Posts Tagged ‘ Violent Video Games ’

Is “Ignorance” Killing Our Kids?

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

An editorial in the New York Times suggests this is so in relation to gun control issues and the devastating losses of young lives that we continue to witness, the most recent being the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre. The crux of the argument is that we need to consider the seemingly endless stream of senseless murders (from Columbine to Virginia Tech to Aurora to Newtown) from the perspective of public health – meaning we need to treat this like an epidemic and rectify all the gaps in knowledge that currently exist about guns and violence.  I couldn’t agree more.

This month, I used the public health framework to discuss our knowledge base on the four central issues we have all been discussing in relation to Sandy Hook:

Mental Health

Gun Control

School Safety

Violent Video Games

The conclusion each time was that we really are pretty ignorant about how these factors come together to lead an individual to murder innocent youth. What we need now is to start asking pointed questions in research designed to help us arrive at meaningful next steps that would reduce the likelihood of these heinous acts taking innocent lives – based on reputable data and not just rhetoric or philosophy. That’s what public health research does – plain and simple, it identifies factors that can be modified to prevent the probability of death, and conducts scientific tests to generate an empirical foundation for making decisions that impact the problem. Studies showed that seatbelts save lives – we require use of seatbelts. Studies showed that teens who text when driving are at increased risk for getting killed – we ban texting. We don’t know right now the relative mix of influence posed by mental health issues, access to guns, and exposure to violent video games – and we need the studies to sort that out rather than pitting one factor against the other in a philosophical game of chess that does nothing to improve school safety. Public health is agnostic – just get answers and act on them. If we don’t take that principle seriously, then yes, ignorance is killing our kids.

 

Epidemiology and Public Health via Shutterstock.com

 

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Does Playing Violent Video Games Cause Violence?

Friday, January 25th, 2013

This seemingly simple question does not have a simple answer. Here’s why.

There are studies that report links between playing video games with violent content and measures of aggression. Many of these studies show small statistical associations – meaning that it is not highly predictive of aggressive behavior. In addition, many focus on kids’ self-reports of their own aggressive behavior. While this is one valid way of measuring aggression, it is not the only way – which limits the take-home messages from these studies. And we all know that “association” (or correlation) is not the same thing as causation.

Consider a recent well-designed study published in Developmental Psychology. The study authors reported that teen accounts of their frequency of playing violent video games were predictive of increases in their self-reported aggressive behavior over time. There were a number of statistical and measurement controls to ensure that this prediction was not due to “selection effects” – meaning that kids with higher levels of aggression at the start of the study were more drawn to violent video games – or the impact of other factors. But while this study provides evidence of a predictive link between playing violent video games and self-reported aggression, it doesn’t give us the answer to the question many of us are asking now. Why not? Simply put, this study did not focus on violence, especially the type of extreme violence we are witnessing such as school shootings.

Here’s the bigger issue. Many kids play video games. Large percentages, at some point in time, play games with some violent content. Very few kids turn into mass murderers. Simply sorting through large samples of kids and trying to use statistical models to find the linkage between violent video game content to find the type of prediction we are looking for will be a daunting task. Indeed, after decades of research we are just seeing reports – like the one published in Developmental Psychology – that are providing clearer evidence of links between playing violent video games and aggression (which is a much more frequent behavior to study).

So where do we go from here?

Of course more research is necessary. But we have to think hard about the type of research we need – and the question we are asking. If we want to know more about aggression, there is a large platform from prior studies that can be built upon to provide better estimates of the impact of playing violent video games. This is certainly an area worth researching. This approach, however, won’t tell us much about violent behavior such as a mass shooting. We need new paradigms that can lay out other predisposing factors to violence – in terms of personality, social development, mental health – and large enough samples that can begin to explore if kids with these characteristics (many of which still need to be explicated) are more unduly influenced by playing violent video games. We also need to ask if it makes a difference if they have access to guns. We need to be willing to commit to an open-minded public health framework that will take on mental health, access to guns, and violent video game content in a comprehensive way if we are going to make any real headway. And, as always, this will need to be funded. Until all of this happens, we will not have a simple answer to the simple question we are asking.

Gaming Concept via Shutterstock.com

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