Gaming and Media Violence
With the creation of millions of apps designed for use on smartphones, there is a connection between smartphone use and gaming. Gaming has also become a huge part of children’s lives, particularly with the release and rise in popularity of Fortnite. Here we exam gaming as it relates to aggressive behavior, prosocial behavior, cognitive development, success in school and addiction.
Game developers use neurological and psychological theories to keep users playing.
Some employ tactics used in gambling (ie-the ability to buy better chances or tools to win a game).
Games like Fortnite engage players by constantly rewarding them for completing tasks. Completion of such tasks results in a hit of dopamine in the user’s brain which makes them feel good and want to continue playing. Dopamine affects the brain’s reward system and triggers the habit system.
Successful games, like Fortnite, are developed to keep players in “The Zone” or “Constant Flow.” This happens when play occurs in the perfect place between boredom and anxiety resulting in complete immersion in the game.
Some psychologists say games like Fortnite are addicting and are treating patients for Gaming Disorder and Addiction. The majority play Fortnite.
Fortnite has been sited as a reason for divorce in more than 300 cases across the world.
With 27% of teens admitting to playing Fortnite in class, gaming contributes to declining grades and missed work.
Some psychologist and neuroscientist don’t agree that gaming constitutes a disorder but say these games exploit the brain’s vulnerabilities, like playing poker.
red flag: When gaming starts to replace healthy activities and/or negatively impacts school, work, health, relationships and/or sleep.
The research on how violent video games negatively affect our brains is very clear. In 24 reviewed studies of 17,000 participants ages 9-18, violent video games was related to aggression and the affect was significant.
A separate meta-analysis examined effects from over 130 research reports based on over 130,000 participants. On the basis of these analyses, the authors concluded that violent video game play is positively associated with aggressive behavior, aggressive cognition, and aggressive affect, as well as negatively associated with empathy for victims of violence and with prosocial behavior.
We found that most major medical groups have conducted or analyzed studies that link violent media exposure to aggressive behavior, as well as nightmares, desensitization to violent and fear of being harmed.
A review of the literature also found a link between violent media content and decreases in prosocial behavior, empathy, and moral engagement.
Preliminary studies into the effects of interactive violent media (such as video games) suggests an even stronger effect than exposure to violent content on TV and in movies.
Every major medical and psychological groups has issued policy statements outlining the risks of violent media exposure and recommends children not be exposed to violent content.
Most major medical groups recommend children NOT be exposed to ANY violent content.
From AAP, “In the case of children's exposure to violent media, the science clearly confirms what we already suspect: what children watch and play changes how they behave.
Kids who experience more violence in their virtual worlds—television, movies, and video games—are more likely to display aggressive thoughts, aggressive behavior, and angry feelings in the real world. See the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) policy statement, Virtual Violence. Furthermore, first-person shooter games, in which killing others is the central theme, are not appropriate for any children.”
Virtual Reality and violent video games are used to treat PTSD. The idea is that repeated exposure contributes to a decreased response to the stimuli and thus a decrease in distress. This supports the theory that excessive violent media exposure contributes to desensitization of violence.
Some studies suggest that the use of nonviolent video games can help kids improve executive functioning, cognitive and social skills.
Research, Articles and Policy Statements
American Academy of Pediatrics
Following are conclusion statements taken directly from studies conducted by AAP or policies released by AAP.
STUDY: MEDIA VIOLENCE
"Exposure to violence in media, including television, movies, music, and video games, represents a significant risk to the health of children and adolescents. Extensive research evidence indicates that media violence can contribute to aggressive behavior, desensitization to violence, nightmares, and fear of being harmed… Correlational and experimental studies have revealed that violent video games lead to increases in aggressive behavior and aggressive thinking and decreases in prosocial behavior. Recent longitudinal studies designed to isolate long-term violent video-game effects on American and Japanese school-aged children and adolescents have revealed that in as little as 3 months, high exposure to violent video games increased physical aggression. Other recent longitudinal studies in Germany and Finland have revealed similar effects across 2 years."
"Media Violence," Pediatrics, Nov. 1, 2009
“CONCLUSIONS. These longitudinal results confirm earlier experimental and cross-sectional studies that had suggested that playing violent video games is a significant risk factor for later physically aggressive behavior and that this violent video game effect on youth generalizes across very different cultures. As a whole, the research strongly suggests reducing the exposure of youth to this risk factor.”
