There is a link between violent video games and higher levels of aggression in players, according to a new report from a leading group of psychologists.
However, there isn’t enough evidence to prove that playing violent video games raises the risk of criminal behavior or violence, the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Violent Media said.
The members of the task force reviewed studies published between 2005 and 2013.
“The research demonstrates a consistent relation between violent video game use and increases in aggressive behavior, aggressive [thoughts and emotion] and decreases in prosocial behavior, empathy and sensitivity to aggression,” the report stated.
In an APA news release, task force chairman Mark Appelbaum said that “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.
“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,” he added.
Still, study results have been conflicting. Early in 2014, a study of 3,000 children by researchers at Iowa State University found that frequent exposure to violent video did seem to boost the likelihood of aggressive behavior in children and teens.
However, another 2014 study — this time from Stetson University in Florida — found that between 1996 and 2011 rates of violence among young people fell in the United States, even as video games became more violent over time.
Worries about a connection between video game use and violence spiked in 2012 after Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 children and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Lanza was obsessed with violent video games, and following the massacre some members of Congress called for restrictions on them.
However, the APA panel’s new report concluded that it’s premature to blame video games alone for any rise in a player’s tendency to violence.
“No single risk factor consistently leads a person to act aggressively or violently,” the task force wrote. “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.”
The Entertainment Software Association, a group representing the video game industry, took issue with the findings.
“Numerous medical professionals, researchers, and courts all debunk the fundamental thesis of their argument,” the group said in a statement, CBS News reported. “In tearing down similar faulty research, the U.S. Supreme Court specifically ruled that ‘psychological studies purporting to show a connection between exposure to violent video games and harmful effects on children do not prove that such exposure causes minors to act aggressively.’ We could not state it better.”
However, based on the new report, the APA is calling on video game makers to design products that provide parents with better control over the amount of violence in the games, and to design games that match players’ age and mental development. The APA also called for more research to learn more about the effects of violent video games.
For example, there is a lack of knowledge about whether violent video games have different effects on girls and boys, how such games affect children younger than 10, and how the games affect youngsters’ 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?”
“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,” he concluded.
The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry has more about children and violent video games.