Teens who play violent video games ‘not at higher risk of mental health problems’ after all

SAN DIEGO — Watching children joyfully play gory video games where the characters are battling to the death can certainly make any parent worry about their adolescent’s mental state. But new research brings reason to calm those fears. Teens who play violent video games are not at higher risks of mental health problems after all, according to a study.

Contrary to popular belief, the findings suggest that playing aggressive computer games has no long-term effects on behavior.  Scientists looked at whether early exposure to such games was related to anxiety, depression, somatic symptoms, or ADHD two years later.

The study of about 3,000 high school-aged children revealed they are not a risk factor for such conditions.

“Video games have been criticized from the moment they came into being,” says Dr. Brenda Wiederhold, CEO of the Interactive Media Institute, in a statement. “And, like with most other new technologies, we’ve discovered there are benefits as well as shortcomings to consider.”

Violent video games often pointed to after mass shootings

The long-standing debate continues on whether violent video games can trigger real-world violence. Examples often used to argue in favor include mass shootings, such as the case of El Paso gunman Patrick Crusius who killed 22 people at a Walmart in Texas in August 2019. Crusius, found guilty of the attack, had referred to video game soldiers which led politicians to blame such entertainment.

Others argue he was mainly motivated by ethnic hatred, and Crusius admitted as much, confessing that he was targeting Mexicans.

In their new study, researchers examined the role of violent video game exposure, personality and deviant peers in aggressive behaviors among adolescents. The findings show that aggressive behavior was predicted by having deviant peers and specific personality traits, especially low agreeableness. Playing violent video games, however, did not show any link to aggression, anxiety, or other related mental health conditions.

The findings were published in a special issue of the journal Cyberpsychology, Behaviour, and Social Networking. Editors wanted to provide a more informed resource in the debate of the effects of playing violent video games. “My hope is that by publishing this special issue, highlighting cutting-edge research with objective data, we may come to better understand both the promise and peril of video games,” says Dr. Wiederhold.

SWNS writer Laura Sharman contributed to this report.