each / for the functional link.

  • Russell Spencer Boise, ID
    Feb. 14, 2014 1:23 p.m.


    Use logic. Why do pilots use flight simulators? Why do astronauts use space simulators? Why do doctors use surgery simulators? Because if simulators really have "no effect," aren't we all just wasting time? Simulators help program minds, for better or for worse, and they definitely have an effect.

    For those who hold to the foolish argument that virtual killing sprees are good, because they provide an "outlet" to the violently predisposed, I'd remind you that this was the same argument employed more than a decade ago for making pornography easily accessible online. It may hold true in the first generation--sexual assaults dropped initially--but in the second generation you are reprogramming minds, you are creating dispositions. And now sexual assaults are sky-rocketing, especially among youths.

    If past is prelude (and it is), high fidelity murder simulators (which is what violent video games are) will have the exact same consequences. We can either stem the tide today, or tomorrow we will reap what we have sown.

  • justamacguy Manti, UT
    Feb. 14, 2014 1:04 p.m.

    Brad Bushman needs to go back and read the results of the Milgram experiment. Aggression goes up when encouraged by an authority figure, when sanctioned as the thing to be done, and when the victim can not be seen or touched.

  • Sasha Pachev Provo, UT
    Feb. 14, 2014 11:40 a.m.

    Some things, like the basic fact that if you drop something it falls, are obvious without a formal study. I can tell a video-gamer kid from a non-video gamer quite well. A typical video-gamer is extremely impatient. He might be smart, but he has a hard time focusing on anything that requires a structured thought process and takes time to figure out. He can utter something witty, but has a hard time connecting his ideas into coherent sentences. He might now a fact or two, but does not go deep in his knowledge or pursuits. It is like a curse has been put upon him. Unfortunately, so many kids play video games and are under this curse that we begin to think this is just due to age. Not so.

  • Stalwart Sentinel San Jose, CA
    Feb. 14, 2014 11:34 a.m.

    Is it just me or did the DesNews just fall prey to the unpardonable sin of mistaking correlation for causation?

    Perhaps we should put more stock in the idea that America has a societal violent streak. Indeed, there are many nations that are roughly on equal ground w/ us respecting industrialization and they play violent video games and equal or higher levels yet have lower violent crime rates. Net net, when you look to account for the disparity in violence between us and the rest of the modernized world, it all boils down to one single factor: America's gun ownership rates.

  • Eliyahu Pleasant Grove, UT
    Feb. 14, 2014 10:58 a.m.

    His nineteen-year-old daughter (legally an adult) can't have the door to her room closed while using a computer and has to hand it over to him at night? It sounds to me like he has some control issues that need to be resolved.

    While I have no interest in violent video games, having seen enough violence while serving in two combat zones, I've yet to see a properly controlled study that accounted for other causes of aggressive behavior, one that included several control groups that played no video games, played other sorts of video games, and took into consideration other aggressive activities such as sports, as well as taking into account the environment in which participants lived. Still too many variables to draw a valid conclusion unless the conclusion he drew is exactly what he had drawn in advance.

  • andyjaggy American Fork, UT
    Feb. 14, 2014 10:57 a.m.

    2 Cents nailed it. Statistics can be used to show whatever you want, and it's the causation versus correlation thing again. violent people will most likely be drawn to violent games, the games didn't cause them to be violent they were violent anyway. That said it doesn't take hundreds of studies to come to the conclusion that someone prone to violence probably shouldn't be playing violent games for 10 hours a day.Get those same kids out in nature for 10 hours a day instead of in front of a video game, and watch how they change.

    Feb. 14, 2014 10:51 a.m. don't know.

  • eastcoastcoug Danbury, CT
    Feb. 14, 2014 10:52 a.m.

    @ChurchMember and GaryO

    You can find "research" that basically backs up anything you want. Just because someone wears a lab coat and does surveys, does not mean a thing. I have the biggest problem with research that says you can do whatever you want and there will be no consequences. We don't trust that in diets, why do we suddenly trust it when it comes to violent behavior?

    Besides, Behavioral Science in the BF Skinner mold is so passe'. I trust far more the work of Edward Deci and the new views on what motivate us (read Daniel Pink).

    I love the picture here (in the photos accompanying the article) of the slide with Einstein shown here that says: "Help me understand the logic of this - watching 2 hours of violence in a movie will have no influence on our behavior but a 30 second Super Bowl commercial is worth $3.8 million because it will make me want to run out and buy something".


  • GaryO Virginia Beach, VA
    Feb. 14, 2014 10:24 a.m.

    Jamescmeyer . . . Yes it is very possible that "violent games don't impact us negatively."

    In fact, it may be the case that violent video games impact us positively through their cathartic value.

    The idea of catharsis has been around since the ancient Greeks. It's nothing new.


    noun: catharsis; plural noun: catharses

    1. the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions.

    It is possible that repressed violent urges can be exercised through violent video games, and thus not acted out in the real world.

    Physical exercise is another option.

    In lieu of cathartic video games, you could give your teenager a rake and tell him to take out his aggressions on the leaves in the back yard.

    That's what people did before video games were invented.

  • 2 Cents San Antonio, TX
    Feb. 14, 2014 9:33 a.m.

    We all know that statistics can prove almost anything. Where is the causation in any of these studies?

    Even if (and it is an awfully big if) children who are exposed to violent media actually are more violent, who's to say that it's simply because violent people are drawn to violent media?

