Research: Concerns About Effects of Video Games Changing

Christopher J. Ferguson, Ph.D., Stetson University
Christopher J. Ferguson, Ph.D., Stetson University
Christopher J. Ferguson, Ph.D., professor of psychology, says new study also looks at gamers’ motivation for playing.

New research published in Psychology of Popular Media Culture reveals that violent video game use was not associated with antisocial attitudes or bullying behavior, according to Christopher J. Ferguson, professor of psychology at Stetson University and lead researcher on the project.

“All told, results from this study suggest that violent video games are not the object for concern they were once perceived as being,” said Ferguson. “Like previous forms of art — from rock music to comic books — perceptions of harm to society caused by video games may increasingly be a thing of the past.” 

The debate over whether violent video games influence the behavior of youth has split the academic community for years. In 2011, in a decision examining the constitutionality of regulating the sale of violent games to minors, the United States Supreme Court declared the research evidence could not support claims of harm caused to minors.

In this new study, Ferguson and John Colwell, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Westminster, examined youths’ exposure to violent content in video games as well as parental involvement in their game play. The study also assessed children’s motives for playing video games, surprisingly one of very few studies to do so. The title of the study is: “A Meaner, More Callous Digital World for Youth? The Relationship Between Violent Digital Games, Motivation, Bullying and Civic Behavior amongst Adolescents.”

Regarding motivations for violent game play, “among youth who played video games, interest in games as a fun activity, but also as a release from stress were predictors of violent game use,” said Ferguson. “These results are consistent with evidence from other studies that youth often turn to action-oriented games to reduce stress and improve mood.”

In addition, parental involvement was not associated with reduced violent video game exposure.

“This may be because parents become comfortable with the content of games once they play them,” Ferguson said. “Results of this most recent study suggest that violent video game use is not associated with problem behaviors in youth related to aggression, or with prosocial and civic behaviors.”

By Janie Graziani