Do Violent Video Games Cause Violent Behavior?

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By: Christopher Mumpton

When tragedy hits, it’s a natural human habit to look for blame and to try to figure out why.

But are games to blame?

Look At The Studies

Before diving in I want to state that I am neither for nor against the notion the violent video games cause violent behavior, the point of this article is to offer information and facts regarding this topic.

In a society where parents spent less time with their children it can be said that the media and technology can play a bigger role in a child’s psyche than past generations (and with the huge boost in technology that allows for it). Yet, many questions still arise regarding whether playing a game actually impact a person’s actions and affect their personality in a permanent way. To try and answer this question we need to take a look at studies that have been conducted on this topic.

To determine the effect of violent video games on children there are two types studies that can be performed: experimental and observational. Without going into the nitty gritty of experimental research (we will a little bit) we can have a brief discussion about some studies and what they may suggest.

Basically an experimental study will take a group of people and have them perform tasks and measure the results in a certain time period. A observational study is more of a statistical analysis where the experimenter can give a large group of people tests or procure data that is already available and try to find a correlation. Observational studies are normally done when the independent variable (what they want to test) cannot be directly tested for logistical or ethical reasons.

A Correlation

The first study I would like to present is “ Violent Video Games, Delinquency, and Youth Violence: New Evidence”. This observation study took a large number of volunteers and interviewed them about what type of games they play, what mental or social behaviors do they display, and how delinquent the participate is.

After cross examination the study shows a positive correlation between delinquency and playing violent video games. This study was important because it ruled out a correlation between violence and antisocial behavior. However, this study provides no proof that violent games causes violent behavior.

In The Long Run

“In general, these results support previous concerns expressed by scholars that the influence of violent video games, whether negative or positive, may be far more minimal than previously had been thought” (Ferguson 2012)

Now let’s talk about the 2012 study “Not Worth the Fuss After All? Cross sectional and Prospective Data on Violent Video Fame Influences on Aggression, Viseospatial Cognition and Mathematics Ability in a Sample of Youth”.

That’s a long name but this observational study took into account many crucial control variables (such as delinquency risk factors, antisocial personality, clinically relevant aggression, family violence, bullying, etc), and as a result came back with some insight on a multitude of behaviors.

Specifically this study took a large group of kids and gave them questionnaires regarding their most frequently played video games and how often they played them. Based on the ESRB scale they determined how violent the games are. After 1 year the researchers followed up with a call to the subjects and asked about delinquency, rule breaking, aggression, civic behavior, math skills, and bullying.

The only correlations found were in civics and math skills. It seems that violent video games increased civic behaviors and decreased math skills. These 2 correlations were small and could have been affected by outside factors.

In an observational study such as this, it is hard to draw conclusions since there are many variables to take into account and outside factors that may impact the results. However, this study helps to illuminate one thing: video games are not affecting kids as much as we might have thought.

Many experiments that offer correlations between aggression and violence use measures that are considered ad-hoc. This means that they are not standardized measures and are constructed for the purpose of experimentation.  Bias can also result from the different types of influence that a video game offers. They can be full of fast-paced action and competitiveness which can be causing aggression instead of the actual violence itself. (Ferguson 2012)


“This finding suggests that the level of violence in video games may be less influential in elevating aggression than previously believed.” (Adachi 2011)

Now let’s look at an experimental study: “The Effect of Video Game Competition and Violence on Aggressive Behavior: Which Characteristic Has the Greatest Influence?”.

This study conducts two experiments on university students. The first compares violent and non-violent games when both are non-competitive. The second compares competitive vs non-competitive games when both games are non-violent. The results came back that violence did not increase aggression but competitiveness did.

The measure of aggression was the hot sauce test. The participants were given a questionnaire supposedly filled out by a student down the hall about how much they like hot foods. The participant was then told to create a sauce for this said person using different kinds of hot sauces. If the participant purposely created a hot sauce that was much hotter than the questionnaire suggested they liked, then this was measured as more aggressive. Also this experiment uses a small sample size.

Again, it’s hard to make valid conclusions with so many outside factors, but the correlation between aggression and competitive games was so high that it’s hard to ignore. Of course the aggression measured was also immediately after the experiment was done and cannot be linked to aggressive behavior in any permanent way.

What About Young Children?

