Violent video game effects on aggression, empathy, and prosocial behavior

The evidence strongly suggests that exposure to violent video games is a causal risk factor for increased aggressive behavior, aggressive cognition, and aggressive affect and for decreased empathy and prosocial behavior.

A meta-analytic review (PDF).

  1. Could someone look at this steamy-fresh pile of academic obfuscation and give me the short version? Have they made a conclusive distinction between video games are played by violent people and video games produce violent people? How does one construct a study that can really tell the difference?

    These studies seem to further cloud the line of causation rather than reveal it.

  2. I’ve yet to read the entire paper, but I have scanned the abstract, outcome variables, and conclusion…and there are a few things that stand out to me:

    (1) The first thing I noticed is that this is the work of Anderson and Bushman, two psychologists who’ve been beating the “games-and-violence” drum for over a decade. That doesn’t mean the research is flawed, necessarily — but it’s important to know that these guys have made names for themselves by taking this controversial viewpoint…and that sort of professional bias can be telling.

    (2) The experimental outcomes cited here are so detached from the real world, and so minor, that it’s amazing this is even a debate at all. The results get reported as “this videogame made Timmy more aggressive and less empathetic” But what doesn’t get widely reported is that “aggressive” means “Timmy reported heightened feelings of anger on his self-assessment” and “less empathetic” means “Timmy didn’t share as many jellybeans with his partner” (seriously, that’s one of the empathy markers cited in this meta review). These are still statistically significant changes, apparently, but that might not even mean there’s much variance in the pre- and post-assessment (from the casual observer’s point of view). Someone with better statistical chops than me could probably parse those numbers and see just how significant the effect really is.

    It just annoys me that they say, from these variables, “videogames increase aggression and decrease empathy.” That makes it sound like gamers are going around punching people in the face and laughing at terminally ill people. If all it really means is fewer jellybeans are getting donated, then I’m not going to lose any sleep over it.

  3. Studies trying to prove that videogames make people violent make people violent.

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