ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
President Trump has held a series of White House meetings on gun violence, and the focus of today's was video games. Lawmakers, parent advocates and people from video game companies were invited to talk with the president. The press was not allowed in. Trump has been focused on this subject for a while now. Here's what he said a couple weeks ago.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I'm hearing more and more people say the level of violence on video games is really shaping young people's thoughts.
SHAPIRO: The central question at the heart of this White House meeting is, does playing violent video games turn people into real-life shooters? Douglas Gentile has researched this issue. He's a psychology professor at Iowa State University. Thanks for joining us.
DOUGLAS GENTILE: My pleasure.
SHAPIRO: If you could just begin with the conclusion of your research - if every violent video game disappeared tomorrow, would there be fewer mass shootings?
GENTILE: We don't know the answer to that, but that's because aggression is actually very complicated. It's multi-causal. No one single thing causes it. And when we've had a school shooting, we usually ask the wrong question. We ask, what was the cause? And then we point around at different things such as mental health or violent video games or poverty or whatever. And none of them is it. What is it is when you put them all together. And so would it reduce the risk - yes. How much - we don't know.
SHAPIRO: So if we take a step back from mass shootings and say how much does playing violent video games increase real-life violence and aggression, do we have a clear answer to that?
GENTILE: We have a clear answer when we're talking about aggression. So aggression is any behavior - that could be a verbal behavior, a physical behavior or a relational behavior - that is intended to harm someone else. So if you give someone the cold shoulder, that is aggressive. But that's different from violence, which is only physical and extreme such that if successful, it would cause severe bodily damage or death. And the research on media violence and aggression seems pretty clear - that the more children consume media violence, whether that's in video games, TV or movies, they do become more willing to behave aggressively when provoked.
SHAPIRO: You sort of conflated video games, TV, movies there. In a video game, you're pretending to be the shooter. You're interacting with a virtual world. TV or movies is much more passive. Is there an important distinction there, or is violence violence in media no matter whether it's interactive or passive?
GENTILE: We used to think that video games would have a much larger effect than passive media like TV or movies. But the research has not seemed to bear that out. It seems to be about the same size effect, which is somewhat surprising because they are active, and you are being rewarded for it. But basically what we're coming down to is learning. We can learn from all of these different ways. And it seems we don't learn particularly differently from video games than from TV or movies.
SHAPIRO: Some people have offered a theory that videogames can be catharsis, and expressing violent impulses in a virtual world helps people not express those in the real world. Has that been disproven?
GENTILE: That has been disproven. So how do you memorize a phone number? You repeat it. Does seeing it one more time take it out of your brain? That would be the catharsis idea, right?
SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Right.
GENTILE: But, no, each new time you see it burns it in a little deeper. So in fact, there's no possible way that catharsis can happen, at least not nearly the way people like to talk about it.
SHAPIRO: Do you think the premise of this White House meeting is flawed? I mean, should video games be one focus of this debate over gun violence in America?
GENTILE: I do think it's flawed. I think the problem is that we're seeking a simple solution to a complex problem. And I noticed there are no real aggression researchers at this White House meeting. So we're not even getting the real picture. What we're getting is just a very one-sided and very limited look into only one of the risk factors for aggression.
SHAPIRO: Professor Gentile, thanks very much.
GENTILE: My pleasure.
SHAPIRO: Psychology professor Douglas Gentile of Iowa State University.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.
Playing violent video games can increase aggressive thoughts, feelings and behavior in real life, according to two new studies. Violent video games may be more harmful than violent television and movies because they are interactive and engrossing, and they sometimes even require that the person playing identify with the aggressor.
According to Craig Anderson and his colleagues from universities from around the country, increased exposure to violent video games is associated with higher levels of “aggressive behavior, aggressive cognition, aggressive affect and physiological arousal” as well as a decrease in prosocial behavior or “caring about the welfare and rights of others, feeling concern and empathy for them and acting in ways that benefit others.” While video games remain a relatively new media source, this study found that aggression patterns among youth that play video games mirrors the aggression patterns among youth that watch violent television and movies. This study went on to show that children’s aggressive behavior could be seen shortly after playing the game, as well as in the long term with regular, ongoing game play. The longer that the individual was exposed to the violent video games, the more likely his or her behavior would become violent, both physically and behaviorally.
Jeron Lemmens and his colleagues conducted a six month study to determine if violent video games make male and female teenagers more aggressive. Several previous studies have shown that, on average, boys play more violent video games than girls, but when girls play the same amount they exhibit the same amount of violent behavior-both immediately after playing and in the long term. At the end of the six months, these researchers found that individuals who were labeled as pathological gamers (those whose gaming had a negative impact on their personal and school lives), were more likely to have violent behavior. Lemmens and his colleagues also found that male children who reported more gaming time also showed an increase in physical aggression. This study did not see an increased amount of physical aggression among female children because while females were spending more time gaming, they tended to play fewer violent games than male children. The male children interviewed in this study stated that their favorite games were the ones that included realistic violence.
Violent video games teach kids to practice aggressive solutions to conflict. In the short run, playing a violent video game appears to affect aggression by encouraging a child to think violent thoughts. Over a long period of time, the player learns and practices new aggressive strategies and ways of thinking during the games. As a result he or she becomes more likely to use these strategies when real-life conflicts arise.
Why does this happen? Many violent video games involve learning how to be more effective at destroying the opponent. According to the researchers, this makes video games potentially more dangerous than exposure to violent television and movies, which are known to have substantial effects on aggression and violence.
One problem with the research on violence and video games is that it has mostly relied on self-reporting, that is, teenagers and young adults describing their game playing habits and aggressive behaviors in the past and present. No studies have yet been published where researchers followed kids who play violent video games for a number of years to see how it affects them.
Researchers like L. Rowell believe that violent video games may have an even greater impact on young children based on results from studies looking at young children who watch at lot of violence on television. These days, very few researchers feel comfortable saying violent media, such as television and video games, have no negative effect on children, and most feel it puts them at an increased risk for developing aggressive behavior.
All articles are reviewed and approved by Dr. Diana Zuckerman and other senior staff.
- Anderson CA, Shibuya A, Ihori N, Swing EL, Bushman BJ, Sakamoto A, Rothstein HR, Muniba. Violent Video Game Effects on Aggression, Empathy, and Prosocial Behavior in Eastern and Western Countries: A Meta-Analytic Review. Psychological Bulletin. 2010.
- Sanstock, JW. A Topical Approach to Life Span Development 4th Ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2007. Ch 15. 489-491
- Lemmens JS, Valkenburg PM, Peter J. The Effects of Pathological Gaming on Aggressive Behavior. Journal of Youth Adolescence. 2010.
- Huesmann LR, Moise J, Podolski CP, Eron LD. Longitudinal relations between childhood exposure to media violence and adult aggression and violence. Developmental Psychology. 2003; 35:201-221.