Council for the Advancement of Science Writing

Research consistently links violent video games to human aggression

By Crystal Garner | 

The link between human acts of violence, lack of empathy and time spent with graphically violent video games and films is so consistent that denying it is like “denying gravity,” an Ohio State University psychologist said Sunday, Oct. 19.

In a report on dozens of studies involving thousands of student subjects over decades, Brad Bushman said meta-analyses of the results continue to confirm a significant relationship between aggressive impulses and violent video game use.

His research also suggests a link between video games and increased racial and gender stereotyping. Bushman, now Margaret Hall and Robert Randal Rinehart Chair of Mass Communication at Ohio State, shared his research findings with an audience of science writers at the annual New Horizons in Science briefings sponsored by the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing and hosted by OSU. The science program was part of ScienceWriters2014, a meeting held jointly with the National Association of Science Writers.

As an undergraduate, Bushman says he took an honors course in human aggression that piqued his interest in the subject.

Immersed in violence

While Bushman had no simple recommendations for new regulations or other legal controls on violence in video games and similar products until further studies are done, he hopes parents will protect young children from heavy exposure to them.

In a live demonstration of his thesis, Bushman began his talk by instructing half of the audience in the lecture room to close their eyes while the other half viewed images of assorted weapons (knives, swords, guns). The first half of the room then viewed non-violent images.

Both groups then participated in a fill-in-the-blank word activity. The results showed that significantly more participants exposed to the violent images produced aggressive words—for example, “rape” instead of “rope,” or “stab” instead of “stub”—compared to participants exposed to non-violent images.

Bushman’s research hasn't come without opposition from the gamer community and those who question how widely applicable his results with mostly university student subjects can be applied. But he argues that the outcomes are so consistent that more than a dozen medical, psychological and government agencies have endorsed them.

Focusing on children

"Whenever people are doing things that are harmful, they like to defend themselves," he said. "People may find my research offensive because I'm ruining their fun, but what I'm concerned about is kids."

According to Bushman, 90 percent of pediatricians agree with his findings on youth aggression and video games.

"I'll keep exploring this area and other areas of [aggression]," he said. "It's based on tons of findings. What's important is how consistent everything is."

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Crystal Garner is a senior broadcast journalism and computer science student at The University of Southern Mississippi and a NASW Diversity Fellow. Follow her work at shesagarner.com.