Digital Poison? Stetson Researcher Finds Violent Video Games Have Minimal Influence on Youth

Chris Ferguson

Ferguson_Chris hi-res copyFocus on gaming distracts from pinpointing root causes of societal violence

In the wake of the tragic shooting in a Charleston, S.C., church, many look for reasons to explain such violent behavior. Some already have pointed to violent video games as a possible reason, but three new studies from Stetson University found no evidence violent video games contribute to aggressive behavior, violent behavior or hostility in teens.

Christopher J. Ferguson, Ph.D., pictured left, associate professor and chair of the Psychology Department at Stetson University, led the studies, which also found little evidence to support the belief that violent video games have a great effect on youth with mental health symptoms.

“Following violent tragedies involving young men, many frequently point to violent video games as a cause for the behavior, but the research does not back this up,” Ferguson said. “As violent video games became more popular, it was understandable for them to fall under intense scrutiny, and claims about their harms and benefits may have been exaggerated including by the scholarly community.

“As more research is done on the topic, we find the influence of these violent games on youth is more minimal than originally believed,” Ferguson asserts.

Parents of young persons have very divergent views on the issue. The studies found parents who are less familiar with video games are inclined to take a sterner approach regarding their teen’s interaction with them. However, the research found parental shielding of youth from the violent games has a negligible impact on their behavior.

“We need to be more careful when we draw lines between violent media and real world violence, especially following an event like the Charleston shooting,” Ferguson said. “Making this unsupported connection can take away from pressing issues we need to consider while determining the root cause of societal violence such as poverty, lack of mental health treatment availability and educational disparities.”

Youth involved in the studies ranged in age from 12 to 18 and included both males and females. “Digital poison? Three Studies Examining the Influence of Violent Video Games on Youth” outlines the findings of the three studies and will be published in the September issue of Computers in Human Behavior.