Playing violent video games is linked to increased aggression, according to a new task force report from the American Psychological Association (APA).
But little evidence exists to determine whether that aggression leads to criminal violence or delinquency, the task force noted.
“The research demonstrates a consistent relationship 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,” the report reads.
“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, Ph.D., chairman of the task force.
“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.”
According to the report, no single risk factor consistently leads a person to act aggressively or violently.
“Rather, it is the accumulation of risk factors that tends to lead to aggressive or violent behavior,” it continues. “The research reviewed here demonstrates that violent video game use is one such risk factor.”
For their report, the task force conducted a review of the research 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 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 certain criteria to answer specific research questions, a standard approach to summarizing large bodies of research to explore a field of research, the researchers explained. This resulted in 170 articles, including 31 that 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.”
The task force’s conclusions has led the APA to call on the video game industry to design games that include increased parental control over the amount of violence.
APA’s Council of Representatives also adopted a resolution 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.”
The resolution also urges developers to design games that are appropriate to players’ 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 new resolution replaces a 2005 resolution on the same topic.
The task force identified a number of limitations in the research that require further study, including 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?”