Long Time Video Game Critic Claims Conclusive Evidence That Violent Video Games Cause Aggression; Conclusive Except That It Isn't…
from the except-for-the-details dept
Well, the back and forth over the impact of violent video games continues. Every so often someone comes out with a research paper, claiming that violent video games are dangerous for kids, but the details never seem to support those exaggerated claims. Studies have shown that kids playing violent video games have more aggressive thoughts while playing the games (uh, duh!) and that they can become desensitized to the violent images on the screen (but not necessarily desensitized to actual violence). Then there are studies that show that kids who play violent video games tend to be emotional about those video games (again, duh). But none of that suggests the video games actually lead to increased violence or any increased risk of violence. They just suggest that kids get into video games. And, for all the claims of violent video games increasing youth violence, it seems rather damning that as violent video games have increased in popularity, incidents of youth violence have dropped. Other studies have actually suggested on-screen violence may actually decrease real violence, by acting as an outlet.
So it seems a bit ridiculous for anyone — especially a professor who has been solidly on one side of the debate for many years, to stand up and claim that he has conclusively shown that violent video games make kids more “aggressive” (found via Slashdot). First, note the choice of words: not violent, but aggressive. Iowa State psychology professor Craig Anderson, who has already staked his reputation on saying that violent video games have a negative impact on kids, isn’t about to back down. He claims that he went through 130 studies and concluded that the support is unequivocal:
“We can now say with utmost confidence that regardless of research method — that is experimental, correlational, or longitudinal — and regardless of the cultures tested in this study [East and West], you get the same effects,” said Anderson, who is also director of Iowa State’s Center for the Study of Violence. “And the effects are that exposure to violent video games increases the likelihood of aggressive behavior in both short-term and long-term contexts. Such exposure also increases aggressive thinking and aggressive affect, and decreases prosocial behavior.”
Of course, reality is a bit more fuzzy. The same journal that is publishing Anderson’s new paper is also publishing a commentary from other researchers who disagree and suggest that Anderson has a pretty bad selection bias problem. But the biggest problem — as we noted above, is that all of these “violent video games are bad” studies seem to show incredibly weak effects that don’t appear to be significant in any meaningful way. As the commentary shows:
Psychology, too often, has lost its ability to put the weak (if any) effects found for VVGs on aggression into a proper perspective. In doing so, it does more to misinform than inform public debates on this issue.
Meanwhile, just last year, two Harvard Medical School professors also went through a whole bunch of different studies on violent video games and came to the exact opposite conclusions as Anderson did. It found little actual evidence to support Anderson’s claims, and found significant problems with research suggesting there was a serious link between violent video games and actual violence. Among that report’s findings:
- In the last 10 years, video games studies have been overwhelmingly popular compared to studies on other media.
- Less than half of studies (41%) used well validated aggression measures.
- Poorly standardized and unreliable measures of aggression tended to produce the highest effects, possibly because their unstandardized format allows researchers to pick and choose from a range of possible outcomes.
- The closer aggression measures got to actual violent behavior, the weaker the effects seen.
- Experimental studies produced much higher effects than correlational or longitudinal studies. As experimental studies were most likely to use aggression measures of poor quality, this may be the reason why.
- There was no evidence that video games produce higher effects than other media, despite their interactive nature.
- Overall, effects were negligible, and we conclude that media violence generally has little demonstrable effect on aggressive behavior.
Which report seems more credible?