5 Debunked Myths About Violent Video Games & Mental Health

Do video games cause people to be violent? It’s a question many parents often ask. Violent video games in which players rely on an arsenal of deadly weapons to wreak havoc on challengers have been favorites among gamers for years. Yet for all the finger-pointing at these combat-themed video game titles for potentially negative mental health effects, experts show the contrary to this popular mindset.

Still, there are plenty of studies that point to the negative effects of too much screen time, so perhaps that’s a more pressing issue for addicted gamers. And of course there are other studies that come to concerning conclusions about the effects of gaming. For people worried that video games cause violence or other social/emotional problems among players, here are five studies on StudyFinds that debunk common myths and may calm your fears overall.

Violent video games don’t make people more aggressive

Some people think that playing violent video games increase aggression levels in gamers. But one study shows that’s not the case — even if you play ever day. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development say there are no links between daily violent video game play and increased aggression in adults.

They divided 77 participants into three groups. One group of 25 played the violent video game “Grand Theft Auto V” daily for two months. The second group of 24 played the mostly non-violent game “The Sims 3” daily for two months, while the third group of 28 didn’t play any video games.

Participants’ empathy and aggression levels were measured, as well as interpersonal competencies, impulsivity, anxiety, mood, and executive control using numerous questionnaires and computerized behavioral assessments. This was done before and after the two-month period. Researchers found no remarkable changes in any of the metrics they measured, but especially when it came to aggression. Of the 208 statistical tests conducted, only three showed indications of increased violent behavior.

“We did not find relevant negative effects in response to violent video game playing,” concludes study co-author Simone Kühn.

READ MORE: Study: Playing Violent Video Games Every Day Doesn’t Increase Aggression

No link to lowered empathy

Do people who play violent video games have less empathy? According to a study by German researchers, no.

The study used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to conclude that gamers who played violent video games on a long-term basis had the same neural responses to emotionally provocative images as non-gamers. The participants were all gamers who played first-person shooters in popular titles such as “Call of Duty” or “Counter Strike” for at least two hours daily over four years.

The results of the MRI were compared to participants who had zero experience with violent video games. They revealed that there were no differences in measures of aggression and empathy. In fact, findings were the opposite to what the scientists hypothesized, and suggest that any negative effects of violent video games on perception or behavior may be short-lived.

READ MORE: Study: No link between violent video games, lowered empathy 

Teens not at greater risk for mental health problems

Seeing children gleefully play gory, violent video games can certainly make any parent worry about their mental state. However, one study shows that teens who play such games are not at higher risks of mental health problems after all.

For the study, researchers monitored 3,000 high school-aged teens exposure to combat-themed games and subsequent mental health problems like anxiety, depression, somatic symptoms, or ADHD. The results revealed that the teens were not a risk factor for such conditions. The findings also suggest that playing aggressive computer games has no long-term effects on behavior.

In another study,  an examination of the role of violent video game exposure, checking 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.

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

Even children addicted to gaming aren’t more likely to have psychiatric problems

Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD) is an actual condition in which playing video games interferes with one’s life to the point it becomes an addiction. IGD is seen most often in young children and adolescents. But researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology report that IGD may not actually be as bad as it sounds.

Study authors conclude that there is no connection between the condition and psychiatric issues in children. Surprisingly, they find kids with IGD tend to experience less anxiety than their peers.

These findings certainly dispute the general narrative surrounding children and video games. For decades adults have blamed video game consoles for a litany of childhood problems, both behavioral or emotional. The reality of the situation, however, appears to be more complex than a blanket statement like “video games are bad for kids.”

READ MORE: Children addicted to online video games at no greater risk for psychiatric issues

Teens who regularly play video games don’t have fewer friends than their peers

Finally, for those who think gamers are introverted geeks or loners are just plain wrong. While it may seem that teen video gamers these days spend way too much time in front of their TVs, research shows they’re just as well-off socially as those who don’t play video games.

Researchers from Uppsala University report that shared interest in gaming can actually create bonds in young people as strong as any other social force.The authors distributed questionnaires to 115 first-year students at high school in a major Swedish city where video game-playing is widespread. Questions centered on what the teens felt defined a friendship, how they socialized with others inside and outside of school, leisure activities they participated in, and their thoughts on various cultural issues like gender equality and immigration. The students were required to fill out the surveys during three different times over the school year.

Study authors found that students who self-identified as gamers (or those who said they spent much of free time playing video games) did not have fewer friends than classmates who weren’t into gaming. Gamers, instead, tended to befriend one another and thrived socially because of their like-mindedness.

READ MORE: Study: Teen Gamers Have As Many Friends As Those Not Into Video Games

So, for all the worry about playing violent video games — or just gaming in general — there’s plenty of strong science out there that suggests you don’t panic. Of course, it’s always a good idea to enjoy any activity in moderation. For people or parents who find that violent video games are indeed causing a problem in the house or interfering in daily life, reaching out to a mental health expert would be wise.


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