Sat. Oct 1st, 2022
Don't assume this kid will become more violent because of the games he plays, the APA warns.
enlarge Don’t assume this kid will become more violent because of the games he plays, the APA warns.

In a statement this week, the American Psychological Association clarified that, despite popular and political suggestions to the contrary, “there is insufficient scientific evidence to support a causal relationship between violent video games and violent behavior.”

The APA’s new resolution on the matter is an update of a 2015 APA resolution that the group said at the time “confirms [the] association between violent video game play and aggression.” But that increase in general aggression cannot and should not be extended to link violent games to violent behavior, despite “many times that members of the media or policymakers have cited that resolution as evidence that violent video games are the cause of violent behavior, including mass shootings,” the APA said this week.

The updated resolution makes this important distinction clear from the start:

The following resolution should not be misinterpreted or abused by violence, such as mass shootings, attributable to violent video game use. Violence is a complex social problem that probably stems from many factors that deserve the attention of researchers, policy makers and the public. Attributing violence to violent video games is scientifically unjustified and distracts from other factors.

“Not all aggression is violence”

The APA’s new guidelines are based on multiple meta-analyses spanning more than two decades of studies that address the link between video games and violence from multiple angles. Across a wide variety of research methods and examples, the APA Task Force says these analyzes demonstrate a small but reliable and well-established causal relationship between exposure to violent video games and aggressive behavior, including “insults, threats, hitting, pushing, pulling hair, biting and other forms of verbal and physical aggression.” These studies also link the use of games to a decrease in “prosocial behavior, empathy, and moral engagement” in children, although the APA warns that “very little research has been done on children under the age of ten.”

But while many studies and press reports use the terms “aggression” and “violence” interchangeably, the APA is clear that current scientific literature “does not focus on deadly violence as a result” of video game use. “All violence, including deadly violence, is aggression, but not all aggression is violence,” the updated APA resolution clarifies.

So the focus on violent video games as a major cause of mass shootings (as many have in recent years) is a distraction from better-established causes of violence, the APA says. “Violence is a complex social problem that likely stems from many factors that deserve the attention of researchers, policymakers and the public,” APA president Sandra L. Shullman said in a statement. “Attribution of violence to video games is scientifically unjustified and distracts attention from other factors, such as a history of violence, which we know from research is an important predictor of future violence.”

“If we see violence as an outcome, I would say that the research at this point is pretty clear that violent games and other media are not at all a cause of violent criminal behavior, even in part,” says Stetson University psychology professor. Chris Ferguson told Ars in 2018 about his years of research on the subject. “We’ve looked at this in a number of studies, taking into account youth violence, bullying, dating violence, behavioral disorders and adult arrests, and we can’t [find] evidence for effects. Research from other labs has mostly found the same thing.”

The APA resolution calls for continued research into the effects of violent video games, especially when it comes to “the persistence of negative outcomes over time.” More research is also needed to determine whether gender, ethnicity, social class and cultural background influence the magnitude of any effects of playing violent games. The group also encourages the ESRB to update its overall ratings to “reflect the levels and characteristics of violence in games.”

By akfire1

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