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Violent Video Games Linked to Aggressive Behavior

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"We now know for a fact that playing a violent video game for even a short period of time increases aggressive behavior in the short term," says Anderson, who recently testified before the U.S. Senate on the impact of "interactive" violence on children.

Leaving aside extreme examples like the Littleton shooting, Anderson says that the way people learn to react to conflict can show up in day-to-day life. "I think the message I'd like to give the average parent is that when kids -- adults as well -- play violent video games, it makes them at least temporarily think about the world in more aggressive terms," Anderson tells WebMD.

Anderson's colleague, Dill, tells WebMD that video games can affect behavior because they require participation. "Video games offer direct rewards for acts of violence," Dill says. "Thus the player learns that violence is the desired response to conflict situations."

Anderson and Dill "have executed the best study of video game violence to date," says David A. Walsh, PhD, president of the National Institute on Media and the Family. At the same time, he says, more studies need to be done before we can claim there is a cause-and-effect relationship between video game violence and real-life aggression.

John Sherry, PhD, an assistant professor of communication at Purdue University in Illinois, agrees. He analyzed the research on video game violence while he was a doctoral student, which then included about 20 studies, and says he found an "equivalent effect to what we get with television." But, he says, the lack of long-term studies and these studies' failure to account for individual differences means there is still no definitive answer.

Sherry that even if violent video games gave Klebold and Harris ideas about carrying out their rampage, they would have probably committed some type of violent act regardless of whether they had ever played these games.

"Think of what it would have taken to do what they did. For most people it's unfathomable, so I don't think video games got them there," Sherry tells WebMD. "So I think some people can play video games and it's a fun pastime ? and some people are going to become more aggressive, so we really need to sort out what types of people have what types of reactions."

Todd Hollenshead, CEO of id Software, the company that made Wolfenstein 3D, calls the idea that violent video games are dangerous "a popular myth." He cites an Australian government report that reviewed research on video games up to 1999 and "failed to find evidence of strong links between play and behavior, or play and self-concept."

Similarly, Doug Lowenstein, president of the Interactive Digital Software Association (IDSA), says of the second study by Anderson and Dill, "how long you blow a horn, I would submit to you, is a far cry from concluding that that same person leaving a laboratory is likely to commit a physical, violent act in the real world."

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