POLICY STATEMENT: WHERE (AAP) STANDS: CHILDREN’S PROGRAMMING
“Although the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not hold media solely responsible for violence in our society, we believe that violence in television, movies, or video games has a clear effect on the behavior of children and contributes to the frequency with which violence is used to resolve conflict. Entertainment media also distort reality on matters such as drugs, alcohol, tobacco, sexuality, and family relations.
We encourage parents to manage both the quantity and the quality of their family's screen time. Parents can create a healthy media diet and lead by example. Children's TV programming is supported by commercial advertisers whose primary motivation is to sell products. Many young children are not prepared to distinguish between programs and the commercials that interrupt them, nor do they fully understand that commercials are designed to sell them (and their parents) something.
Together, parents, broadcasters, and advertisers must be held responsible for the media that children consume. The AAP strongly supports legislative efforts to improve the quality of children's programming. We urge parents to limit and monitor the amount of screen time (including television, videos, computer, and video games) for their children, to monitor what their children are watching, and to watch media with them to help them learn from what they see.”
POLICY STATEMENT (AAP COUNCIL OF COMMUNICATIONS AND MEDIA): VIRTUAL VIOLENCE
“A sizable majority of media researchers both in pediatrics and psychology believe that existing data show a significant link between virtual violence and aggression.
“Furthermore, first-person shooter games, in which killing others is the central theme, are not appropriate for any children.”
American Psychological Association - Task Force on Violent Media
“In keeping with the American Psychological Association’s (APA) mission to advance the development, communication, and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society, the Task Force on Violent Media was formed to review the 2005 APA Resolution on Violence in Video Games and Interactive Media and the related literature. The goal of the task force was to ensure that APA’s resolution on the topic continues to be informed by the best science currently available and that it accurately represents the research findings directly related to the topic.”
This is a long report. A summary can be found on page 16.
SUMMARY AND RESOLUTION: RESOLUTION ON VIOLENT VIDEO GAMES. ADOPTED BY THE APA COUNCIL OF REPRESENTATIVES IN AUGUST 2015
"Scientific research has demonstrated an association between violent video game use and both increases in aggressive behavior, aggressive affect, aggressive cognitions and decreases in prosocial behavior, empathy, and moral engagement."
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
"FACTS FOR FAMILIES:" VIDEO GAMES AND CHILDREN: PLAYING WITH VIOLENCE
"There is growing research on the effects of videogames on children... Studies of children exposed to violence have shown that they can become: ‘immune’ or numb to the horror of violence, imitate the violence they see, and show more aggressive behavior with greater exposure to violence. Some children accept violence as a way to handle problems. Studies have also shown that the more realistic and repeated the exposure to violence, the greater the impact on children. In addition, children with emotional, behavioral and learning problems may be more influenced by violent images. Children and adolescents can become overly involved and even obsessed with videogames. Spending large amounts of time playing these games can create problems and lead to... aggressive thoughts and behaviors."
"Children and Video Games: Playing with Violence," Pediatrics, Aug. 2006
American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, American Psychological Association, American Medical Association American Academy Family Physicians, American Psychiatric Association.
CONGRESSIONAL PUBLIC HEALTH SUMMIT: "JOINT STATEMENT ON THE IMPACT OF ENTERTAINMENT VIOLENCE ON CHILDREN"
"There are some in the entertainment industry who maintain that 1) violent programming is harmless because no studies exist that prove a connection between violent entertainment and aggressive behavior in children, and 2) young people know that television, movies, and video games are simply fantasy. Unfortunately, they are wrong on both counts.
"At this time, well over 1000 studies - including reports from the Surgeon General's office, the National Institute of Mental Health, and numerous studies conducted by leading figures within our medical and public health organizations - our own members - point overwhelmingly to a causal connection between media violence and aggressive behavior in some children. The conclusion of the public health community, based on over 30 years of research, is that viewing entertainment violence can lead to increases in aggressive attitudes, values and behavior, particularly in children.
"Its effects are measurable and long-lasting. Moreover, prolonged viewing of media violence can lead to emotional desensitization toward violence in real life.
"The effect of entertainment violence on children is complex and variable. Some children will be affected more than others. But while duration, intensity, and extent of the impact may vary, there are several measurable negative effects of children's exposure to violent entertainment. These effects take several forms.
- "Children who see a lot of violence are more likely to view violence as an effective way of settling conflicts. Children exposed to violence are more likely to assume that acts of violence are acceptable behavior.
