The annual Video Game Report Card came out this week. It’s the thirteenth year for the influential report from the National Institute on Media and the Family, which has consistently criticized the violent nature of some games. This year the Institute gives good grades, saying game makers and retailers are taking effective measure to limit kids’ exposure to violent and inappropriate content.
We asked David Walsh, director of the Institute, to provide us with the research he finds most persuasive in showing that violent games are harmful to children. Here is what he wrote:
The book that I mentioned which gives a good overview of the research is Video Game Effects on Children and Adolescents: Research, Theory and Public Policy by Craig Anderson, Douglas Gentile and Katherine Buckley (Oxford University Press, 2007).
A recent longitudinal and cross cultural study is “Longitudinal effects of violent video games on aggression in Japan and the United States” Pediatrics, (2008) 122, e1067-1072.
A meta-analysis that examines the statistical power of the body of video game research is found in Anderson, C.A. (2004). An update on the effects of playing violent video games. Journal of Adolescence, 27, 113-122.
An example of the brain based research I mentioned is summarized as follows:
Teenagers’ brains are fired up by violent video games, while at the same time areas of the brain associated with self control become subdued, say researchers from the Indiana University School of Medicine.
Dr. Vincent Mathews, head researcher, explained that this study shows, for the first time, that violent video games affect the physiology of the brain and the way it functions. He said the teenagers had increased activity in the amygdala, an area of the brain involved in emotional arousal. “At the same time, they had decreases in activity in parts of the brain which are involved in self-control,” he said.
Video games are big business – in the USA alone sales hit over $10 billion in 2005.
44 teenagers were randomly asked to either play a violent video game or a non-violent one, for half-an-hour, after which they underwent an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging). An fMRI measures changes that take place in the active brain in real time. The teenagers of either group did not differ in age, IQ or gender.
They found that those who had played the violent games had more activity going on in the amygdala, as opposed to the teenagers who played the non-violent games (who did not have more activity there). Those playing the violent games also had lower activity in prefrontal areas of the brain – these areas are associated with self control, inhibition and focus (concentration), compared to the non-violent game players (who did not have lower activity there).
Dr. Mathews presented the findings at the Annual Meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.
“Short-term Effects of Violent Video Game Playing: An fMRI Study”
Vincent Mathews, M.D., Yang Wang, M.D., Andrew J. Kalnin, M.D., Kristine M. Mosier, D.M.D., Ph.D., David W. Dunn, M.D., and William G. Kronenberger, Ph.D