A new report from an American Psychological Association task force has suggested that there is a link between playing violent video games and aggression. However, there is not enough evidence to suggest that this link extends to criminal violence or delinquency.

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Although many are concerned with the possible influence of violent video games on children, the researchers state that very few studies in their review included children.

The task force states their research demonstrates a consistent relation between violent video game use and aggressive behavior and aggressive cognition.

In addition, violent video game use was linked to decreases in prosocial behavior, empathy and sensitivity to aggression.

Chair of the task force Mark Appelbaum, emeritus professor in the Psychology Department at the University of California-San Diego, states that the link between violence in video games and increased aggression in players is one of the most studied and best established in the field.

“Scientists have investigated the use of violent video games for more than 2 decades,” he explains, “but to date, there is very limited research addressing whether violent video games cause people to commit acts of criminal violence.”

The task force reviewed four meta-analyses that had been conducted since the American Psychological Association (APA) Council of Representatives last adopted a resolution on violent video games back in 2005. These meta-analyses involved analysis of 170 research articles.

Prof. Appelbaum believes that the review’s findings are robust. “While there is some variation among the individual studies, a strong and consistent general pattern has emerged from many years of research that provides confidence in our general conclusions,” he says.

However, he states that, as with most areas of science, the picture presented by this research is more complex than is usually included in news coverage and other information prepared for the general public.

Violent video games have long been a subject of concern within the media, especially with the prominence that violent franchises such as Grand Theft Auto and Call Of Duty have enjoyed in recent years. As this relatively new form of media becomes more prevalent, so too have worries about its influence, particularly on young children.

Fast facts about video games
  • The average age of a video gamer is 34 years
  • In 2010, the average gamer spent 8 hours a week playing video games
  • Parents report always or sometimes monitoring the video games their children play 97% of the time
  • Around 40% of all gamers are female.

The APA state that more than 90% of children in the US play video games, with this figure increasing to around 97% among adolescents aged 12-17.

Despite this, the researchers suggest that the available research was limited to the extent that their findings may not be applicable to children:

“Implications of this research are often applied to children, yet relatively few of the studies used in the meta‐analyses reviewed included children or adolescents younger than age 16 as participants in the research.”

The researchers also suggest that information on the effects of video games on different genders and the effects of games for the duration of a child’s development is presently lacking, and these gaps in knowledge warrant further study.

They state that no single risk factor consistently leads a person to act aggressively or violently and that it is an accumulation of multiple risk factors that typically leads to aggressive or violent behavior. “The research reviewed here demonstrates that violent video game use is one such risk factor,” they conclude.

For Prof. Appelbaum, researchers should begin investigating how violent video game use interacts with other recognized risk factors.

“What researchers need to do now is conduct studies that look at the effects of video game play in people at risk for aggression or violence due to a combination of risk factors,” he says. “For example, how do depression or delinquency interact with violent video game use?”

In response to the findings of the task force, the APA have called for the video games industry to develop games that allow for increased parental control over the amount of violence they contain.

The new resolution adopted by the APA’s Council of Representatives recommends that the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) refines its video game rating system and also encourages games developers to create games appropriate for the age and psychological development of their users.

Earlier this month, Medical News Today reported on a new game that had been developed for people with schizophrenia. The “brain training” app was found to improve the memory of its users and help them work and live independently.