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Do Video Games Influence Violent Behavior?
August 24, 2011 By alisonrg 31 Comments

By:  Roanna Cooper, MA and Marc Zimmerman, PhD, MI-YVPC Director
An op-ed article appeared recently in the The New York Times  discussing the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down California’s law barring the sale or rental of violent video games to people under 18.  The author, Dr. Cheryl Olson,   describes how the proposed law was based on the erroneous assumption that such games influence violent behavior in real life.

------------------------------------------Dr. Olson suggests that the deliberately outrageous nature of violent games, though disturbing, makes them easily discernible from real life and suggests that the interactivity could potentially make such games less harmful.

She raises the question of how these two behaviors can be linked if youth violence has declined over the last several years while violent video game playing has increased significantly during the same period.

This analysis ignores the fact that such variation may be explained by factors other than the link between the two. A spurious variable–a third variable that explains the relationship between two other variables—may explain the negative correlation of video game playing and violent behavior. As one example, socioeconomic status may explain both a decline in violent behavior and an increase in video game playing. More affluent youth have the means and time to buy and play video games, which keeps them safely inside while avoiding potentially violent interactions on the street.  Dr. Olsen also cites several studies that have failed to show a connection between violent video game playing and violent behavior among youth.

This conclusion, however, may not be as clear cut as it appears.
Youth violence remains a significant public health issue.
The decline of youth violence notwithstanding, it remains a significant public health issue that requires attention.Youth homicide remains the number one cause of death for African-American youth between 14 and 24 years old, and the number two cause for all children in this age group. Furthermore, the proportion of youth admitting to having committed various violent acts within the previous 12 months has remained steady or even increased somewhat in recent years (http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/108/5/1222.full.pdf+html).  Although the Columbine tragedy and others like it make the headlines, youth are killed everyday by the hands of another.  A more critical analysis of the link between video game playing and violence is necessary for fully understanding a complex problem like youth violent behavior that has many causes and correlates.

Studies support a link between violent video games and aggressive behavior.
Researchers have reported experimental evidence linking violent video games to more aggressive behavior, particularly as it relates to children who are at more sensitive stages in their socialization.  These effects have been found to be particularly profound in the case of child-initiated virtual violence. * In their book, Violent Video Game Effects on Children and Adolescents, Anderson, Gentile, and Buckley provide an in depth analysis of three recent studies they conducted  comparing the effects of interactive (video games) versus passive (television and movies) media violence on aggression and violence. * In one study, 161 9- to 12-year olds and 354 college students were randomly assigned to play either a violent or nonviolent video game.  The participants subsequently played another computer game in which they set punishment levels to be delivered to another person participating in the study (they were not actually administered).  Information was also gathered on each participant’s recent history of violent behavior; habitual video game, television, and move habits, and several other control variables.  The authors reported three main findings: 1)...
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