There have been long-standing concerns in the field of psychology regarding the impact of media on violent behavior. It seems that every time there is another act of random violence or a shooting, this issue gets discussed in the media. There are many concerns about media violence beyond what we observe in the research data, and for that reason we encourage parents to explore their own attitudes about media violence.
The data are clear that children experience far more media violence than they did in the past through television, video games, movies, music videos, and the print media. Our reading of the data suggests that there are clear correlations between exposure to media violence and attitudes about violent behavior. However, there are limited data regarding an increase in violent behavior. The data do strongly suggest that there are at- risk children who are more vulnerable to displaying violent actions after repeated media exposure. Experimental studies conducted in the laboratory suggest that exposure to violent media reduces empathy and prosocial behavior. Much of this research is supported by social learning theory, which describes the importance of modeling and reward for human behavior.
Developmental issues are also important. Younger children have less understanding of media portrayal of violence. Many studies have demonstrated how media violence activates specific regions of the brain that are associated with emotional and behavioral regulation.
To learn more about this important topic, check out these straightforward, scholarly articles below that reflect the current state of the science. You can also check out the link to our complete bibliography on the science of games and learning or go to the Center for Media and Child Health Research base for more extensive information.
Gives an overview of the research that has been done regarding the impact of media violence. as well as offers clinical interventions that might reduce the impact this can have on the behavior of children and adolescents.
Ferguson, C. J., Olson, C. K. (2014). Video game violence use among “vulnerable” populations: The impact of violent games on delinquency and bullying among children with clinically elevated depression or attention deficit symptoms. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 43(1), 127-136.
The hypothesis that violent video games would increase delinquent behavior in “vulnerable” groups such as children with elevated ADHD and/or depressive symptoms was not supported in this study. These games did not elevate violent behavior in this population.
In a series of papers, Dr. Gentile describes how media violence can increase the violent tendencies of children, in addition to many of the positive aspects of video-game play.
This article describes and links a General Aggression Model (GAM) to violence in teens and violent video games. “Research suggests that violent video games influence aggressive behavior, aggressive affect, aggressive cognition, and physiological arousal. The purpose of this review is to integrate the GAM with developmental changes that occur across adolescence.” (Kirsh, 2003)
Lamb, R., Annetta, L., Hoston, D., Shapiro, M., & Matthews, B. (2018). Examining human behavior in video games: The development of a computational model to measure aggression. Social Neuroscience, 13(3), 301-317.
“The authors of this study propose the use of a new class of tools developed via computational models to allow examination of the question of whether there is a relationship between violent video games and aggression. The purpose of this study is to computationally model and compare the General Aggression Model with the Diathesis Mode of Aggression related to the play of violent content in video games. A secondary purpose is to provide a method of measuring and examining individual aggression arising from video game play.” (Lamb et al., 2018).
“Although playing action video games can improve several cognitive functions, the intensive interaction with the exciting, challenging, intrinsically stimulating and perceptually appealing game environments may adversely affect other functions. [Researchers] investigated whether a relationship existed between action video gaming and sustained attention performance in a sample of 45 Italian teenagers.”