The report, based on data from Singapore, found that
kids who often play violent video games end up showing more
aggression later on, and more often believe hitting is acceptable,
than kids who don't play them.
Parental monitoring of gaming didn't seem to lessen the association.
"Just like children's bodies can be affected by what they eat, their
brains can be affected by what they repeatedly do," Douglas A.
Gentile told Reuters Health in an email. He worked on the study at
Iowa State University in Ames.
Experts still debate whether there is a connection between violent
video games and later aggressive behavior, and if so, how the
The three-year study included about 3,000 kids ages eight to 17.
Each year, researchers asked the kids how often they played video
games on weekdays and weekends, what three games were their
favorites and how much violence was in those games.
They also asked the kids if they would hit someone else when
Another set of questions addressed the kids' feelings about violence
in general, whether they thought hitting was okay in some situations
or if they ever daydreamed about hurting people.
Kids also reported how much their parents were involved in
controlling video game time.
Children who played more violent video games tended to have more
fantasies about violence and to think violence in real life was more
acceptable, according to results published in JAMA Pediatrics.
The effect was statistically small, but might be a serious issue for
individual parents worried about their kids, Gentile said.
The relationship seemed to be the same for boys and girls, for kids
with and without a history of aggression and for kids with involved
and uninvolved parents.
In studies conducted in the U.S., parental involvement has made a
difference, so the culture of Singapore may have something to do
with these results, Michele Ybarra, of the Center for Innovative
Public Health Research in San Clemente, California, told Reuters
"One reason may be that Singaporean parents don't vary as much as
Americans — they all tend to be involved, so it's harder for our
statistical processes to see what effect it has," Gentile said.
Younger children seemed to have a larger increase in aggressive
thoughts linked to video game play than older kids.
It's tough for parents to know what to do based on this report,
according to Christopher Ferguson, who researches the effects of
media on behavior at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida.
"This is not a very good study," Ferguson told Reuters Health. "This
data set has been criticized before."
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The study design, which followed kids over time and relied on
their own reports, is similar to a study that the U.S. Supreme Court
rejected in 2011 as part of its ruling against banning the sale of
violent games to minors, he said.
When researchers ask kids to report their own feelings and
actions over time, certain kids may be more likely to admit to
thoughts or actions, and that can skew the data, he said. He was
surprised that for kids of such a young age, their parents weren't
factored into the study.
"The research we have now has been very inconsistent," in terms of
video games and aggression, Ferguson said. "There may be a
connection to relatively minor acts of aggression, the equivalent of
kids sticking their tongues out at each other."
There is no evidence of a connection to bullying, fighting or school
shootings, he said.
But violent video games are a divisive area of research, said
Ybarra. She thinks the new study does accurately characterize the
relationship between video games, thoughts and actions, even though
it relies on kids' self-reports.
"It depends on who you talk to," Ybarra said. "Some people think
that there's a growing consensus (on video game-related violence),
others think there's growing debate."
She believes there is a growing consensus that violent games may be
tied to aggression, and that violent thoughts might be the
intermediate step in the relationship.
"It seems odd to me that you would say there's no problem with
showing kids violent media," she said.
Ybarra agreed that it's hard to draw any real recommendations from
this particular study. But, "it's probably a good idea to do what
you can to limit your kids' exposure to violent video games," she
JAMA Pediatrics, online March 24, 2014.
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