After the recent mass shootings in Texas and Ohio, the discussion behind what might possibly contribute to the mental state of the perpetrators of this violence ensued. One of the culprits that immediately emerged was violent video games. It’s not the first time video games have been labeled a contributing factor, but do video games cause gun violence? Scientific studies say no.
Violence Is Not the Same As Aggression
According to a 2015 report released by the American Academy of Pediatrics, “human aggression is defined as any behavior intended to harm another person who does not want to be harmed. The harm can be psychological or physical. Violence is defined as aggression that has as its goal extreme physical harm, such as injury or death. Thus, all violent acts are aggressive, but not all aggressive acts are violent.”
This is an important distinction because while video games have been linked to an increase in aggressive behavior like verbal sparring, pushing, shoving, etc. there is absolutely no scientific evidence that they’re linked to violent behavior.
Chris Ferguson, a psychology professor at Stetson University who has studied the effects of video games extensively, tells Parentology he doesn’t see any connection. “Some studies suggested that violent games might increase minor aggression, but a lot of newer studies are now questioning that belief. My read of the data suggests that it is probably not the case that violent games increase either violent behaviors, nor minor acts of aggression, though the data is more certain for the former.“
Not Linked, But Are They OK?
While there may not be a direct link to violence, the link to aggressive behavior is still a cause of concern for many. “The link between violent video game exposure and aggressive behavior is one of the most studied and best established,” according to a 2017 report from the American Psychological Association.
The increase in aggressive behavior, along with decreased empathy and moral engagement, leaves many experts concerned about the effects of video games, even if they don’t result in fatality.
“In the wake of horrific mass shootings, we always hear that violent video games have ‘have nothing to do with it.’ However, parents must understand scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports media violence as a significant factor contributing to increased aggression and fear, desensitization to human suffering, and the need for increased levels of violence to feel fulfilled,” Gloria DeGaetano, Founder/Director, Parent Coaching Institute and co-author of Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill: A Call to Action Against TV, Movie, and Video Games Violence, tells Parentology.
Video games are only one component of the media that children consume, so why are they being targeted as the main proponent of aggressive behavior? Ferguson believes the answer is literally as old as time. Telling Parentology, “This is a part of a historical pattern of moral panic that quite literally goes back (at least in recorded history) to the ancient Athenians who complained about the deleterious impact of the theater.”
“With the 20th century, we’ve seen panics over the radio (1940s), comic books (1950s), rock and pop music (1980s), Dungeons and Dragons (also 1980s), and now video games. There’s a pretty clear established historical pattern of older adults blaming new media and technology for perceived social ills. Once that cohort of older adults inevitably dies, concerns about that media tend to abate, but we just then move on to the next new technology.”
While studies confirm an increase in violent behavior isn’t linked, the increase in aggression and other socially undesirable behaviors is something that parents are urged to monitor. If a child’s interest in aggressive or violent content cannot be controlled with traditional parenting strategies, therapeutic intervention may be necessary.
Do Video Games Cause Gun Violence — Sources
American Academy of Pediatrics
American Psychological Association
Gloria DeGaetano, Founder/Director, Parent Coaching Institute and co-author of Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill: A Call to Action Against TV, Movie, and Video Games Violence
Christopher Ferguson, Ph.D.