Games such as Grand Theft Auto actually reduce negative behaviors
For years science has theorized that playing violent video games cause players to become aggressive but according to Dr. Christopher J. Ferguson, PhD, associate professor and department chair of psychology at Stetson University and author of “The Suicide Kings” and Dr. Cheryl K. Olson, MPH, SD, psychiatry faculty of Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, and is co-director and co-founder of the Harvard Medical School Center for Mental Health and Media and co-author of the book ‘Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games, and What Parents Can Do” have found just the opposite when it comes to video games and teen violence.
The research team studied 377 children (62% female, mixed ethnicity, mean age 12.93) displaying clinically elevated attention deficit or depressive symptoms on the Pediatric Symptom Checklist. The children were part of an existing large federally funded project that examines the effect of video game violence on youths.
The results did not find an 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.
The team also found a few occurrences in which violent video games had an effect of emotional release on children with elevated attention deficit symptoms. They also found that these games had reduced their aggressive tendencies and bullying behavior.
However, Dr.’s Ferguson and Olson do warn that the 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.
The researchers write “Our results did not support the hypothesis that children with elevated mental health symptoms constitute a “vulnerable” population for video game violence effects. Implications and suggestions for further research are provided.”
Dr. Ferguson stressed “”We found no evidence that violent video games increase bullying or delinquent behavior among vulnerable youth with clinically elevated mental health symptoms.”
However, when it comes to concerns about some young mass homicide perpetrators having played violent video games, he replied “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.”
This study is important due to the ongoing debate of violent video games and violence among teens, especially among those with pre-existing mental health problems. Societal violence includes behavior such as bullying, physical fighting, criminal assaults and even homicide. The news media often draws a link from the playing of violent video games to the perpetrators of school shootings in the United States.
This current study is published in Springer’s Journal of Youth and Adolescence.