Violent Video Games Linked to Aggressive Thought Patterns and Behavior in Children

Craig A. Anderson, Distinguished Professor Director, Center for the Study of Violence Department of Psychology Iowa State University Ames, IA Interview with:
Craig A. Anderson, Distinguished Professor
Director, Center for the Study of Violence
Department of Psychology
Iowa State University
Ames, IA 50011-3180 What are the main findings of the study?

Dr. Anderson: There are three main findings from this long-term study of violent video game effects.

1. Over time, repeated play and practice of violent video games led to an relative increase in aggressive thought patterns and in physical aggression.

2. As predicted by social-cognitive theoretical models, the violent video game effect on physical aggression was directly linked to the increase in aggressive thought patterns. That is, one key reason why repeated exposure to violent video games increases aggression is because such exposure changes the way children and adolescents think about people and events that occur in their lives. In a sense, their personality changes, so that they perceive more hostility around them and come to view physically aggressive behavior as a proper solution to even minor conflicts and provocations.

3. These effects of repeated exposure to violent video games were quite general across types of people. Boys and girls, younger children and older adolescents, high aggressive and low aggressive children, all showed pretty much the same effects. In other words, no subgroup was immune to the harmful effects of violent video games. Were any of the findings unexpected?

Dr. Anderson: There were two findings that were somewhat surprising.

First, we thought that changes in empathy might also underlie the harmful effect of violent video game play on later aggressive behavior. Several studies in other countries have found such effects, but in this study the empathy effect was not statistically significant when aggressive thinking patterns were accounted for. This anomaly is interesting and warrants further research, because we know (from other studies) that violent video game play can decrease empathy, in both short-term and long-term contexts, and because we know that decreased empathy can increase aggression.

Second, we were surprised that the measure of parent involvement in their child’s video game playing didn’t yield statistically significant results. A few past studies, including one longitudinal study, found that having parents who are more involved in their child’s media diet (including time and content restrictions) was a protective factor. That is, having such parents reduced (but did not eliminate) the harmful effects of violent video games. This didn’t seem to be the case in this sample from Singapore. One possible reason for this lack of parental involvement effect is that on average Singaporean parents are more involved in their children’s education and in media habits than are parents in the U.S. If only a few Singaporean parents let their children play whatever video games they want for however many hours they want per week, then a parental involvement measure wouldn’t show any significant effects, for purely statistical reasons. That is, if there are no parents on the low end of the parental involvement scale, then one can’t find an effect of involvement. This is speculation that is in need of additional research. Generally, we still recommend that parents be very involved in their children’s media diet. Research shows that reducing media violence exposure will yield beneficial effects on children and adolescents, and being actively involved in media choices and diet likely reduces the harmful effect . What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Anderson: For beneficial long term development of children and adolescents, it is useful to ask some questions about how much time the children and adolescents spend playing video games per week, and about the content of the games they play. Making parents aware of the fact that spending lots of time playing violent video games changes children and adolescents into more aggressive people, increasing both aggressive thought patterns and physically aggressive behavior, may help get the parents to reduce their children’s time on such games and lead them to be better parents, such as by spending time with their children discussing their family values concerning proper nonviolent ways of dealing with conflicts, frustrations, and provocations. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Anderson: Similar long term studies (with at least three waves of measurement over a several year period) are needed, studies that include measures of aggression from parent, peers, and teachers. We also need to further study the role of different forms of parental involvement as possible moderators of long term media violence effects. Another need is for further long term studies of potential long term effects of media violence on empathy and desensitization as potential meditational paths by which media violence may increase later aggressive and violent behavior. Finally, we need some very large scale intervention studies designed to test how best to reduce, reverse, or eliminate harmful media effects on children and adolescents.


Violent Video Games Associated With Increased Aggression in Children
Mediators and Moderators of Long-term Effects of Violent Video Games on Aggressive Behavior: Practice, Thinking, and Action

Douglas A. Gentile PhD, Dongdong Li PhD, Angeline Khoo PhD, Sara Prot MA, Craig A. Anderson PhD

JAMA Pediatr. 2014;168(5):-. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2014.63