THURSDAY, July 19, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- Playing vividly violent video games leads to violent behavior, a new report claims in a finding that instantly upped the volume of the running debate on the issue.
An analysis of 35 studies involving more than 4,000 adults and children shows violent video games "increase aggression in males and females, in children and adults, in experimental and non-experimental settings," say researchers at Iowa State University writing in the September 2001 issue of Psychological Science.
"The magnitude of the effect is about the same as the effect of not wearing a condom increasing the risk of getting HIV," says co-author Brad J. Bushman, a psychology professor at Iowa State.
But Jonathan Freedman, also a psychology professor and an expert on media and violence, has this reaction to the new research: Hold the rhetoric.
"Even assuming there were an effect of playing video games, the effects we are talking about are very diffuse," says Freedman, who is from the University of Toronto. "There is no shred of evidence that anyone has committed a violent crime because of a video game or an act of violence because of a video game."
Nevertheless, the connection exists, Bushman claims.
"Our meta-analysis shows that playing violent video games increased aggressive thought and physical arousal, as measured by systolic and diastolic blood pressure," he says. "People who are aroused are more likely to behave aggressively."
Maybe in the laboratory, responds Freedman, but "laboratory studies are very limited. They don't allow real aggression to occur, so they are attempting to study aggression but are not studying real aggression."
Bushman says the evidence is compelling enough to take action: "The first step is for people to realize that these games are harmful, particularly parents."
But Freedman disagrees: "I would have no objection to having children play these games."
Some individual judgment is needed, says Jeanne B. Funk, a University of Toledo psychology professor and co-author of "Asking the Right Questions in Research on Violent Electronic Games."
"It all depends if you are talking about research or one child in one household," she says.
"Their work focuses on laboratory studies," Funk says. "There is an increase in aggressive behavior after playing a violent game, compared to playing a non-violent game. I don't doubt that it is true."
But she adds, "the effect doesn't necessarily generalize outside the laboratory. It might make someone more aggressive or more hostile for one hour, but what happens when they leave the laboratory? That is where we have a lot to learn. And what about children who are playing two hours a day, every day?"
More study is needed, Funk adds. "We need to have a better way of understanding what things might potentiate aggressive behavior."
What To Do
"If parents let children play violent video games, they can talk to them about the fantasy aspects of the game, about violence in their lives; why there are no simple answers to social problems," Funk advises.
Advice for parents about video games is available at the National Institute on Media and the Family.
And read this special series from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on video games and violence.