Violence & Video Games: A Weak, Meaningless Correlation
Do violent video games lead to greater violence amongst those who play them?
While the actual answer is complex, the simple answer is easy — of course not. Just take a look at the graph at the overall decline of youth violence rates to the left (and the larger version below). Even as video game sales across the board have increased, rates of violence amongst youths has declined.
But a 2010 meta-analysis (Anderson et al.) on violent video games (VVGs) can’t be ignored. So let’s take a look at what they found.
Long-time readers of World of Psychology know that in research, it’s not always the results that paint the picture. It’s the amount of manipulations and rationales you provide for designing the study in the specific manner you did that shed light on your likely findings — long before a single datapoint is collected.
So whenever a set of researchers go outside the normative practice of standard meta-analytic procedures, well, a few red flags are going to be set off.
The first decision you have to make in a meta-analysis — that is, a study of previous research on a given topic — is what studies will you actually look at in your analysis and what studies will you ignore? This is referred to as your “inclusion” and “exclusion” criteria, and for most researchers, it’s pretty straight-forward.
Anderson et al. (2010)1 arguably began stacking the deck here, by including unpublished studies they gleaned haphazardly from other research and database searches. They also sub-divided their analysis into two groups — one that included 129 studies that did not meet a set of “best practices” for this analysis, and another set of what they defined as higher-quality research. (Who defined these “best practices?” The researchers did, of course!)
Violent video games might have a small correlation with aggressive behavior, emotions and thoughts, but it’s a weak and ultimately meaningless connection that makes little difference in the real world.
Anderson, CA et al. (2010). Violent Video Game Effects on Aggression, Empathy, and Prosocial
Behavior in Eastern and Western Countries: A Meta-Analytic Review. Psychological Bulletin, 136, 151-173.
Bushman, BJ, Rothstein, HR, Anderson, CA. (2010). Much Ado About Something: Violent Video Game Effects and a School of Red Herring: Reply to Ferguson and Kilburn. Psychological Bulletin, 136, 182-187.
Ferguson, CJ & Kilburn, J. (2010). Much Ado About Nothing: The Misestimation and Overinterpretation
of Violent Video Game Effects in Eastern and Western Nations: Comment on Anderson et al. (2010). Psychological Bulletin, 136, 174-178.
- This is the same study that Keith Ablow recently referred to as a ‘recent study.’ [↩]
- Well, are these “best practices” criteria at least objective? The researchers would have you believe they are, since they relied on “two independent raters” to code the studies. But then let’s look at some of the criteria themselves:
“…compared levels of the independent variable were appropriate for testing the hypothesis…”
How is “appropriate” defined?
“… outcome measure could reasonably be expected to be influenced by the independent variable if the hypothesis was true…”
“Reasonably be expected” by whom? What is the measure of “reasonableness” used herein? Undefined. [↩]