    People who are musically inclined or talented are drawn to media that reflects their personality, but I haven't seen one single study indicate that playing Guitar Hero causes children to become rock stars or that watching rom-coms makes you wear cardigans.

  • Jamescmeyer Midwest City, USA, OK
    Feb. 14, 2014 9:29 a.m.

    On the one hand, it wouldn't be fair to completely shut out the understanding of those who object to this kind of reasearch and its results. "Violence" covers a broad spectrum, and the fireballs of Dragon Quest are hardly the same, psychologically, as SMG fire and flash grenades with battered surroundings and dismembered bodies. I admit I enjoy both.

    On the other hand, people who don't understand the subconcious or subtle effects of violence in media-not just games-and people who outright support it only have one consistent response that I've seen throughout the many game forums I frequent:
    "No it doesn't!"

    And that's not true. As large and obvious a problem as (for example) alcohol addiction is, people still drink and the vast majority of them maintain that they don't have a problem, and that's false.

    The argument shouldn't be "violent games don't impact us negatively", rather there should be a rational assessment of what is acceptable and what is too much.

  • Church member North Salt Lake, UT
    Feb. 14, 2014 8:35 a.m.

    I find it funny when authors use science and believe in science when it benefits them. But when science goes against them they say "science can't be trusted". Can't have it both ways.

  • Twin Lights Louisville, KY
    Feb. 14, 2014 8:27 a.m.

    The denial that video games could be the cause of some of our violence brings howls from the players. But the issue here is one of the individual and the "push".

    There is a wide spectrum in the tendency toward violence in individuals. And the push toward more violence created by video games (or movies, or music) is subtle vs. strong. There is no case (I have heard of) where a perfectly non-violent kid plays a video game or two and goes on a killing spree. But the issue is what happens when a person is exposed to the violence hour after hour and year after year.

    People who have little tendency toward violence might play video games for long periods with little harmful effect. But then there is that person who is prone to violence - who is on the edge. What happens to him or her after hundreds (thousands?) of hours of exposure to video violence? That is a different story.

  • JP Chandler, AZ
    Feb. 14, 2014 8:09 a.m.

    30 years ago, kids didn't spend all day indoors playing video games. Now they do. Wouldn't that be a more likely reason for the drop in youth violence?

  • Willybee71 GARDEN CITY, NY
    Feb. 14, 2014 8:05 a.m.

    Violent Media got Schwarzenegger elected Governor of CA.
    I doubt if his body-building career was even much of a swing vote.
    Way lots of money to be made in Violence, on so many levels.

  • GaryO Virginia Beach, VA
    Feb. 14, 2014 7:28 a.m.

    "Science is clear, violent video games cause aggression?"

    No, not really. Science is not at all clear on that.

    In the behavioral science community, it has been suggested that the falling youth violence rate is caused by the proliferation of violent video games that allow a non-destructive outlet for feelings of aggression.

    It's all about catharsis. Look it up.

  • JKR Holladay, UT
    Feb. 14, 2014 7:11 a.m.

    Great article. This really clarifies the situation. Boy, am I unpopular in my own home for forbidding rated M or 1st person shooter games, and refusing to buy the latest video game platforms. (I don't want to be the policeman.) Since my teenage son refuses to surrender his ipod at night, I have resorted to unplugging the WiFi. There are parental controls on the computers that exclude violent and drug-related content. Parents stand up, because this is the Wild West of times for new media.

  • JBQ Saint Louis, MO
    Feb. 14, 2014 7:04 a.m.

    This is a very good study and based on something tangible. In our society, "freedom of expression", is everything. The ACLU is the most prominent organization involved with that. Morality is a boundary which is now being crossed with regularity. We are a nation of laws. The recent death of Officer Wride is only a symptom of moral breakdown. Yesterday, a federal judge overruled a ban on gay marriage approved by the "will of the people" which was similar to that done in Utah. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy has made it plain that he believes in the right of the people to approve gay marriage but that it has to be done on a state level. So, what about these violent games such as "Grand Theft Auto"? They approve anarchy. What if a state decided to ban their use? This would become a "free speech" issue. What about the "sexploitation of children"? Would that become a matter of freedom of expression as well? Our society is imploding and not even the will of the people can stop clever politicians from implementing their will using various minorities as pawns.

  • Pete1215 Lafayette, IN
    Feb. 14, 2014 6:27 a.m.

    Practicing having no self-control. That can't be good...

  • I know it. I Live it. I Love it. Provo, UT
    Feb. 14, 2014 5:38 a.m.

    Growing up, the kids who played sports were a lot more aggressive than us nerds who liked Nintendo. Should sports be banned?

    I've seen aggression develop in a teen while playing shooters, etc. But it's often only in combination with other lifestyle choices. Game development involves designing a game to motivate players based on goals. If goals are violent, it's possible it may prompt aggressive behavior. If you times that by 16 hours a day of playing... it's not rocket-science. But again... while it can motivate aggressive behavior, parents shouldn't feel that any game with a gun in it is unacceptable. I can assure you, if you simply take it away they will play it elsewhere.

    It's not complicated. Parents simply need to be parents. The same applies to sports and everything else in life. The real question is "who is teaching this kid to moderate his behavior, his parents or his games, sports, etc?". It's more likely that is connected to who the kid is spending more time with.

    A lack of mom and dad in their life will cause far more aggression than any game. Nothing can replace 'Family Home Evening'.