Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Video Games Linked to Aggression

• March 18, 2010 • 10:27 AM

A newly published meta-analytic review states emphatically that players of violent video games are at greater risk of engaging in aggressive behavior.

The scientific consensus warns of a clear and present danger. A few dissenting voices — dubbed “deniers” by one frustrated researcher — insist the threat is overstated. The media tends to frame the issue in inconclusive terms, leaving the public confused and somewhat skeptical.

We are talking, of course, about the psychological impact of violent video games.

The current issue of the journal Psychological Bulletin addresses this issue with no fewer than four articles, beginning with a new meta-analytic review credited to eight researchers from the U.S. and Japan. They found unambiguous evidence that such games are a “causal risk factor” for increased aggression and decreased empathy among the people who play them.

Their analysis “yielded strong evidence that playing violent video games is a significant risk factor for both short-term and long-term increases in physically aggressive behavior,” writes Iowa State University psychologist Craig Anderson, the paper’s lead author. This connection was seen “regardless of research design or conservativeness of analysis,” and was true for both men and women, older and younger players, and those in Eastern and Western nations.

“Concerning public policy, we believe that debates can and should finally move beyond the simple question of whether violent video game play is a causal risk factor for aggressive behavior; the scientific literature has effectively and clearly shown the answer is yes,” Anderson and his colleagues conclude. “Instead, we believe the public policy debate should move to questions concerning how best to deal with this risk factor.”

Not so fast, reply Christopher Ferguson and John Kilburn of Texas A&M, who did their own meta-analysis last year and concluded “the influence of violent video games on serious acts of aggression or violence is minimal.” They write that Anderson’s team is guilty of “overestimating and overinterpreting the influence of violent video games on aggression,” and add that this “exaggerated focus” distracts us from addressing “much more important causes of aggression, including poverty, peer influences, depression, family violence, and gene-environment interactions.”

But L. Rowell Huesmann of the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research finds the new meta-analysis quite convincing. In yet another paper, he writes that it proves “beyond a reasonable doubt that exposure to video game violence increases the risk that the observer will behave more aggressively and violently in the future.”

“‘Increases the risk’ of course, does not mean ‘determines,’” Huesmann adds. “The probability of behaving aggressively is increased for individuals in the population exposed, but for many exposed individuals, no detectable change in behavior will occur. This does not diminish the concern we should have about violent video games as a public health threat.”

So why is there not complete agreement among researchers? “Among those psychologists who have actually done empirical research on the topic of media violence or video game violence, and who understand the theory of observational learning, there is great consensus,” Huesmann writes. The disbelief of some, he suggests, may be fueled “by our American distaste for anyone telling us what we should look at or play.”

But is that instinctive antipathy toward censorship of any sort blinding us to a growing problem?

Sign up for our free e-newsletter.

Are you on Facebook? Become our fan.

Follow us on Twitter.

Add our news to your site.

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 23 • 4:00 AM

Musicians Are Better Multitaskers

New research from Canada finds trained musicians more efficiently switch from one mental task to another.


October 22 • 4:00 PM

The Last Thing the Women’s Movement Needs Is a Heroic Male Takeover

Is the United Nations’ #HeForShe campaign helping feminism?


October 22 • 2:00 PM

Turning Public Education Into Private Profits

Baker Mitchell is a politically connected North Carolina businessman who celebrates the power of the free market. Every year, millions of public education dollars flow through Mitchell’s chain of four non-profit charter schools to for-profit companies he controls.


October 22 • 12:00 PM

Will the End of a Tax Loophole Kill Off Irish Business and Force Google and Apple to Pay Up?

U.S. technology giants have constructed international offices in Dublin in order to take advantage of favorable tax policies that are now changing. But Ireland might have enough other draws to keep them there even when costs climb.


October 22 • 10:00 AM

Veterans in the Ivory Tower

Why there aren’t enough veterans at America’s top schools—and what some people are trying to do to change that.


October 22 • 8:00 AM

Our Language Prejudices Don’t Make No Sense

We should embrace the fact that there’s no single recipe for English. Making fun of people for replacing “ask” with “aks,” or for frequently using double negatives just makes you look like the unsophisticated one.


October 22 • 7:04 AM

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.


October 22 • 6:00 AM

How We Form Our Routines

Whether it’s a morning cup of coffee or a glass of warm milk before bed, we all have our habitual processions. The way they become engrained, though, varies from person to person.


October 22 • 4:00 AM

For Preschoolers, Spite and Smarts Go Together

New research from Germany finds greater cognitive skills are associated with more spiteful behavior in children.


October 21 • 4:00 PM

Why the Number of Reported Sexual Offenses Is Skyrocketing at Occidental College

When you make it easier to report assault, people will come forward.


October 21 • 2:00 PM

Private Donors Are Supplying Spy Gear to Cops Across the Country Without Any Oversight

There’s little public scrutiny when private donors pay to give police controversial technology and weapons. Sometimes, companies are donors to the same foundations that purchase their products for police.


October 21 • 12:00 PM

How Clever Do You Think Your Dog Is?

Maybe as smart as a four-year-old child?


October 21 • 10:00 AM

Converting the Climate Change Non-Believers

When hard science isn’t enough, what can be done?



October 21 • 8:00 AM

Education Policy Is Stuck in the Manufacturing Age

Refining our policies and teaching social and emotional skills will help us to generate sustained prosperity.


October 21 • 7:13 AM

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you’ve (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.


October 21 • 6:00 AM

Fruits and Vegetables Are About to Enter a Flavor Renaissance

Chefs are teaming up with plant breeders to revitalize bland produce with robust flavors and exotic beauty—qualities long neglected by industrial agriculture.


October 21 • 4:00 AM

She’s Cheating on Him, You Can Tell Just by Watching Them

New research suggests telltale signs of infidelity emerge even in a three- to five-minute video.


October 21 • 2:00 AM

Cheating Demographic Doom: Pittsburgh Exceptionalism and Japan’s Surprising Economic Resilience

Don’t judge a metro or a nation-state by its population numbers.


October 20 • 4:00 PM

The Bird Hat Craze That Sparked a Preservation Movement

How a fashion statement at the turn of the 19th century led to the creation of the first Audubon societies.


October 20 • 2:00 PM

The Risk of Getting Killed by the Police If You Are White, and If You Are Black

An analysis of killings by police shows outsize risk for young black males.


October 20 • 12:00 PM

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they’re motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.


October 20 • 11:00 AM

My Dog Comes First: The Importance of Pets to Homeless Youth

Dogs and cats have both advantages and disadvantages for street-involved youth.


October 20 • 10:00 AM

Homophobia Is Not a Thing of the Past

Despite growing support for LGBT rights and recent decisions from the Supreme Court regarding the legality of same-sex marriage, the battle for acceptance has not yet been decided.


October 20 • 8:00 AM

Big Boobs Matter Most

Medical mnemonics are often scandalous and sexist, but they help the student to both remember important facts and cope with challenging new experiences.


Follow us


My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you've (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they're motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.

How to Water a Farm in Sandy Ground

Physicists investigate how to grow food more efficiently in fine-grained soil.

Unlocking Consciousness

A study of vegetative patients closes in on the nature of consciousness.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.