In a debate that has been raging for nearly two decades, the latest research suggests the impact of violent video games has been overstated.
In the new study, Drs. Christopher Ferguson and Cheryl Olson discovered violent video games such as ‘Mortal Kombat,’ ‘Halo’ and ‘Grand Theft Auto’ did not cause high-risk teens (those with symptoms of depression or attention deficit disorder) to become aggressive bullies or delinquents.
In fact, in the study published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, researchers found that the playing the video games actually had a very slight calming effect on youths with attention deficit symptoms — and helped to reduce aggressive and bullying behavior.
Ferguson, associate professor of psychology and criminal justice at Texas A&M International University,
and Olson studied 377 American children, on average 13 years of age, from various ethnic groups who had clinically elevated attention deficit or depressive symptoms. The children were part of an existing large federally funded project that examines the effect of video game violence on youths.
The study is important in light of ongoing public debate as to whether or not violent video games fuel behavioral aggression and societal violence among youths, especially among those with pre-existing mental health problems.
Societal violence includes behavior such as bullying, physical fighting, criminal assaults and even homicide. And the news media often draws a link from the playing of violent video games to the perpetrators of school shootings in the United States.
Ferguson and Olson’s findings do not support the popular belief that violent video games increase aggression in youth who have a predisposition to mental health problems.
The researchers found no association between the playing of violent video games and subsequent increased delinquent criminality or bullying in children with either clinically elevated depressive or attention deficit symptoms.
Their findings are in line with those of a recent Secret Service report in which the occurrence of more general forms of youth violence were linked with aggressiveness and stress rather than with video game violence.
Although Ferguson and Olson warned that their results could not be generalized to extreme cases such as mass homicides, they strongly advocate for a change in general perceptions about the influence of violent video games, even within the context of children with elevated mental health symptoms.
And, despite the fear that violent video games may have instigated horrific behaviors by high-risk teens to senselessly take innocent lives, the evidence does not support the apprehension.
Regarding concerns about some young mass homicide perpetrators having played violent video games, Ferguson said, “Statistically speaking, it would actually be more unusual if a youth delinquent or shooter did not play violent video games, given that the majority of youth and young men play such games at least occasionally.”