True or false: Violent video games cause children to become more
aggressive. Sorry, that was a trick question. Despite much bandying
of statistics and loud talking by critics on both sides of the
argument, the real answer is that there is no real answer - at least
not one that's been proved scientifically.
So say Cheryl Olson and Lawrence Kutner in their new book, "Grand
Theft Childhood." "In fact, much of the information in the popular
press about the effects of violent video games is wrong," write the
husband and wife team, who direct the Center for Mental Health and
Media at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
That will, of course, be of tremendous comfort to concerned
parents who find calculating how many angels can dance on the head
of a pin simplicity itself compared with figuring out which video
games, if any, to allow in their homes.
But the fact is, the research can't be boiled down to a simple
headline, however much politicians, experts, and the media might
wish otherwise, say Drs. Kutner and Olson, who conducted a $1.5
million study funded by the US Department of Justice that looked at
the effects of violent video games on 1,200 middle-school-age
That conclusion, say other experts, is what makes Kutner's and
Olson's study so valuable.
"Looking at violent behavior is not a simplistic thing. There is
no one thing that is going to cause a child to become violent," says
Kathryn Seifert of Salisbury, Md., who's a forensic psychologist and
an expert in assessing and treating children who are at risk of
becoming violent. "It's a great, great study. I think what they did
Dr. Seifert's main caveat is that she would like to see an
additional study incorporating children who have been suspended from
school or who are in detention centers or on the streets - kids who
are more likely to become violent than children who are still in
Kutner and Olson became interested in the subject after watching
their son, now 18, play video games. "For most kids and most
parents," they write, "the bottom-line results of our research can
be summed up in a single word: relax."
That's not to say that middle-schoolers aren't sneaking over to
friends' house to play the new "Grand Theft Auto." Nor are Kutner
and Olson apologists for the video-game industry. While they cite a
2001 FBI study that showed no link between violent video games and
school shootings, their own research did show links between 12- to
14-year-olds who almost exclusively played rated-M (for mature)
games and a much more common schoolyard problem: bullying. (This was
among both boys and girls who played more than 15 hours a week,
which Kutner and Olson note, is not the norm.)
Middle-schoolers in this category also were more likely to get
into fights, destroy property, and argue with their teachers.
However, Kutner and Olson are careful to point out that their study
does not prove causality: It may be that more aggressive children
are drawn to more violent games, and not that the games themselves
are to blame. Researchers just don't know yet.
But for parents who are contemplating throwing out their son's
Wii, wait a minute: The research showed that boys who don't play
video games at all were the most likely to engage in bullying and
other antisocial behaviors. …