In a special issue of the journal Review of General Psychology, just published by the American Psychological Association, researchers in several studies looked at the positive aspects of gaming in children. This included improvement of visual/spatial skills, a health aid to help manage diabetes and pain and as a tool to complement psychotherapy. One study examined the negative effects of violent video games on some people. This is the one I’m most interested in right now.

There have been lots of studies showing the good and bad effects of gaming on children but this study did one better in its analysis of increased aggression in children after playing a violent game. The study author was intrigued by the contradictory facts that there are studies showing an increase in aggression in children after playing a violent game during laboratory tests and yet during the rise in popularity of violent games the United States and Europe have seen a decrease in youth behavior problems. He hypothesized that there must be a common factor in the children that became aggressive after playing violent games.

The study author Patrick Markey, PhD, hypothesized that combination’s of personality traits could be a predictor of which youths will be more adversely affected by violent video games. Markey used the most popular psychological model of personality traits, called the Five-Factor Model.

The Five-Factors:

  • Openness – (inventive / curious vs. cautious / conservative). Appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas, curiosity, and variety of experience.
  • Conscientiousness – (efficient / organized vs. easy-going / careless). A tendency to show self-discipline, act dutifully, and aim for achievement; planned rather than spontaneous behavior.
  • Extraversion – (outgoing / energetic vs. shy / withdrawn). Energy, positive emotions, surgency, and the tendency to seek stimulation in the company of others.
  • Agreeableness – (friendly / compassionate vs. competitive / outspoken). A tendency to be compassionate and cooperative rather than suspicious and antagonistic towards others.
  • Neuroticism – (sensitive / nervous vs. secure / confident). A tendency to experience unpleasant emotions easily, such as anger, anxiety, depression, or vulnerability.

He found that those who showed  high neuroticism, low agreeableness, and low conscientiousness were significantly affected by the violent media.  Those who did not possess these personality characteristics were either unaffected or only slightly negatively affected by violent video games. The Editor of the issue put it best with this analogy:  “Violent video games are like peanut butter,” said Ferguson. “They are harmless for the vast majority of kids but are harmful to a small minority with pre-existing personality or mental health problems.”

Guess those Department of Justice figures were right. Although I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for the anti-video game crowd to realize that little Bobby was already troubled before they bought him GTA3.

The full article is behind a paywall but I’ll see if I can track down a copy.UPDATE 9-June: The Journal has decided to release the paper for free. Here’s a copy.

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One Comment

  • Wait. Peanut butter is dangerous to those with personality or mental health issues?

    In all seriousness, though. The study basically says that neurotic, disagreeable people who lack self-control may act violently towards others after exposure to violence? No kidding. Go go science!

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