Do Violent Video Games Cause Behavior Problems?

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  • 0:04 The Video Game Violence Debate
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Instructor: Sharon Linde

Sharon has a Masters of Science in Mathematics

Do you know an adolescent that spends a lot of time playing violent video games? This lesson weighs the evidence for and against the argument that violent video games cause behavioral problems.

The Video Game Violence Debate

Whether the violence depicted in video games causes aggression and other behavioral problems has been a hotly contested issue for decades. So, what is the evidence for each side? Below are a few of the most powerful arguments from both sides, some of which have follow-up questions or comments intended to get the viewer to think critically about each argument.

Parents & Medical Professionals Agree

First we should look at how parents and medical professionals agree. According to research published in Psychology of Popular Media Culture in July 2015, 67 percent of parents, and 90 percent of pediatricians surveyed agreed that violent video games can increase aggressive behavior in children.

The 'can' in the survey question weakens the statement considerably. It can increase aggressive behavior, but it would be more informative to know how often these groups think violent video games actually do increase violent behavior.

Decreasing Juvenile Violent Crime Rates

Now, let's look at the continual decrease in juvenile violent crime rates. While the sales of violent video games have been increasing for the last 20 years, the rates of violent crime overall (and especially by juveniles) has been falling steadily for that period of time.

There's a lot of confusing information here. Although both sides often link violence with behavioral issues, they're not the same thing. Not all behavioral issues result in violence, and not all violent acts are preceded by behavioral problems. Since this lesson only discusses the question of behavioral issues as it relates to the use of video games, the statistic is not definitive here.

Mass Shootings

Now let's take a look at the mass shootings that have been in the news so much for nearly two decades. There have been a number of mass shootings committed by people that also played violent video games. The shootings in Columbine (Colorado in 1999), Aurora theater (also in Colorado but in 2012), of Rep. Gabby Giffords (Arizona in 2011), and the 77 people killed in two related incidents in Norway (in 2011) all involved shooters that played violent video games for many hours a week.

There are several things to consider here:

  1. This again links violence with behavioral issues, and isn't conclusive proof.

  2. So many adolescents play violent video games in this country (up to 97% in some surveys), that the prevalence of mass shooters also playing violent video games is not conclusive.

  3. There have also been plenty of mass shooting perpetrators that have not played long hours of violent video games.

According to a study done by the US Secret Service and the US Department of Education, of the 37 school shootings studied between 1974 and 2000, only 12% of the 41 attackers showed interest in violent video games.

Bad Science

Now let's take a look at some of the bad science involved in this topic. Many of the studies that link aggressive behavior in children to the use of violent video games have been flawed, according to opponents of these studies. Because it isn't even remotely ethical to study actual acts of aggression or violence in the lab, less hostile behaviors are studied, usually in the form of forcing someone else to have an unpleasant experience, such as eating hot sauce. Does choosing to have someone eat hot sauce in a laboratory situation translate to real world aggression or violence?

Those opposed to the results of these tests also question how the games are played in testing scenarios. Ten minutes of playing a new game in a laboratory is a far cry from two hours of relaxing at home after homework is completed. Aggressive results measured in the laboratory could have been due to the fact that the kids were merely frustrated at having to quit before they could successfully learn how to play the game. A psychology professor at Stetson University, Christopher J Ferguson, PhD, says that when violent video game studies are more closely matched with real world playing conditions, the aggression effects 'essentially vanish.'

Psychologists and Justices Agree

Now, let's take a look at how both psychologists and justices agree. In an August 2015 resolution, the American Psychological Association (APA), which is the primary scientific organization of psychologists in the United States, listed violent video games as a risk factor for aggressive behavior.

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