In the wake of a high school shooting that killed 17, politicians are wondering whether video games lead to increased violence even though research has debunked the correlation.
President Donald Trump is planning a meeting at the White House on Thursday afternoon with video game industry representatives to address “violent video-game exposure and the correlation to aggression and desensitization in children.”
Also invited were members of Congress, an author of a book linking mass killings to violent video games, a represenative from the Media Research Center and the president of the Entertainment Software Rating Board.
“The video games, the movies, the Internet stuff, it’s so violent,” the president said, mentioning his 11-year-old son, Barron Trump. “I look at some of the things he’s watching and I say, how is that possible?” ‘
But though the games are violent, researchers studies haven’t found a correlation between playing the games and exhibiting violent behavior in real life.
In research in 2004 by the U.S. Secret Service, only one-eighth of school shooters regularly played violent video games.
In the study, more than half of the attackers demonstrated some interest in violence, through movies, video games, books and other media. “However, there was no one common type of interest in violence indicated. Instead, the attackers’ interest in violent themes took various forms,” according to the report.
Also, researchers at the University of York in Britain found no evidence that video games make players more violent. More than 3,000 participants participated in the study.
Video game learning involves exposing players to concepts, including violence in a game, that makes those concepts easier to use in “real life.” This is known as “priming.” Researchers found video game concepts do not “prime” players to behave in certain ways and the increased realism of violent video games also doesn’t necessarily increase aggression in game players.
“If players are ‘primed’ through immersing themselves in the concepts of the game, they should be able to categorize the objects associated with this game more quickly in the real world once the game had concluded,” David Zendle, from the University’s Department of Computer Science, said in a university release in January.
In one study, participants played a game in which they were a car avoiding collisions with trucks or a mouse avoiding being caught by a cat.
“Across the two games we didn’t find this to be the case. Participants who played a car-themed game were no quicker at categorizing vehicle images, and indeed in some cases their reaction time was significantly slower,” Zendle said.
In another, an experiment compared player reactions to two combat games. One used “ragdoll physics” for realistic character behavior and one that did not. Researchers didn’t find more violent word associations.
A American Psychological Association task force in 2015 found video game play is linked to increased aggression in players. However, no sufficient evidence exists about whether the link extends to criminal violence or delinquency.
“The research demonstrates a consistent relation between violent video game use and increases in aggressive behavior, aggressive cognitions and aggressive affect and decreases in pro-social behavior, empathy and sensitivity to aggression,” says the report of the APA Task Force on Violent Media. The task force’s review was the first in the field to examine the breadth of studies.
“Scientists have investigated the use of violent video games for more than two decades but to date, there is very limited research addressing whether violent video games cause people to commit acts of criminal violence,” said Dr. Mark Appelbaum, task force chairman. “However, the link between violence in video games and increased aggression in players is one of the most studied and best established in the field.”
“No single risk factor consistently leads a person to act aggressively or violently,” the report said. “Rather, it is the accumulation of risk factors that tends to lead to aggressive or violent behavior. The research reviewed here demonstrates that violent video game use is one such risk factor.”
Last year, the American Psychological Association Media Psychology division released a policy statement requesting that politicians stop making the claims.
“Journalists and policy makers do their constituencies a disservice in cases where they link acts of real-world violence with perpetrators’ exposure to violent video games or other violent media,” the statement said. “There’s little scientific evidence to support the connection, and it may distract us from addressing those issues that we know contribute to real-world violence.”
One day after the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin said in a radio interview on WHAS in Louisville that video games are creating a “culture of death,” and they are “garbage. It’s the same as pornography.”
“There are video games, that yes, are listed for mature audiences, but kids play them and everybody knows it and there’s nothing to prevent the child from playing them, that celebrate the slaughtering of people,” he said.
In their book Moral Combat: Why the War on Video Games Is Wrong, Patrick M. Markey, a professor of psychology at Villanova University, and Christopher J. Ferguson, a professor at Stetson University, disputed views like those expressed by Bevin.
“Discounting the absurdity of linking these outcomes to school shootings, given the dire concerns expressed by politicians you might guess that playing violent video games increase these minor forms of aggression by around 40 or 50 percent,” they wrote in an article on Feb.16 for Rolling Stone. Even if you are a bit skeptical you might guess at least a 10 percent effect. It turns out — you are wrong. On average, this type of research finds that, at best, only 0.4 percent of the variation in minor forms of aggression can be explained by video games with more recent studies suggesting the number might be closer to zero.”
They noted that these false claims are “a defensive reaction to distract society from considering gun control.”
They noted that when violent video games, including Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto are first released, homicides decrease.
However, retired Lt. Col. Dave Grossman has written two books noting the link: On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society and Assassination Generation: Video Games, Aggression, and the Psychology of Killing.
He is a former Army Ranger and West Point psychology professor.
“Bottom line: From a military and law enforcement perspective, violent videogames are ‘murder simulators’ that train kids to kill,” he said in January 2013 article in Variety, one month after the killing at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. “They act just like police and military simulators, providing conditioned responses, killing skills and desensitization, except they are inflicted on children without the discipline of military and police training.”
He said the juvenile mass murderers have one thing in common: “They all dropped out of life and filled their lives with nothing but violent movies and violent video games. The sickest video games and the sickest movies are very, very sick indeed. And the sick, sick kids who immerse themselves in this ‘entertainment’ are very sick indeed.”
By Allen Cone