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Violent Video Games, Aggressive Behavior, and Social/ School Adjustment

By — Video Game Special Edition Contributor
Updated on Feb 25, 2011

Over the past 20 years, video games have become increasingly popular in American culture. During this time video games have experienced leaps in technology, such as improved graphics and the ability to play with others either in person or worldwide via the internet (1). As video game popularity has grown and the technology has become more advanced, concern has also grown regarding the effects of violent video game play on children.

Previous research has found that the majority of children play violent video games, with younger children playing more frequently than older children (2), and many children play violent video games with other people present (3, 4). Research has also shown, rather consistently, that exposure to video game violence is related to increases in aggressive behavior, lowered levels of empathy, and difficulties in school (4, 6, 7). However, the existing literature has not examined the relation between playing violent video games with others and adjustment. Therefore, it was the purpose of the present study to gather information regarding developmental and gender differences in social video game play and how this game play relates to behavioral, social, and academic adjustment.

In the present study, approximately 500 students in the 7th, 9th, and 11th grades completed surveys regarding their solitary and social (i.e., playing with others present or with others who were online) violent video game play as well as their aggressive and positive social behavior, self-perceptions of social competence, and academic adjustment (i.e., grade-point average, negative attitudes towards school, and school involvement). Our surveys were adapted from the Direct and Indirect Aggression Scales, the Self Perception Profile for Children, the Health and Daily Living Form, and two prior studies (8, 9, 10, 11, 12, respectively).

We found that:

  • The majority of children in the study (60%) played violent video games at least once a week. Furthermore, 56% played alone, 50% played with other people present, and less than 30% played online at least once a week.
  • Males played violent video games, alone and with others, more often than females.
  • Younger students spent more time playing violent video games than older students both alone and with others who were present. However, students in different grades spent similar amounts of time playing violent video games online.

The relation between playing violent video games and adjustment:

  • Higher frequencies of violent video game play, both alone and with others, were significantly related to higher levels of aggressive behavior and lower levels of prosocial behavior. This pattern generally stood for both genders and for all three grade levels.
  • Higher frequencies of violent video game play, alone and with others, related to lower feelings of social competence both in general and with regard to making close friends. Again, this relation generally held for both genders and for all three grade levels.
  • Higher frequencies of violent video game play, alone and with others, related to lower GPA, less school involvement, and more negative attitudes regarding school. Once again, this relation generally held for both genders and for all three grade levels.
  • Primary context of play (i.e., primarily playing violent video game alone, versus with others present, versus with others online) did not differentially relate to adjustment. In other words, it appears that violent video game exposure, regardless of the context in which children play them, is the critical factor in the relations found.
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