Do crime sprees like the recent shootings at Virginia Tech have anything to do with the prevalence of violent video games? New research gives concrete evidence of the adverse effects of violent video game exposure on the behavior of children and adolescents.

Psychologists Craig Anderson, Douglas Gentile, and Katherine Buckley found that even exposure to cartoonish children’s violent video games had the same short-term effects on increasing aggressive behavior as the more graphic teen (T-rated) violent games. Their study tested over 150 9- to 12-year-olds, and over 350 college students. Each participant was randomly assigned to play either a violent or non-violent video game. “Violent” games were defined as those in which intentional harm is done to a character who tries to avoid being harmed. The researchers are the authors of the book Violent Video Game Effects on Children and Adolescents.

After playing the first game, the participants subsequently played another computer game that was especially designed to measure their aggressive behavior. In this game, they set punishment levels in the form of noise blasts to be delivered to another person who was also participating in the study. This is reminiscent of a famous study done 40 years ago.

The researchers found that participants who played the violent video games punished their opponents with significantly more high-noise blasts than those who played the non-violent games. Gentile says, “Even the children’s violent video games?which are more cartoonish and often show no blood?had the same size effect on children and college students as the much more graphic games have on college students. What seems to matter is whether the players are practicing intentional harm to another character in the game. That’s what increases immediate aggression?more than how graphic or gory the game is.”

But video games aren’t all bad: They can be good training for surgeons. A recent study quizzed surgeons about their video game playing habits, then assessed their performance skills. Researcher James C. Rosser says, “Surgeons who had played video games in the past for more than three hours per week made 37% fewer errors, were 27% faster and scored 42% better overall than surgeons who never played video games.”

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