Study of 21,000 participants finds violent video games have no significant effect on behaviour

A new study from Massey University in New Zealand that collects and combines the work of previous studies shows there is no reason to believe violent video games cause violent behaviour.
July 27, 2020 5:00 PM
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A new study from New Zealand’s Massey University found that in many cases there is no reason to believe violent video games cause violent behaviour.

Senior lecturer at Massey University and lead author of the study Aaron Drummond said there has been a rise in exposure to violent video games and violent media, but the results of the study reflect the attitude that parents can be more relaxed about the idea of violent video games.

“What we find with our analysis is that we see an incredibly small relationship between violent video game content and aggression,” Dr Drummond said.

Lead Author Dr Aaron Drummond. Photo - Massey University

“Youth violence and violence in society tends to be actually declining over time… it is actually the case that violence is reducing in most developed nations.

“In the highest quality studies, the effect is so small that it is indistinguishable from zero.”

The study was a meta-analysis, which re-evaluates existing research with modern understanding and studies the trends found across the collective results.

The study looked not only at the results of previous research, but critically examined the methods of the research and how those methods were applied.

Dr Drummond said higher quality ratings were given to studies that used more objective methods for rating violent content, such as the Australian Classification Board rating system which uses the familiar MA and R18+ ratings and specifies inappropriate content.

The same higher quality rating was given to studies that used clinically validated scales for measuring aggressive or violent behaviours.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare has an MA15+ rating.

The study also reviewed a mixture of short- and long-term studies to examine the possibility of accumulating changes in behaviour.

Dr Drummond said if violent video games were producing small changes in aggression, it would be expected that the effects would accumulate over time, and longer studies would return more significant changes in behaviour.

He said the opposite was surprisingly found, and that longer-term studies returned smaller changes in aggression scores.

“This gives us even more reason to believe that it’s not actually that violent games are producing [aggressive behaviour],” he said.

The debate over whether or not violent video games cause violent behaviour has been running for more than 30 years, and it’s unsure if there will ever be a definitive answer.

Dr Drummond said he thinks there is benefit in keeping the debate going, and that while he doesn’t know if a nail will ever be placed in the coffin, the world is getting closer.

“It would be great to see more of those kind of long term longitudinal experiments to see if we can get the long term causal effects of video games and aggression,” he said.

The lack of knowledge about video games more generally opens the door to much more research, he said, because there are a lot of things going on in video games.

Dr Drummond said there is the possibility for cooperative video games to foster communities and for people who enjoy playing video games,they have seen decreases to stress levels while playing.

“That’s been seen around the world with lockdown recently with lots of people turning to video games to relax,” he said.

“But there’s just a lot more work that needs to be done in this area.”