Teenagers who play violent video games are no more prone to real world aggressive behaviour than their peers, according to UK researchers who say their negative effects have been overstated.
Fears that gory games like Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty might make children think on-screen behaviours are acceptable have been a major concern for parents and policy makers for years.
Last year President Donald Trump said violent games were “shaping young people’s thoughts” in the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school shooting in Parklands, Florida.
But one of the most comprehensive studies to date, led by University of Oxford researchers, found no evidence of increased aggression among teens who had spent longer playing violent games in the past month.
“The idea that violent video games drive real-world aggression is a popular one, but it hasn’t tested very well over time,” says lead researcher Professor Andrew Przybylski, director of research at the Oxford Internet Institute.
“Despite interest in the topic by parents and policy-makers, the research has not demonstrated that there is cause for concern.”
But he did say games could provoke angry outbursts while playing online. “Anecdotally, you do see things such as trash-talking, competitiveness and trolling in gaming communities that could qualify as antisocial behaviour,” he added.
The study surveyed a representative sample of 1,000 British, 14 and 15-year-olds about their gaming habits and behaviour and found nearly half of girls and two thirds of boys played video games.
Because they’re so widely used any small impact could have big consequences. This has led some high-profile groups like the American Psychological Association to call for limits on the time young people spend playing violent games.
However, the Australian and Swedish governments have both concluded that the evidence is not clear cut enough to call for limits.
Previous studies which have found a link have relied too much on the teenage gamers for information on what they are playing and their behaviour, the team from Oxford and the University of Cardiff said.
To address this in their study, published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, they also interviewed parents and carers’ to see if they thought their child had become more antisocial.
It assessed in-game violence against UK and US rating systems, to provide a more objective measurement, and the team also declared their intended method for crunching their data before they started the study.
This minimises the risk of preferentially selecting certain bits of the data for a more exciting result – something which has dogged other research in this field.
“Our findings suggest that researcher biases might have influenced previous studies on this topic, and have distorted our understanding of the effects of video games,” says co-author Dr Netta Weinstein from Cardiff University
The team said this method to prevent cherry-picking should be used in other areas of technology research prone to moral panics, such as stories about social media or screen time driving depression.