Just when you thought it was safe to play video games again, a new report out in the journal Pediatrics claims to cinch a link between violent video games and increased hostility in young children and teenagers. It's authors aren't wasting any time making the media rounds, either. Speaking to The Washington Post this morning, the report's lead author Craig Anderson, an aggression researcher who teaches psychology at Iowa State University and runs its Center for the Study of Violence, said: "We now have conclusive evidence that playing video games has harmful effects on children and adolescents."
I interviewed one of the report's co-authors back in early 2007, Doug Gentile (see parts one, two, three, four), after Medical News Today reported on three new studies published at that time by Anderson, Gentile, and others. The studies appeared to offer correlational evidence between violent video game exposure and "unhealthy" aggressive behavior in children and adolescents. The results were compiled in the book Violent Video Game Effects on Children and Adolescents.
The three new longitudinal studies (repeated measurements taken from the same subjects at different points in time) behind the Pediatrics article -- two from Japan, one from the United States -- challenge common assumptions that because violent crimes are less common in Japan where violent video games are popular, violent video games are therefore not harmful. The study's results turned out to be similar for both the US and Japan, leading Anderson to conclude that
When you find consistent effects across two very different cultures, you're looking at a pretty powerful phenomenon... One can no longer claim this is somehow a uniquely American phenomenon.
According to the Pediatrics article, which I have a copy of, the objective was to test "whether high exposure to violent video games increases physical aggression over time in both high- (United States) and low- (Japan) violence cultures." The study's authors hypothesized going in that playing violent video games would increase physical aggression later in the school year, and claim to control for both gender and historical physical aggressiveness.
The study's results: Playing games habitually early in the school year predicted later aggression, even with gender and prior aggression controls in place. There was also a correlation between the amount of violent video game playing and the level or amount of physical aggressiveness.
The study's conclusion: "The research strongly suggests reducing the exposure of youth to this risk factor." Translation: Kids should play less violent video games.
Don't go jumping off any bridges just yet, though. While I'm reasonably certain this sort of article has to pass minimum peer review muster before it's accepted for publication, the real scrutiny doesn't start until it's out there, and that begins now. In fact stand by, because I've got my feelers out to various places and should have much more to say on this shortly.
Update 1: Looks like the fur's already flying. GamePolitics picked up on the story as well, and noticed a letter by a Texas A&M researcher. Christopher Ferguson, a psychology professor, has called Anderson's study into question, noting "numerous flaws" and calling into question "the meaningfulness of the study."
Update 2: Entertainment Consumer Association (ECA) president Hal Halpin has reacted to the study with the following media statement:
For the better part of the past decade we--game consumers, makers, sellers and creators--have been waiting for the results of an unbiased, longitudinal and comprehensive study to be done which will inform us about the potential harmful effects of entertainment products on our children. Unfortunately, with the report published in the latest issue of Pediatrics, we remain wanting.
One of the ways in which our stance is likely very different from others in the discussion on the subject is that the ECA would encourage more and better research on the matter. The problem has been, and apparently continues to be, that the agenda of the researchers supersedes our want and need for inclusiveness of all media--not just games--for the overtly sensationalistic spin that will inevitably be employed--to the exclusion of music and movies. We remain optimistic that longitudinal research that is truly comprehensive, objective and inclusive will be performed and shared, but sadly that day has not yet come.