Is Aggression Actually Linked to Violent Video Games?

Violent video games do not increase aggressive behavior in teens, a study finds.

Posted Feb 14, 2019

When a team of researchers in the U.K. recently formulated a basic research question—Does playing violent video games cause young people to become more aggressive?—like many of us, they speculated that the answer might be “yes.”

However, after surveying over a thousand 14- and 15-year-old adolescents of both genders and their parents in Great Britain, the researchers found that teenage gamers who played violent video games did not exhibit higher levels of aggressive behavior than age-matched peers who didn’t play violent video games.

Notably, this was a preregistered report and the authors predicted a slightly different outcome prior to conducting their research. This paper, “Violent Video Game Engagement Is Not Associated with Adolescents' Aggressive Behaviour: Evidence from a Registered Report,” was published February 13 in the journal Royal Society Open Science. It was authored by Andrew Przybylski at the University of Oxford and Netta Weinstein at Cardiff University.

Lalesh Aldarwish/Pexels
Source: Lalesh Aldarwish/Pexels

As the authors explain, “Following a preregistered analysis plan, multiple regression analyses tested the hypothesis that recent violent game play is linearly and positively related to carer assessments of aggressive behaviour. Results did not support this prediction, nor did they support the idea that the relationship between these factors follows a nonlinear parabolic function. There was no evidence for a critical tipping point relating violent game engagement to aggressive behaviour.” 

Using survey-based methods, the researchers asked teenagers (and their parents) a wide range of questions surrounding video game engagement, including ones about the ESRB rating of the games each teen played, the kind of games they liked to play, and how many hours a day/week someone played. They also asked the parent-adolescent dyads specific questions about aggression and patterns of aggressive behavior, especially just after playing a violent video game.

Is It Time for Us to Stop Blaming Video Games for Violent and Aggressive Behavior? 

As the parent of someone in middle school, I have a knee-jerk impulse to avoid exposing my adolescent child to any type of violence. Full disclosure: I’m not a big fan of violent video games. That said, I do my best to be balanced and fair when reporting on their pros and cons. I previously wrote about a longitudinal study (Grizzard et al., 2016) which found that repeated play of violent video games desensitizes gamers to feelings of guilt. But I’ve also reported on the brain benefits (Kühn et al., 2014) of playing non-violent video games.

Twenty-first-century gaming is clearly a very complicated phenomenon. Przybylski and Weinstein address all of these issues (and more) in their thought-provoking closing remarks:

“Despite the null findings identified in the present study, history gives us reason to suspect the idea that violent video games drives aggressive behaviour will remain an unsettled question for parents, pundits and policy-makers. Although our results do have implications for these stakeholders, the present work holds special significance for those studying technology effects, in general, and video games, in particular. It is crucial that scientists conduct work with openness and rigour if we are to build a real understanding of the positive and negative dynamics and impacts of technology in people's lives [76].

This is among the first studies to test the effects of violent gaming on human aggression using a preregistered hypothesis-testing framework and the first to do so following the registered reports protocol. The results provide confirmatory evidence that violent video game engagement, on balance, is not associated with observable variability in adolescents' aggressive behaviour. A healthy ecosystem of exploratory and registered research reports will enable scientists to conduct meta-analytic research to evaluate the inferences drawn from these methodologies. Only then will we be able to examine the pathways by which aggressive play might relate to real-world aggression in novel, incremental and empirically robust ways. With this evidence in hand, we will be able to judge if the attention and resources allocated to this topic, spent at the expense of other important questions of the digital age, is empirically justified."

The findings do not suggest that we must necessarily condone or encourage violent video game engagement. Nevertheless, I find the preregistered, evidence-based approach taken by Przybylski and Weinstein to be "good science" and agree with their declaration about the importance of researchers following the registered reports protocol.

References

Andrew K. Przybylski and Netta Weinstein. "Violent Video Game Engagement Is Not Associated with Adolescents' Aggressive Behaviour: Evidence from a Registered Report." Royal Society Open Science (First published: February 13, 2019) DOI: 10.1098/rsos.171474

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