Academics split on study claiming video games cause violence

While a meta-analysis of studies appears to confirm the link between games and aggressiveness, many researchers are questioning the accuracy of research because of overgeneralizations.

By Stephen Feller

WASHINGTON, Aug. 17 (UPI) -- For as long as violence has existed in video games, parents, doctors and researchers have argued about the effect of violent images in games on the children who play them. Now, a meta-analysis of studies on the topic has revealed a link between violent video games and aggression.

The study, conducted by an American Psychological Association task force, almost immediately brought concerns from more than 200 academics when it was announced in 2013 because predictions and studies during the previous decade had not shown a relationship between violence and games.


In 2005, the APA issued a resolution on violence in video games calling on the industry to better label and disseminate information about the violence in games, create a more accurate ratings system for games, and work to help children and young people understand fake media violence and not carry it over into real life. The resolution was based on existing research at the time, the organization said.


The video game resolution was put under review in December 2012, setting up the task force that has been analyzing studies conducted during the 8-year period since the former resolution was approved by the APA board.

"No single risk factor consistently leads a person to act aggressively or violently," the task force wrote in its report, published on the APA website. "Rather, it is the accumulation of risk factors that tends to lead to aggressive or violent behavior. The research reviewed here demonstrates that violent video game use is one such risk factor."

The task force considered research published between 2005 and 2013, focusing first on more than 150 studies published before 2009 and several studies conducted from 2009 to 2013 -- building their research on the back 170 other additional studies.

Researchers first considered levels of violence, whether games were based on simply committing violent acts or if there was an actual storyline, and the ways that users interact with the games. When conducting their analysis of previous studies, they looked for keywords that included violent video games, violence, aggressive behavior, aggression, and prosocial behavior.

The researchers found that 12 of 14 studies focused on aggressive attitudes that could be associated with playing games, and 13 more studies that noted various effects on aggressive attitudes after playing games. Other studies also included consideration of participants life situations, parents, school, health concerns and other factors that may play a role in aggression on the part of young people regardless of videogames.


"While there is some variation among the individual studies, a strong and consistent general pattern has emerged from many years of research that provides confidence in our general conclusions," said Dr. Mark Appelbaum, chair of the task force, in a press release. "As with most areas of science, the picture presented by this research is more complex than is usually included in news coverage and other information prepared for the general public."

Appelbaum said that while the link between video games and increased aggression has been established, there still are gaps in the research, including the effects of other environmental aspects of children's lives and any psychological issues they may face.

Academics signing the letter to the APA in 2013 wrote that overgeneralization of "controversial laboratory measures of aggression" may be giving false positives because the tight controls of a lab during a study are not what happens in real life.

"I fully acknowledge that exposure to repeated violence may have short-term effects -- you would be a fool to deny that -- but the long-term consequences of crime and actual violent behavior, there is just no evidence linking violent video games with that," Dr. Mark Coulson, an associate professor of psychology at Middlesex University and one of the signers of the letter, told the BBC.


"If you play three hours of 'Call of Duty' you might feel a little bit pumped, but you are not going to go out and mug someone."

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