New APA Review confirms link playing violent video games and aggression (but no link with criminal behavior)

It’s a topic that pops up now and then in popular media, but it’s also that inspires quite some research: is there a link between playing violent video games and aggression. A new APA Review says: yes. But do note: a link is not the same per se as causal relationship and they couldn’t find a link between playing violent video games although the studies do suggest such a relation. But do read the sentence that I put in bold in the press release.

Update: my co-author, Casper Hulshof, sent me this reaction by Jason Schreier that’s certainly worth reading.

From the press release:

“The research demonstrates a consistent relation between violent video game use and increases in aggressive behavior, aggressive cognitions and aggressive affect, and decreases in prosocial behavior, empathy and sensitivity to aggression,” says the report of the APA Task Force on Violent Media. The task force’s review is the first in this field to examine the breadth of studies included and to undertake multiple approaches to reviewing the literature.

“Scientists have investigated the use of violent video games for more than two decades but to date, there is very limited research addressing whether violent video games cause people to commit acts of criminal violence,” said Mark Appelbaum, PhD, task force chair. “However, the link between violence in video games and increased aggression in players is one of the most studied and best established in the field.”

“No single risk factor consistently leads a person to act aggressively or violently,” the report states. “Rather, it is the accumulation of risk factors that tends to lead to aggressive or violent behavior. The research reviewed here demonstrates that violent video game use is one such risk factor.”

In light of the task force’s conclusions, APA has called on the industry to design video games that include increased parental control over the amount of violence the games contain. APA’s Council of Representatives adopted a resolution at its meeting Aug. 7 in Toronto encouraging the Entertainment Software Rating Board to refine its video game rating system “to reflect the levels and characteristics of violence in games, in addition to the current global ratings.” In addition, the resolution urges developers to design games that are appropriate to users’ age and psychological development, and voices APA’s support for more research to address gaps in the knowledge about the effects of violent video game use.

The resolution replaces a 2005 resolution on the same topic.

The task force identified a number of limitations in the research that require further study. These include a general failure to look for any differences in outcomes between boys and girls who play violent video games; a dearth of studies that have examined the effects of violent video game play on children younger than 10; and a lack of research that has examined the games’ effects over the course of children’s development.

“We know that there are numerous risk factors for aggressive behavior,” Appelbaum said. “What researchers need to do now is conduct studies that look at the effects of video game play in people at risk for aggression or violence due to a combination of risk factors. For example, how do depression or delinquency interact with violent video game use?”

The task force conducted a comprehensive review of the research literature published between 2005 and 2013 focused on violent video game use. This included four meta-analyses that reviewed more than 150 research reports published before 2009. Task force members then conducted both a systematic evidence review and a quantitative review of the literature published between 2009 and 2013. (A systematic evidence review synthesizes all empirical evidence that meets pre-specified criteria to answer specific research questions — a standard approach to summarizing large bodies of research to explore a field of research.) This resulted in 170 articles, 31 of which met all of the most stringent screening criteria.

“While there is some variation among the individual studies, a strong and consistent general pattern has emerged from many years of research that provides confidence in our general conclusions,” Appelbaum said. “As with most areas of science, the picture presented by this research is more complex than is usually included in news coverage and other information prepared for the general public.”

In addition to Appelbaum, members of the APA Task Force on Violent Media were: Sandra Calvert, PhD; Kenneth Dodge, PhD; Sandra Graham, PhD; Gordon N. Hall, PhD; Sherry Hamby, PhD; and Larry Hedges, PhD.

See the report (PDF, 984KB) and policy (PDF, 308KB) here.

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Filed under Research, Review, Technology, Youngsters

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