Do Video Games Cause Violent Behavior? More Then 200 Academics Think Not

The APA recently released findings that stated there while there was not a “single” cause for aggression; violent video games can play a role. The APA set up a team to go over studies and papers that were published on the subject between 2005 and 2013.

The paper reports, “The research demonstrates a consistent relation between violent video game use and increases in aggressive behaviour, aggressive cognitions and aggressive affect, and decreases in pro-social behaviour, empathy and sensitivity to aggression.”

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The research for the paper was done primariliy though meta-analysis. It looked at the results of a number, hundreds, of studies and tried to find patterns and parallels. “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,” said task force chairman Mark Appelbaum.

However, the research team’s findings have not been met with open arms. A group of more than 200 academics made up of “media scholars, psychologists and criminologists” have released an open letter to the APA opposing the findings. They suggest that the methodology of the study is inherently unsound. Much of the surveyed papers and studies that the APA used have not been peer reviewed, the open letter criticizes the methodology of the taskforce’s study and findings.

The notion that violent video games may cause aggression is a strongly contested one. It has historically been a scapegoat for violent behavior particularly in adolescents and teens. And while people don’t deny an effect of games, many deny the correlation between violent video games and outright violence:

“I fully acknowledge that exposure to repeated violence may have short-term effects – you would be a fool to deny that – but the long-term consequences of crime and actual violent behaviour, there is just no evidence linking violent video games with that,” says Dr Mark Coulson, one of the signatories of the letter told BBC. “If you play three hours of Call of Duty you might feel a little bit pumped, but you are not going to go out and mug someone.”

The rating system for video games can also be tricky. The US goes by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) and begins with “eC” (Early Childhood) and progresses to “AO” (Adults 18+ Only). The rating system however has been controversial from the beginning with critics saying that the ESRB has gotten more lax on their “M” (Mature) rating and the games have gotten progressively more violent without receiving an AO rating.

In the letter to the APA the writers acknowledged that youth violence is currently “at a 40-year low” and that the “statistical data are simply not bearing out this concern and should not be ignored.”

The letter ends with a striking call for better data and research, “Policy statements based on inconsistent and weak evidence are bad policy and over the long run do more harm than good, hurting the credibility of the science of psychology.” With an overwhelming number of signatories, their message should not be ignored.

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