Violent Video Games and Aggressive Behavior

By November 12, 2015Health Tips

In 2005, the American Psychological Association (APA) issued a resolution stating that “there appears to be evidence that exposure to violent media increases feelings of hostility, thoughts about aggression, suspicions about the motives of others, and demonstrates violence as a method to deal with potential conflict situations”.

In 2013, the APA assembled a Task Force to review research published subsequent to 2005 and update their position relative to violence in video games and interactive media.  Along with consulting leading researchers in the field of video games violence, the Task Force interviewed practitioners in the fields of behavioral science, pediatrics, communications and public health. Most of the studies conducted in this area involved adolescents and young adults.
In psychological research, aggression is defined as behavior that is intended to harm another. Violence is considered to be an extreme form of physical aggression or the intentional use of physical force or power that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in harm.  Along with validating the 2005 resolution, the more recent report concluded that there is a “…consistent relationship between violent video game use and heightened aggressive behavior, aggressive cognitions, and aggressive affect and reduced prosocial behavior empathy and sensitivity to aggression.”

The following are some of the most compelling excerpts from the “American Psychological Association Task Force on Violent Media Technical Report on the Review of the Violent Video Game Literature”:

  1. “More than 90% of U.S. children play some kind of video game; when considering only adolescents ages 12–17 that figure rises to 97%.  Although high levels of video game use are often popularly associated with adolescence, children younger than age 8 who play video games spend a daily average of 69 minutes on handheld console games, 57 minutes on computer games, and 45 minutes on mobile games, including tablets.“
  2. “Research has identified a number of risk factors for the development of aggression, including factors at the level of the individual (e.g., aggressive traits), family (e.g., low socio-economic status, harsh discipline practices, peers (e.g., peer rejection), school (e.g., exclusionary disciplinary practices), and neighborhood or community (e.g., poor urban settings). Children who experience multiple risk factors are more likely to engage in aggression.”
  3. “No single risk factor consistently leads a person to act aggressively or violently. Rather, it is the accumulation of risk factors that tends to lead to aggressive or violent behavior. Each risk factor increases the likelihood of such negative behavior. The research reviewed here demonstrates that violent video game use is one such risk factor.”
  4.  “Although the number of studies directly examining the relation between the amount of violent video game use and the degree of change in adverse outcomes is still limited, existing research suggests that higher amounts of exposure are associated with higher levels of aggression and other adverse outcomes”.
  5. “Although the media and the public often ask about the association between violent video game use and delinquency or violence … too little research has addressed these outcomes to reach a conclusion.”

The link between violent video game use and heightened aggressive behavior is a very complex issue. Today’s Health Tip really only skims the surface in regard to the many facets of the analysis that were included in the report from the Task Force.  In addition to examining the effects of playing violent video games on behavior, the authors pointed out numerous potential flaws in existing research and areas that need further study. Some issues not adequately examined in existing research include potential differences between girls and boys or in different ethnic groups in regard to violent video game use and aggressive behavior.
As a result of the conclusions drawn by the Task Force, the APA issued a resolution requesting that the video game industry include more parental controls over the amount of violence the games contain.  Additionally, the resolution urges developers to design games that are appropriate to users’ age and psychological development.  A summary of the Task Force’s finding and a link to the full report can be found here.

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