Violent Video Game Effects on Children and Adolescents: Theory, Research, and Public Policy

Violent Video Game Effects on Children and Adolescents: Theory, Research, and Public Policy

Violent Video Game Effects on Children and Adolescents: Theory, Research, and Public Policy

Violent Video Game Effects on Children and Adolescents: Theory, Research, and Public Policy


Violent video games are successfully marketed to and easily obtained by children and adolescents. Even the U. S. government distributes one such game, America's Army, through both the internet and its recruiting offices. Is there any scientific evidence to support the claims that violent games contribute to aggressive and violent behavior?

Anderson, Gentile, and Buckley first present an overview of empirical research on the effects of violent video games, and then add to this literature three new studies that fill the most important gaps. They update the traditional General Aggression Model to focus on both developmental processes and how media-violence exposure can increase the likelihood of aggressive and violent behavior in both short- and long-term contexts. Violent Video Game Effects on Children and Adolescentsalso reviews the history of these games' explosive growth, and explores the public policy options for controlling their distribution. Anderson et al. describe the reaction of the games industry to scientific findings that exposure to violent video games and other forms of media violence constitutes a significant risk factor for later aggressive and violent behavior. They argue that society should begin a more productive debate about whether to reduce the high rates of exposure to media violence, and delineate the public policy options that are likely be most effective.

As the first book to unite empirical research on and public policy options for violent video games,Violent Video Game Effects on Children and Adolescentswill be an invaluable resource for student and professional researchers in social and developmental psychology and media studies.


Violent video games are popular with male and female children, adolescents, and adults. They have been successfully marketed to youth and are easily obtained regardless of age (e.g., Buchman & Funk, 1996; Federal Trade Commission, 2000; Walsh, 1999). Even the U.S. government has created and distributes violent video games to youths, and does so without checking the ages of those to whom it distributes the game (i.e., the game America's Army, which can be downloaded from the Internet or can be obtained from recruiting offices).

Public attention and debate about violent video games has been one of the few positive outcomes of the horrendous spate of school shootings by boys with a history of playing violent video games [e.g., West Paducah, Kentucky (December, 1997); Jonesboro, Arkansas (March, 1998); Springfield, Oregon (May, 1998), Littleton, Colorado (April, 1999), Santee, California (March, 2001), Wellsboro, Pennsylvania (June, 2003) and Red Lion, Pennsylvania (April, 2003)]. Other violent crimes have also been linked by the news media to violent video games, including a violent crime spree in Oakland, California (January, 2003); five homicides in Long Prairie and Minneapolis, Minnesota (May, 2003); beating deaths in Medina, Ohio (November, 2002) and Wyoming, Michigan (November, 2002); and the Washington, DC, “Beltway” sniper shootings (Fall, 2002). As early as 2000 the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation included “fascination with violence-filled entertainment” as one of the warning signs characteristic of school shooters (O'Toole, 2000, p. 20). More directly relevant to video games, this report noted that the high-risk student “spends inordinate amounts of time playing video games with violent themes, and seems more interested in the violent images than in the game itself. On the Internet, the student regularly searches for Web sites involving violence, weapons, and other disturbing subjects” (O'Toole, 2000, p. 20).

Frequent associations with violent crimes do not, in themselves, constitute strong scientific evidence that exposure to violent video games is a contributing causal factor in violent behavior. Nevertheless, the scientific debate about whether exposure to media violence causes increases in aggressive behavior is over (Anderson, Berkowitz, Donnerstein, Huesmann, Johnson, Linz, Malamuth, and Wartella, 2003; Gentile, 2003; Kirsh, 2006; Potter, 2003) and should have been over 30 years ago (Bushman & Anderson, 2001). The entire body of relevant media violence research stretches back over 50 years and includes studies on violent television, films, video games, music, and even comic books. Populations studied include males and females; young children, adolescents, and adults; criminals and noncriminals; highly aggressive and nonaggressive people. All major types of research methodologies have been used, including experiments, crosssectional correlational studies, longitudinal studies, intervention studies, and meta-analyses. Anderson and Bushman (2002b) summarized much of this work and included meta-analytic results on four categories of media violence work: laboratory experiments, field experiments, cross-sectional correlational studies, and longitudinal studies. For each category exposure to media violence was significantly associated with increased aggression or violence.

A panel of leading media violence researchers organized by Professor Rowell Huesmann (originally at the request of the U.S. Surgeon General) conducted the most comprehensive review to date of media violence effects on aggression and aggression-related variables. This panel found “unequivocal evidence that media violence increases the likelihood of aggressive and violent behavior in both immediate and long-term contexts” (Anderson et al., 2003, p. 81). This report also found that the effects tend to be . . .

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