More than 211 million Americans play video games, and worldwide 2.7 billion people play video games regularly. This makes video games one of the largest media platforms used across all age groups. Forty-nine percent of the most played video games feature some form of violence and aggression as a critical component.
The effects of this violent content on aggression and violence on the behavior of those who play video games is under debate and not clearly understood. My research team at the University at Buffalo Neurocognition Science Laboratory has begun to study and develop a computational model to identify the underlying social health factors and measure the potential causal relationships between violent and aggressive behavior and video game play.
A computational model is a mathematical process used to study real-time, nonlinear relationships to assess the likelihood that one factor in a context of many, causes a particular outcome. In this project, we attempted to understand the relationship between playing video games with violent content and perpetrating violence. In this type of research, simple analytical results are not possible, but the findings can help us to better understand the complex interaction of social and biological factors that might lead to violent behavior.
We developed three computational models to try to explain the origins of aggression and violence.
We developed three computational models to try to explain the origins of aggression and violence: the General Aggression Model (GAM), the Diathesis-Stress Model (DSM), and a theoretical combined model (DSM+GAM). The GAM seeks to explain how aggression in virtual environments might lead people to imitate aggressive behaviors and become aggressive and violent themselves. The DSM model explains aggression and violence as arising from biological factors which make people vulnerable to the commission of violent acts.
The final, combined model looks at the ways in which the biological predisposition and specific social factors interact to produce violent and aggressive actions in people who play video games. In essence, much of the debate about violent video game content revolves around the question of nature versus nurture.
In essence, much of the debate about violent video game content revolves around the question of nature versus nurture.
Our research team combined data from multiple studies of over 1,000 gamers in grades nine through twelve using each model. We looked at multiple social factors (ranging from socio-economic status to playing video games) and biological factors (for example, Monoamines Oxidase A gene mutations) which have been linked to aggressive and violent behaviors. Each model allowed us to vary the estimated effects of each factor on the likelihood of violence in an effort to find the relative effect of each factor as a person played video games with violent content.
Results illustrate that the models of aggression focused only on social factors or biological factors do not adequately predict or explain aggressive and violent behaviors as they arise from video game play. Results from the model that looked at interactions between biological and social factors were more compelling in that they illustrated socioemotional, cognitive, and biological vulnerabilities that interact to influence violent actions among video gamers. In other words, video games do not, in and of themselves, create aggressive behavior. Rather, the video game may act as a primer for violence and aggression when specific biological and social conditions are present.
Rather, the video game may act as a primer for violence and aggression when specific biological and social conditions are present.
The complexity of the interactions between the biological and social has been an area of considerable research in almost all realms of academia. While this research project has helped to clarify the role of the biological and social factors related to violence in video games, it is by no means the end of the questions.
In essence, we need to move past the question of whether or not there is a relationship between aggression and video games and instead focus on the how and why video games cause aggressive behavior. Once we understand how, why, and for whom video games increase aggressive behavior we can more easily develop interventions and policies, and work with public health professionals to begin to mitigate the negative effects of this relationship.
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