MONDAY, Nov. 3 (Health.com) — About 90% of Americans ages 8–16 play video games, and they spend about 13 hours a week doing so—even more if they’re boys. Now a new study suggests that virtual violence may make kids more aggressive in real life.
According to the study in the journal Pediatrics, children and teens who reported playing violent video games had more aggressive behavior months later than their peers who did not play the games.
The researchers specifically tried to get to the root of the chicken-or-egg problem: Do children become more aggressive after playing video games or are aggressive kids more attracted to violent games?
It’s a murky—and controversial—issue. Many studies have linked violence in TV shows and video games to violent behavior. In fact, many states have tried to restrict minors’ access to games rated M for mature, but the video game industry, as well as free-speech activists, have often successfully challenged the proposed restrictions in court.
In the new study, Craig A. Anderson, PhD, and his colleagues at Iowa State University, in Ames, looked at the ways that children and teen’s video game habits at one point in time related to their behavior three to six months later.
The study included three groups: 181 Japanese students age 12 to 15; 1,050 Japanese students age 13 to 18; and 364 Americans age 9 to 12.
The U.S. children listed their three favorite games and how often they played them. In the younger Japanese group, the researchers looked at how often the children played five different violent video game genres (fighting action, shooting, adventure, among others). In the older Japanese group, researchers gauged the violence in the teens’ favorite game genres and the time they spent playing them each week.
The Japanese groups rated their own behavior in terms of physical aggression, including violent acts such as hitting, kicking, or getting into fights with other kids; the U.S. children rated themselves too, but the researchers also considered reports from their peers and teachers.
In every group, those exposed to more video game violence did become more aggressive over time, as opposed to their peers who had less exposure. This was true even after the researchers took into account how aggressive the children were at the beginning of the study, a strong predictor of future bad behavior.
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