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APPLIED DEVELOPMENTAL SCIENCE, 13(4), 188–198, 2009
Copyright # Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 1088-8691 print=1532-480X online
DOI: 10.1080/10888690903288748

M-Rated Video Games and Aggressive or Problem
Behavior Among Young Adolescents
Cheryl K. Olson, Lawrence A. Kutner, Lee Baer, Eugene V. Beresin, Dorothy E. Warner, and Armand M. Nicholi II
Massachusetts General Hospital

This research examined the potential relationship between adolescent problem behaviors and amount of time spent with violent electronic games. Survey data were collected from 1,254 7th and 8th grade students in two states. A ‘‘dose’’ of exposure to Mature-rated games was calculated using Entertainment Software Rating Board ratings of titles children reported playing ‘‘a lot in the past six months,’’ and average days per week of video game play. Analyses were conducted using simultaneous logistic regression for binary outcome variables, and simultaneous multiple linear regression for continuous outcome variables, controlling for a series of potential confounders. M-rated game dose predicted greater risk for bullying (p < .01) and physical fights (p < .001), but not for delinquent behaviors or being a victim of bullies. When analyzed separately, these associations became weaker for boys and stronger for girls.

Video and computer games have become a fixture of
21st century childhood. A Kaiser Family Foundation
(KFF) survey (Roberts, Foehr, & Rideout, 2005) found
that on an average day, half (52%) of children aged 8 to
18 played games on a console or handheld player, and
one-third (35%) played games on a computer. In 2006,
just over half of games designed for sale at retail outlets
were rated ‘‘E’’ (deemed suitable for ‘‘Everyone’’) by the industry-sponsored Entertainment Software Rating
Board (ESRB, 2006). However, a substantial minority
This research was supported by Grant No. 2003-JN-FX-0078
awarded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The sponsor had no role in study design; collection, analysis, and interpretation of the data; the writing of the report; or the decision to submit the paper for publication.

We thank Jason Almerigi, Sarah M. Hertzog, Jane R. Littmann, George C. Nitzburg, Molly R. Butterworth, and Catherine C. Garth for assistance with data collection and/or analysis; Richard M. Lerner and Jacqueline Lerner for their contribution to survey design; Michael S. Jellinek, Chester M. Pierce, and Jerrold F. Rosenbaum for their contributions to research scope and design; and Danielle DeLuca for assistance with preparation of the manuscript. Address correspondence to Cheryl K. Olson, Center for Mental Health and Media, Massachusetts General Hospital, Wang 812

Parkman Street, Boston, MA 02114. E-mail: cheryl_olson@hms.
harvard.edu

were rated as not appropriate for children under 13:
23% were rated ‘‘T’’ (Teen—may be suitable for ages 13þ) and 8% were rated ‘‘M’’ (Mature—may be
suitable for ages 17þ), most often due, at least in part,
to violent content. The KFF study asked children in
grades 7 to 12 whether they had ever played four popular video games. The top choice, by 65% of respondents, was the M-rated Grand Theft Auto series.
With advances in game technology, the depiction of
violence and blood can be increasingly realistic.
Researchers and policymakers have raised concerns that
exposure to game violence could be a risk factor or trigger for aggressive or violent behavior (Funk, 2005). Some hypothesize that violent games could be more
influential than savage television content, by increasing
identification with aggressors through active participation, and rewarding the repetition of violent behavioral sequences (Gentile & Anderson, 2003).
A number of states have introduced laws that would
block sales of M-rated electronic games (or games containing variously defined heinous or inappropriate violence) to children under 18;...
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