Study Links Violent Video Games, Hostility

"Manhunt 2" is a video game in which characters kill and torture using items such as a fuse box and a toilet. (Rockstar Games Via Associated Press)
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By Donna St. George
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 3, 2008

Children and teenagers who play violent video games show increased physical aggression months afterward, according to new research that adds another layer of evidence to the continuing debate over the video-game habits of the youngest generation.

The research, published today in the journal Pediatrics, brings together three longitudinal studies, one from the United States and two from Japan, examining the content of games, how often they are played and aggressive behaviors later in a school year.

The U.S. research was the first in the nation to look at the effects of violent video games over time, said lead author Craig A. Anderson, a psychology professor at Iowa State University and director of its Center for the Study of Violence.

Anderson said the collaboration with Japanese researchers was particularly telling because video games are popular there and crime and aggression are less prevalent. Some gamers have cited Japan's example as evidence that violent games are not harmful.

Yet the studies produced similar findings in both countries, Anderson said. "When you find consistent effects across two very different cultures, you're looking at a pretty powerful phenomenon," he said. "One can no longer claim this is somehow a uniquely American phenomenon. This is a general phenomenon that occurs across cultures."

The study in the United States showed an increased likelihood of getting into a fight at school or being identified by a teacher or peer as being physically aggressive five to six months later in the same school year. It focused on 364 children ages 9 to 12 in Minnesota and was first included in a 2007 book, "Violent Video Game Effects on Children and Adolescents."

Japanese researchers studied more than 1,200 Japanese youths ages 12 to 18. In all three studies, researchers accounted for gender and previous aggressiveness.

"We now have conclusive evidence that playing violent video games has harmful effects on children and adolescents," Anderson said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, which publishes the journal in which the study appears this month, is in the process of revising its recommendations on media violence, and expects to issue a new statement in four to six months, a spokeswoman said. The academy now recognizes violence in media as a significant health risk to children and adolescents and recommends limiting screen time including television, computers and video games to one to two hours a day.

For many parents, the latest research was unsettling, though not surprising.

Patricia Daumas, 50, a single mother of two in Reston, said she sometimes wonders about her decision to allow her sons, ages 8 and 11, to play war games. But like many parents, she sees the issue as complex. She does not allow her sons to play games rated "mature."

"I don't think the games are good for them," she said, "but what I'm seeing in my own children is that they're still very gentle, that they're very caring, and they have absolutely no behavior problems at school."


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