Study Links Violent Video Games,
Research in U.S., Japan Shows Aggression
Increased for Months After Play
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
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
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."
Daumas noted that many of her sons' friends play the
games. "It's a tough balancing act," she said.
Tracey Goldman, 42, a mother of two in Takoma Park, said
she enforces time limits on video-game playing and does
not allow violent content. Her fourth-grader plays Lego
Star Wars, she said, but otherwise, "I just feel very
uneasy about letting him play those kinds of games."
Still, she said, monitoring game-time can require
vigilance because children can find games on Internet
sites. She recalled looking over her son's shoulder as
he played at a computer, asking: "Wait a minute. Is that
Parents have debated the potentially harmful effects of
video-game violence for most of the last two decades, as
the games have become more popular and more graphic. In
the new research, games were deemed violent when one
character harmed or killed another.
Still, not all video games are violent or associated
with such negative effects, said Joseph Kahne of Mills
College in Oakland, Calif., coauthor of a recent
video-gaming study by the Pew Internet & American
The Pew study, based on a poll of 1,102 youths ages 12
to 17, found that most teenagers play many different
kinds of games and that some types of play -- such as
making decisions about how to run a city -- are
correlated with more political or civic involvement.
Overall, Kahne said, "it's important to pay attention to
the nature of the games and the sense that kids make of
Although the longitudinal studies reported in Anderson's
study showed that frequent playing of violent video
games leads to greater aggression, Anderson also said
this message should be understood in the larger context
of a child's life.
"A healthy, normal, nonviolent child or adolescent who
has no other risk factors for high aggression or
violence is not going to become a school shooter simply
because they play five hours or 10 hours a week of these
violent video games," he said.
Extreme forms of violence, Anderson said, "almost always
occur when there is a convergence of multiple risk
A U.S. surgeon general report in 2001 identified an
array of those risk factors, including gang involvement,
antisocial parents and peers, substance abuse, poverty
and media violence. Males are more at risk.
The new study noted that video games are played in 90
percent of American homes with children ages 8 to 16 and
that the U.S. average playing time of four hours a week
in the late 1980s is now up to 13 hours a week, with
boys averaging 16 to 18 hours a week.
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