Kids get aggressive after video games
Psychological association calls for less violence in games.
The American Psychological Association (APA) has adopted a resolution to reduce violence in children's interactive media. This follows an in-depth review confirming that violent video games can make kids aggressive in the short-term, they say. The long-term effects are still unknown.
Some researchers say that playing 'shoot 'em up' video games is directly linked to kids' aggressive behaviour in the real world. Others say the games are a healthy outlet. Many say the research is so mixed that the jury is still out.
That's in part because researchers have used different measures of aggressive behaviour, and different definitions of what makes for a violent game. Some have looked at physiological arousal, such as an increased heart rate, whereas others have measured violent thoughts. Not many studies have looked at violent acts.
To clarify where the field stands, Kevin Kieffer and Jessica Nicoll of Saint Leo University in Saint Leo, Florida, conducted an extensive review of 17 studies conducted over 20 years. They presented their results at the 113th APA conference in Washington DC on Friday 19 August.
According to their review, there's a strong link between these games and how children and adolescents behave - at least in the short term.
Playing video games with violent moves such as karate kicks, for example, leads children to use these kinds of moves when they played afterwards. Another study showed that playing video games with heroes using flame-throwers and automatic weapons made teenagers feel more "mean and angry" afterwards compared with those who had not played the game.
Research also shows that children who play violent video games are much less likely to be helpful to others than they are when they play more social and non-violent video games.
"This is a problem," says Jeanne Funk, professor of clinical psychology at the University of Toledo in Ohio who specializes in video-game research in children. "What this means is that if someone gets hurt, kids who have played these games may be desensitized to that and less likely to help them."
Not everything is in support of this, however. One study has shown that children who played a violent game about kidnapped babies were not less compassionate than kids who had not played the game, for example.
Funk's research has shown that children who play a lot of violent video games are generally less empathic than those who don't, and they have more pro-violence attitudes - though whether this translates into behaviour, she says, is less clear.
"But the real issue is whether there's long-lasting change as a result of these violent video games, and the current literature does not adequately address these issues," says Kieffer. "Imagine a child playing these very violent games from age 10 until adulthood. It's hard to speculate that he would not have some adverse effects as a result of this."
The only way to really answer this cause-and-effect question is to do long-term studies following children over many years, and looking at all the factors that could influence aggressive behaviour, including discipline at home, poverty and how well a child is doing at school. Brad Bushman and Rowell Huesmann of the University of Michigan have just embarked on projects to do just this.
In the meantime, the APA has called for the entertainment industry to better link violent behaviours with adverse consequences, and to adopt a new rating system that will more accurately reflect the content of video games. They are also advising that children learn how to play these games without identifying with the aggressive characters - though that will be difficult for games that give the player a virtual gun.