Video games are one of the most popular and commonly enjoyed forms of entertainment of our time, yet there’s a lot of controversy around them.
The World Health Organization recently decided to add “gaming disorder” to its official list of mental health conditions, stating that gaming behavior could qualify as problematic if it interferes significantly in other areas of people’s lives.
Some people have also suggested there are links between playing video games and violent behavior, especially in the wake of tragic events like the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Let’s see what recent studies suggest on the matter.
Do violent video games actually cause aggressive behavior?
Violence is a form of aggression, but not all aggressive behaviors are violent. Very few studies have looked at whether playing violent video games increases the chances of later delinquency, criminal behavior, or lethal violence. Such studies are difficult to conduct, and require very large numbers of children. It makes sense that since playing violent video games tends to increase the level of aggressive behavior it would also results in more lethal violence or other criminal behaviors, but there is no clear evidence to support that assumption.
It is a widespread concern that violent video games promote aggression, reduce pro-social behavior, increase impulsivness and interfere with cognition as well as mood in its players.
During the past years, several experimental studies have focused on short-term effects of violent video gameplay on aggression, yet there are reasons to believe that these effects are mostly the result of priming.
A new study led by Simone Kühn looked at the influence long-term violent video game play has on aggression levels, and compared this with playing a life simulation game or not playing a video game at all. The research is published in the Springer Nature journal Molecular Psychiatry.
The current research breaks new ground because it is the first study to investigate the effects of long-term violent video game play.
Seventy-seven participants were divided into three groups. The first group of 25 played the violent video game Grand Theft Auto V daily for two months. The second group of 24 played the simulation game The Sims 3 every day for two months, while the final group of 28 did not play any video games for two months.
Before and after the two-month period, Kühn and her team noted the participants’ level of aggression and empathy, interpersonal competencies, impulsivness, anxiety, mood, and executive control. These characteristics were all determined using a battery of tests consisting of questionnaires and computerized behavioral assessments.
The present results thus provide strong evidence against the frequently debated negative effects of playing violent video games in adults and will therefore help to communicate a more realistic scientific perspective on the effects of violent video gaming.
Several studies have found a link between playing violent video games and aggressiveness
Previous experimental studies have shown that a few minutes’ worth of violent video game play can influence a person’s levels of aggression and willingness to help others. There is however reason to believe that these effects were mostly the results of exposure to specific stimuli and subsequent priming that formed part of these studies.
Previously, there have been several studies led, for example, by The American Psychological Association (APA) that have reached the conclusion that violent video games truly are a risk factor for aggression.
In 2017, the APA Task Force on Violent Media concluded that violent video game exposure was linked to increased aggressive behaviors, thoughts, and emotions, as well as decreased empathy. However, it is not clear whether violent video game exposure was linked to criminality or delinquency.
Up until now, it seemed that the longer that individuals are exposed to violent video games, the more likely they are to have aggressive behaviors, thoughts, and feelings. These effects have been seen also in some studies in both Eastern and Western countries. Although males spend more time than females playing violent video games, violent video game exposure can increase aggressive thoughts, behaviors, and feelings in both sexes.
How is aggressive behavior measured? Studies that have found a link between video games and aggressive behavior.
Aggressive behavior is measured by scientists in a number of ways. Some studies looked at self-reports of hitting or pushing, and some looked at peer or teacher ratings on aggressive behaviors. Other studies looked at how likely an individual was to subject others to an unpleasant exposure to hot sauce or a loud noise after playing violent video games.
Unfortunately, few studies have been completed on violent video game exposure and aggression in children under age 10. There is also little information about the impact of violent video game exposure on minority children.
There have not been many studies on the effects of different characteristics of video games, such as perspective or plot. However, some studies have found that competition among players in video games is a better predictor of aggressive behavior than is the level of violence.
Unfortunately, the interaction between violent video game use and psychopathic trait disposition was not directly analyzed. However, DeLisi et al. (2013) suggest that especially individuals with pre-existing deficits in disinhibition and interpersonal-affective abilities may be affected more by violent video game use resulting in a higher likelihood of the expression of adverse behavior.
Considering the increasing trend of extensive violent video games use, however, it is crucial to investigate whether psychopathic trait disposition is also influenced in violent video game consumers without a history of delinquency. This study aimed to shed light on the possible link of violent video game exposure and the expression of traits usually contributing to adverse behavior including interpersonal-affective and disinhibition traits.
The potential relationships were explored empirically using the Levenson’s Psychopathy Self-Report Scale in a young adult population to measure the aforementioned traits. Unlike in many previous studies, this gender-mixed sample contained a significantly higher proportion of females. Furthermore, the video game consumption of this group can be classified as low to medium. Therefore, this study does not only allow to gain some more insight into video gaming also in female users, as most studies include mainly males, but also on the influences of low to moderate exposure on a young adult group as mostly potential effects of excessive use are studied.
Moreover, insight into the potential reversibility of adverse effects induced by violent video game exposure was studied by comparing subjects with a history of life-time violent video game exposure to subjects with ongoing exposure. Next to the unconventional approach of comparing ongoing to stopped violent video game exposure in such a way, the researchers decided not only to investigate potential links to lifetime exposure, but also additionally to examine the predictive power of recent (violent) video game exposure on interpersonal-affective and disinhibition trait expression while controlling for some possible lifestyle-related confounders. This approach was chosen to explore recent exposure effects more closely.
The conclusion is that it’s very important to keep in mind that video game exposure represents just one aspect of a bigger issues that leads towards the installation of aggressive behavior. For example, mental illness, adverse environments, and access to guns are all risk factors of aggression and violence.