By Margarita Nahapetyan
Playing violent video games contributes to an increase in aggressive and less caring behavior, regardless of age, gender or culture, says an Iowa State University professor of psychology Craig Anderson. Also, according to Prof. Anderson and his fellow colleagues, violent computer game playing increases aggressive thinking and aggressive affect, and does nothing to promote positive social behaviors in people.
Prof. Anderson and his team conducted a statistical analysis of existing studies on more than 130,000 video game players from elementary school age to college in the United States, Europe and Japan. The analysis showed that violent video games affected children in both Eastern and Western cultures, both in males and females, and in all age groups studied. Although some people might assume that elementary school children would be more likely to be influenced by violent games and be more susceptible to behavior change than college students, the experts said this does not seem to be the case.
Craig Anderson, who directs the Center for the Study of Violence at Iowa State University in Ames, said that he was not surprised by the general results of his research, but he did find it quite interesting that girls demonstrated the same increases in aggressive behavior as did boys. Similarly, players of video games in both Western and Eastern cultures showed the same effects.
The scientists strongly suggested that parents treat their children's video game habits just as they would treat their diet habits. Just as a steady diet consisting of snacks, potato chips and soft drinks is not healthy, they said, so is a steady entertainment diet of violent video games. Once analyzing the known risk factors for the development of aggression and violence, it becomes clear that some are bigger than media violence and some are smaller. However, Anderson said, video games are not all bad if they are played in moderation. "If a given child has no other risk factors for becoming aggressive, then playing a violent video game for a few hours a week is not going to turn them into a school shooter," he said.
Anderson noted that video game violence is actually the only causal risk factor that is relatively easy for parents or caregivers to monitor and do something about. For example, the game rating itself does not indicate at all whether a game is healthy or unhealthy, many games rated "E" (for "everyone") contain violence, Anderson said. According to him, any game that involves killing or harming another character in order to be advanced to the next level is likely to be teaching inappropriate behavior to those who are playing it.
The authors also noted that while violence in movies and television shows has long been examined for its potential impact on viewers' behaviors, video gaming, a much newer phenomenon, lacked a broad study to provide the conclusive evidence on how violent video games affect people's thoughts and behavior.
The findings are published in the March 1, 2010 issue of Psychological Bulletin, a journal of the American Psychological Association.