It's a hotly debated chicken-and-egg question: do violent video games innately appeal to more aggressive people, or do people become more aggressive as a result of playing these games? Consensus has never been determined and studies weigh up possibilities for both schools of thought, but one thing seems clear - children who play violent video games are at an increased risk of exhibiting antisocial behaviors themselves.
The study observed around 3,000 Singaporean children aged eight to 17 over a three-year period. They were evaluated based on the amount of parental supervision they received, how often they said they played video games on weekdays and weekends, their favorite games, and the level of violence in each of the games. They were also asked about their attitudes to violence, answering questions such as whether or not they would strike somebody if provoked, if they thought violence was ever justified and if they ever daydreamed or fantasized about hitting others. The questions were asked each year as the study progressed. Those who played more violent games were found statistically more likely to harbor violent fantasies and to excuse violent behavior in real life.
"[Violent gaming] basically changes a child's or adolescent's personality in some sense, so that they start to see their world in a more aggressive way," said study co-author Craig Anderson, PhD, director of the Center for the Study of Violence at Iowa State University. "They start to expect people to behave more aggressively toward them, and they tend to see aggressive solutions as being more appropriate for solving problems."
However, though the figures did show a slight increase in violent tendencies among the children that played more video games, the numbers were small enough for Anderson to reassure parents and caregivers.
"Playing a violent video game isn't going to take a healthy kid who has few other risk factors and turn him into a school shooter," he said. "But it is a risk factor that does drive the odds for aggression up significantly."
His sentiment was echoed by Richard Gallagher, director of the Parenting Institute at the New York University Child Study Center. "These kinds of games are not benign," said Gallagher. "They might not cause all kids to get involved with negative and aggressive behavior, but they do push them more in that direction."
The study was published in JAMA Pediatrics.