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Do video/computer games really effect childrens behaviour?

Updated on January 12, 2013

A lot of controversy has been raised over the increased amount of violence in video games in recent years. With games such as Grand Thief Auto being berated on the news, and games such as ManHunt 2 being banned all together (even more games have been banned in Australia). I wondered what exactly was going on, violence in the media is nothing new so why now has all this appeared on the news.

In this hub I have tried to sum up the psychological research done into the effect of video games on children. This topic has been one which has psychologists divided over results and courses of action.

Video games and computers causing anti-social behaviour

ANDERSON has done recent relevant research.

Experimental studies have found short term increases in levels of physiological arousal, hostile feelings and aggressive behaviour following sessions of violent game play compared to non-violent game play.

Arousal is measured by blood pressure and heart rate, and hostility by self-report measures. Aggressive behaviour cannot be measured directly (this is not permitted on ethical grounds). Instead, participants blast each other with high levels of white noise (a random, multi-frequency sound).

Student participants blasted their opponents with white noise for longer and rated themselves higher on a hostility scale after playing a violent ‘first person shooter game’ compared to those who played a slow paced puzzle game.


Correlation studies use surveys to identify patterns of video/computer game use and aggressive feelings and behaviour. Over 600 adolescents were studied, it was found that time spent playing violent video and computer games was positively correlated with aggressive feelings, arguments with teachers and incidence of physical fights.

Even children with lower levels of trait hostility (those with less aggressive personalities) who spent more time playing violent video and computer games were more likely to get into physical fights than children with higher levels of hostility who played fewer violent games.


Longitudinal studies of the long term effects of video and computer games are rare. 430 7-9 year old children were surveyed at two points in the school year. Children who had high exposure to violent video and computer games became more verbally and physically aggressive and less pro-social (as rated by themselves, their peers and their teachers). This suggests that repeated exposure to violent video and computer games not only increases aggressive behaviour, but also decreases pro-social helpful behaviours.


Meta-analyses have found a consistent link between violent video and computer game play and aggressive behaviour. This association appears to hold for both adults and children. Violent video and computer games tend to become more violent as time goes on so research would expect to find larger effects with newer studies and this is indeed the case. Earlier studies found smaller effects than more recent studies.

EVALUATION: This is a difficult area to research for various reasons...


Experimental studies –

+ Investigate causal relationships rather than just correlations.

- Only measure short term effects not long term effects.

- Measures of aggression are artificial so may not apply to real life situations...

(However, studies have shown that people giving higher blasts of white noise in the laboratory are also more likely to be physically aggressive in the real world.)

Correlation studies –

+ Overcome the main weakness of experimental studies because they can use a range of real-world measures of aggression.

+ Can also be used to measure long term effects.

- Causality cannot be determined.

Longitudinal studies –

+ Can study short and long term effects in individual participants using a range of real-world measures of aggression.

- P’s may be exposed to other forms of media violence (e.g. on TV) during the course of the study, meaning that the effect from violent game exposure alone is uncertain.

General Methodological issues-

- Sampling bias (gender/culture).

- Ethical issues.

- Demand characteristics in surveys.

Publication bias –

This occurs when articles with positive results are selected for publication in greater proportion than those which report negative results. As a result, published research may present a biased view of all the studies carried out. Ferguson (2007) analysed 17 studies published between 19995 and 2007. Once corrected for publication bias, the studies provided no evidence for the hypothesis that violent gaming was associated with higher levels of aggression.

Distinguishing between violent and non-violent games –

Many studies use violent and non-violent games that are not particularly different from one another. Often they are not matched on potentially confounding dimensions such as frustration or excitement. It could be the excitement rather than the violence levels which is causing increased aggressive behaviour.

Individual differences –

People with a more aggressive personality type may engage in a more aggressive style of game-playing. Unlike exposure to violent content in television and films, the same game can present different content to different players on the basis of how they choose to play. For example, more sensation-seeking players can activate game features to show more gore and use more gruesome weapons.

Most individuals may be unaffected by exposure to violence, but a few individuals may be affected.

Video games and computers causing positive behaviour

Gentile et al (2009) conducted three studies in three countries with three age groups, to test whether video games in which characters help each other increased both short-term and long term pro-social behaviour. Findings showed that participants who had been assigned to playing pro-social games were more helpful towards a fellow student in a later task, than participants who had played a violent video game. Pro-social game playing was related to pro-social behaviour over a three to four month period.

Gentile et al conclude that since video games can have positive and negative effects, parents should monitor their child’s game playing to ensure that games with maximum benefits are played. However, this might be difficult to achieve when there is clearly peer pressure to play certain games that friends have recommended.


Research has found a link between video games and computer use and obesity in young people. However, more recent developments in video and computer games promote physical activity and therefore may go some way to reversing the effects of a sedentary lifestyle. However, whilst video games like Wii sports offer a way to get people more active, it has been argued that they are not a replacement for traditional forms of exercise.

Research has shown that children burn off four times as many calories when doing the real sport rather than just playing the video game of that sport. Although, one advantage of virtual sports games is that they can develop confidence in people to try something new, improving co-ordination and rule knowledge, this might in turn encourage them to try the real thing.


There is evidence to suggest that computer use has had positive effects on children leading to better communication skills. It is estimated that 88% of adolescents use instant messaging to communicate with friends. Reduced visual, auditory and social status cues in internet communication encourage self-disclosure in adolescents who are often self-conscious and shy. Some evidence suggests that internet relationships also act as a buffer against the stressors in adolescence.

In conclusion...

I guess what I’m trying to say is that media influence on children is far from a solid relationship. Just because your kid plays GTA IV (or whatever) doesn’t mean that tomorrow they’re going to wake up a violent criminal. Listening to such blow out of proportion news stories isn’t warranted. It’s all about moderation. If you, as a parent, don’t want your children playing unsuitable games then don’t buy the games for them, simple (they have age caps for a reason). Education about what is actually happening in the game (both for yourself and your children) and an openness to answer any questions about the characters and their motivations is key. For example, most games are not just about murder, they have plots and motivation some which your child may not understand. Them being allowed to ask you questions openly will allow them to express themselves and give you an insight into how your child views such acts and chracters (much the same as if you watched a film together).


I hope you’ve found this article useful, or at least interesting. Please feel free to comment or ask any questions.


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    • jaskar profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from England

      cheers very much, katie. I suppose that was my intention. Knowing is half the battle :)

    • katiem2 profile image


      7 years ago from I'm outta here

      Interesting and clear points made about do video games really effect childrens behavior. I've shifted my thinking. Well done and great facts! :) Katie


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