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New study rekindles debate over violent video games



A new study published in the March issue of Psychological Bulletin, the journal of the American Psychological Association, has once again raised the issue of violent video games and their impact on the people who play them.

Craig Anderson of Iowa State University led a team that analyzed existing studies from the U.S., Europe and Japan. The researchers found that exposure to violent video games was associated with aggressive behavior, aggressive cognition and aggressive "affect". They also found that the violence desensitizes users and is associated with a lack of empathy and a lack of "prosocial" behavior.

The 130 studies that were included in the review covered more than 130,000 gamers from elementary school age to college. The authors claim that the results of the review hold "regardless of research design, gender, age or culture."

However, the new findings were the subject of immediate criticism. Christopher Ferguson, an associate professor at Texas A&M, observed that the effects found in the study "are generally very low." He added that the study contained numerous flaws, which he said overestimated the influence of violent games on aggression.

In a prepared statement, Michael D. Gallagher, president of the Entertainment Software Association, suggested that links between violent video games and aggressive behavior had been thoroughly debunked by earlier research. In particular, a study funded by the U.S. Department of Justice had found that "the conclusion that video games lead to social isolation and poor interpersonal skills, are drawn from bad or irrelevant research, muddleheaded thinking and unfounded, simplistic news reports."

While standing firmly behind the study's findings, Anderson admitted that video games were unlikely to be the only factor in developing a violent personality.  "If you have a child with no other risk factors for aggression and violence and if you allow them to suddenly start playing video games five hours to 10 hours a week, they're not going to become a school shooter."

But he notes that video game violence is one risk factor that is relatively easy for parents to do something about. "Any game that involves killing or harming another character in order to advance is likely to be teaching inappropriate lessons to whoever is playing it."



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