Expert Commentary

Association between violent video game play and aggression among adolescents

2011 longitudinal study published in the journal Developmental Psychology on the relationship between sustained violent video game play, aggression and youth.


Whether violent video games are a harmless pastime or a facilitator of aggressive behavior is a subject of continuing public debate and scholarly inquiry.

A 2011 study by Brock University researchers published in Developmental Psychology, “A Longitudinal Study of the Association Between Violent Video Game Play and Aggression Among Adolescents,” investigated the link between aggressive behavior and violent video game play over time. Researchers asked a group of 1,492 Canadian high school students about incidences of aggression, the type and intensity of their video game play (both violent and nonviolent) and more general questions pertaining to overall well-being and community between 2004 and 2008.

The study’s findings include:

  • “Participants who reported higher sustained violent video game play also had steeper increases in aggression scores over time than participants who reported less sustained violent video game play.” This finding remained consistent regardless of the participant’s gender, household income, mental health, quality of social ties, computer access or academic performance.
  • “Frequency of aggressive behaviors … did not significantly predict higher levels of frequently of violent or nonviolent video game play over time.” This finding challenges the “selection” theory of video game violence that suggests that more aggressive individuals gravitate towards more violent types of video games.
  • Playing nonviolent video games predicted lower levels of aggression in high school juniors and seniors.
  • “In comparison to girls, boys reported greater frequency of overall video game play, violent video game play, and aggression, while girls reported more nonviolent video game play than boys.”

“Violent video game play may influence an individual’s level of direct aggression by promoting aggressive beliefs and attitudes and creating aggressive schema, aggressive behavioral scripts, and aggressive expectations,” the authors state. They tempered this assertion by noting the mixed reliability of self-reporting and the lack of direct evidence. “Nonviolent video games often differ from violent video games on several dimensions besides violence, such as competitiveness and pace of action.”

A 2013 study published in the Journal of Media Psychology: Theories, Methods, and Applications, “Killing Is Positive! Intra-Game Responses Meet the Necessary (But Not Sufficient) Theoretical Conditions for Influencing Aggressive Behavior,” investigated video games’ effect on player desensitization, facilitation, and disinhibition and found that “playing first-person shooters did elicit these requisite patterns of cognitive, physiological, and emotional states” but that experienced game players becomes less aroused when engaged in general gameplay mechanics and more aroused when fighting and killing.

Tags: youth, technology, bullying

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