- "Viewing violence can lead to emotional desensitization towards violence in real life. It can decrease the likelihood that one will take action on behalf of a victim when violence occurs.
- "Entertainment violence feeds a perception that the world is a violent and mean place. Viewing violence increases fear of becoming a victim of violence, with a resultant increase in self-protective behaviors and a mistrust of others.
- "Viewing violence may lead to real life violence. Children exposed to violent programming at a young age have a higher tendency for violent and aggressive behavior later in life than children who are not so exposed.
"Although less research has been done on the impact of violent interactive entertainment (video games and other interactive media) on young people, preliminary studies indicate that the negative impact may be significantly more severe than that wrought by television, movies, or music. More study is needed in this area, and we urge that resources and attention be directed to this field"
Sharon Maxwell, PhD
“Today, we need to develop ways as a family and culture to protect our kids from environments that harm them. We need to ask the parents of our kids’ friends what types of games they have at home. We need to inform our kids that there are games that encourage people to be mean and violent and, even though they are “just games,” it’s never okay to have “fun” killing and humiliating others. We can be clear that, in the same way we wouldn’t want them to play at a house where people act that way, we don’t want them to play those kinds of games.”
Douglas Gentile, PhD
Dr. Gentile is one of the world’s leading researchers on video games and addiction. His research show 8.5% of children’s gaming habits show signs of addiction.
Summary: “Here, six experts in the field shed light on our current understanding of the positive and negative ways in which playing video games can affect cognition and behaviour, and explain how this knowledge can be harnessed for educational and rehabilitation purposes. As research in this area is still in its early days, the contributors of this Viewpoint also discuss several issues and challenges that should be addressed to move the field forward.”
Although dozens of studies have documented a relationship between violent video games and aggressive behaviors, very little attention has been paid to potential effects of prosocial games. Theoretically, games in which game characters help and support each other in nonviolent ways should increase both short-term and long- term prosocial behaviors. We report three studies conducted in three countries with three age groups to test this hypothesis. In the correlational study, Singaporean middle-school students who played more prosocial games behaved more prosocially. In the two longitudinal samples of Japanese children and adolescents, prosocial game play predicted later increases in prosocial behavior. In the experimental study, U.S. undergraduates randomly assigned to play prosocial games behaved more prosocially toward another student. These similar results across different methodologies, ages, and cultures provide robust evidence of a prosocial game content effect, and they provide support for the General Learning Model.
Dr. Gentile and Jo Frost, “Supernanny,” teamed up to investigate if kids are desensitized by violent video games and how these video games affect their empathy and willingness to be helpful. Here you can watch the boys playing the video games, their physiological responses and the interviews that follow.
SUMMARY: In the study, the heart rates of the boys who played violent video games did not go up when shown violent news footage. These boys were desensitized to the violence. In contrast, the heart rates of the boys who played non-violent video games went up an average of 11 beats per minute showing these boys were affected by the violence. 40% of the boys who played violent video games were helpful compared to 80% of the boys who played nonviolent video games. In summary, “there’s never one cause for a child’s behavior but this study (and others) support the notion that violent video games do negatively affect children’s empathy and willingness to help.”
ARTICLE / VIDEO: ADDICTION IN THE DIGITAL AGE
This article and video addresses internet gaming addiction and one family’s experience. Dr. Gentile talks about why addiction happens and why this is a growing concern. He also offers suggestions for parents.
Richard Freed, PhD
Dr. Richard Freed is a clinical psychologist who has become increasingly more involved in treating and researching technology effects of children. His website contains a wealth of information, including a blog, articles and excerpts from his books, "Wired Child: Reclaiming Childhood in a Digital Age." Below are some useful links to his site:
“Jane Brody’s recent New York Times‘ article, “Screen Addiction Is Taking a Toll on Children,” set off a firestorm of comments (more than 600 at last count). Many of those commenting said they see for themselves children’s unnatural attachment to digital devices. However, others questioned the addictive potential of technology, asking “Where’s the research?” Here, I’ll explain the science and tragedy of child tech addiction.”
ARTICLE: TECH INDUSTRY’S WAR ON KIDS
“Unbeknownst to but a few, tech makers use powerful psychological manipulation tools to pull kids away from the real world to instead live their lives on phones, social media, and video games. The results are tragic for this generation of children and teens.”
Cris Rowan, BScOT, BScBi, SIPT, CEO Zone’in Programs Inc.: 10 Reasons why children under 12 should not play violent video games