“Anderson and Bushman (2002) hypothesized that violent video games influence behavior by promoting aggressive beliefs and attitudes, thus creating aggressive schema, aggressive behavioral scripts, and aggressive expectations.”

Many studies follow the same setup and contain the same bias and flaws. This is why trying to slap violent video games as a cause for violence is so complicated. All studies I’ve mentioned cannot directly link aggression with violent video games, however there are studies that suggest younger kids are affected more dramatically.

Some studies observed the behavior of children after being exposed to violent games and media. Normally they came to a conclusion that young kids act more aggressively after playing violent games. For example, “Effects of Playing Videogames on Children’s Aggressive and Other Behaviors (1988)”. These studies are responsible for the common ESRB ratings that are printed on games.

“Gentile et al. (2004) claim it has an additive effect. This means that those whom already are high in certain factors, mainly hostility, are much more at risk to become more aggressive due to influence by violent video games.”

Many psychologists and physiologists agree that children’s minds are more susceptible to being altered by media and video games in general. Children that are more intelligent and are doing well in school were also found to be less susceptible to the effects of media and video games.

It’s also been determined that violent individuals are more prone to playing violent games. These challenges the notion that violent games cause aggression and can also be said that aggression causes individuals to play violent games. Are you confused yet? Well you aren’t alone because the results of all these experiments are conflicting and there is no concrete evidence to determine if video games are actually melting the minds of our youth.

The Benefits

“…being immersed in these gaming environments teaches players an essential basic lesson: Persistence in the face of failure reaps valued rewards (Ventura, Shute, & Zhao, 2013)”

        But before you round up all of your teenagers games and toss them out, be aware that games may have good effects as well. In fact there are more concrete studies that claim that games can increase many core mental functions.

Three psychologists, Isabela Granic, Adam Lobel, and Rutger C. M. E. Engels have summarized many experiments involving the benefits of video games. From their efforts it has been determined that playing shooter games can benefit cognitive, motivational, emotional, and social behaviors. They found that shooter games increase spatial skills and attention allocation, puzzle games increase problem solving, cooperative games increase prosocial helping behaviors, and games in general increase creativity, motivation, and emotional regulation.

Their research is subject to the some of the same flaws (e.g. correlation without causation), however mental benefits can be measured far more easily than the abstract of violence and aggression.

In Conclusion

        When dealing with aggression and violence, the observational studies have huge amount of outside factors that can skew the results, and experimental studies lack the observation of long term effects as they can only measure short term behavior. Nature vs nurture has long been a debate for so many social issues so take it from past conclusions: it’s normally a mix of both.

Just follow these simple guidelines:

  • Keep your kids away from violence, especially if they seem to be predisposed to be aggressive.
  • Follow the ESRB guidelines when picking out a game for your child.
  • Talk about emotions and violence with your children.
  • Children that are underperforming in school may be more susceptible to the effects of violence in video games.


— Work Cited Below —

Schutte, N. S., Malouff, J. M., Post-Gorden, J. C., & Rodasta, A. L. (1988). Effects of Playing Videogames on Children’s Aggressive and Other Behaviors (1988)(Vol. 18, Ser. 5, pp. 454-460, Publication No. 0021-9029). doi:10.1111/j.1559-1816.1988.tb00028.x

Adachi, P. J., & Willoughby, T. (2011). The Effect of Video Game Competition and Violence on Aggressive Behavior: Which Characteristic Has the Greatest Influence? Retrieved February 24, 2018, from

DeLisi, M., Vaughn, M. G., Gentile, D. A., Anderson, C. A., & Shook, J. J. (2012). Violent Video Games, Delinquency, and Youth Violence: New Evidence. Retrieved February 24, 24, from

Granic, I., Lobel, A., & Engels, R. C. (2014, January). The Benefits of Playing Video Games. Retrieved February 24, 2018, from

Ferguson, C. J., Garza, A., Jerabeck, J., Ramos, R., & Galindo, M. (2012, July 27). Not Worth the Fuss After All? Crosssectional and Prospective Data on Violent Video Game Influences on Aggression, Visuospatial Cognition and Mathematics Ability in a Sample of Youth. Retrieved from Worth the Fuss.pdf

Do Violent Video Games Cause Violent Behavior?
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Do Violent Video Games Cause Violent Behavior?
When tragedy hits, it’s a natural human habit to look for blame and to try to figure out why. But are games to blame?
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About the Author

Chris Mumpton
AButton Games Administrator

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