The Psychiatric Impacts of Violent Video Games

Video games first entered the media landscape in the 1960s. Now, over 50 years later, kids between the ages of 8 and 18 spend an average of eight hours a week playing them.1 During that same 50-year period, there have been countless examples of violence perpetrated by young people. But have violent video games contributed directly to youth violence?

It’s a question that’s plagued many parents, teachers and professionals who look at the motivation behind violent crimes. If you’re interested in learning about the factors that lead to crimes, a Master of Science in Criminology from Regis University will allow you to tailor your coursework to focus on human behavior, exploring subjects such as whether video games cause violence or not.

The Link Between Video Games and Violence

Video games aren’t inherently bad. Indeed, some positives have been linked to gaming: Playing video games can help people unwind and, depending on the subject of the game, make it more fun to learn skills like computer programming.2 Still, although there’s an argument to be made that video games don’t cause violence, the best-selling games are more violent than educational.3

Some researchers believe violent video games teach children that they live in a no-consequences world and therefore they don’t need to exhibit self-control.4 Violent games have also been shown to increase a child’s aggressive thoughts and anger, lower morality and desensitize them to the point that they think violent behavior is no big deal.5

The question, “Do violent video games cause violence?” can be difficult to answer since it’s tough to measure how much influence on-screen violence has on kids relative to what happens at school or on the playground. That said, some experts estimate that violence in the media could be responsible for 10 percent of violence in the real world.6

Immediate Behavioral Changes

A 2014 study published in JAMA Pediatrics that surveyed more than 3,000 children over a three-year period found that aggressive thoughts and behaviors increased the more kids played violent video games.7 These effects can be seen among children immediately, and once young people’s views toward violence are established it can be very difficult to change them later in life.8

Mental Health Outcomes

The effects can influence the way kids perform in school, too. Children who play violent video games are at an increased risk of developing attention deficit disorders.9 New research also suggests that playing video games can lead to anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder.10 While it can be difficult to determine which is the cause and which is the effect where gaming and mood disorders are concerned, since some children turn to video games to cope with depression or anxiety, there’s no denying that spending hours behind a controller can worsen the problems.11 Not every child who’s plagued by anxiety or depression will act out violently, of course, but these mental health issues could potentially lead to violence in the future. A recent Oxford University study found that people exhibiting depressive symptoms are three times more likely to commit a violent crime than their peers.12

How to Stop Youth Violence

There are many reasons a young person might resort to violence: an unstable family life, feeling rejected by friends or getting involved with gangs or delinquent classmates, to name a few.13 Playing violent video games is also on that list, though it’s not an absolute indicator that a child will commit a crime. Still, experts recommend that parents keep an eye on and limit their child’s media usage.14

Criminologists study issues like this one. Students who receive an on-campus or online Master of Science in Criminology degree from Regis University develop an understanding of the psychology behind criminal behavior, which could prevent future crime. Learn more about how a degree in criminology can help you advance your career by downloading a free program brochure.

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