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Health & Parenting

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Psychologists Attack Violent Video Games

But New Study Shows No Evidence Users Become More Aggressive
WebMD Health News

Aug. 19, 2005 -- There should be less violence in video and computer games sold to kids, says the American Psychological Association.

The group adopted the resolution just as thousands of psychologists descend on Washington, for this week's annual APA meeting.

Private-practice psychologist Elizabeth Carll, PhD, past president of the of APA's media division, led the effort.

"Generally, the research shows that violence in video games increases children's aggressive behavior and decreases their helpful behavior," Carll tells WebMD.

Game Violence Worse for Kids Than TV Violence?

Carll says that kids who watch violent television shows become more aggressive and less empathic. But learning theory says that actually participating in violence -- as kids do when playing many video and computer games -- has a much stronger effect.

"If you are actively involved in learning, you remember things better," Carll says. "So in a game you do things over and over again, whereas in the movies or on television you watch it once. And in the game there is reinforcement for it. So if it is killing people that you're doing, you get a reward for that."

That's true, says Kevin M. Kieffer, PhD, professor of psychology at Saint Leo University in Saint Leo, Fla. Kiefer presented a paper to the APA that reviewed psychological studies of kids who play violent video and computer games.

"The bottom line is we see three things," Kieffer tells WebMD. One is short-term change toward more aggressive behavior. Two, there are gender differences: Boys play more often and they are more likely to be at risk of behavior changes. And three, some more vulnerable kids are drawn to these games -- kids who are already more violent, and those with low self-esteem."

Parents, Game Makers Should Act

The APA calls on parents to make their kids more "media literate." This, Carll says, will let them better understand the consequences of violent acts.

"It is important for parents and educators to review what the kids are viewing and to teach them," Carll says. "For example, a parent could play a game with a child. When someone gets killed, the parent could say, 'You know, this is just a game, and the dead person comes back the next time you turn on the game. But in real life, if you kill someone, he is dead forever.' Teaching empathy, this is what is missing from these games. Teach your children what it would mean in real life if you killed somebody."

Here's what the APA wants:

  • Parents should teach kids media literacy.
  • Game designers should make bad things happen to characters who do violent things.
  • Game makers should improve their ratings system. Games should be rated for their actual amount of violence.
  • Game developers should face up to the possibility that their products may have stronger effects on children than either television or movies.

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