Life lessons: Children learn aggressive ways of thinking and behavi...

Do your kids enjoy violent video games? They're honing habitual aggressive thinking, learning to use violence to solve conflicts.

Children who repeatedly play violent video games are learning thought patterns that will stick with them and influence behaviors as they grow older, according to a new study. The effect is the same regardless of age, gender or culture.

... with violent games -- you practice being vigilant for enemies, practice thinking that it's acceptable to respond aggressively to provocation, and practice becoming desensitized to the consequences of violence."

Researchers found that over time children start to think more aggressively. And when provoked at home, school or in other situations, children will react much like they do when playing a violent video game. Repeated practice of aggressive ways of thinking appears to drive the long-term effect of violent games on aggression.

"Violent video games model physical aggression," said Craig Anderson, Distinguished Professor of psychology and director of the Center for the Study of Violence at Iowa State and co-author of the report. "They also reward players for being alert to hostile intentions and for using aggressive behavior to solve conflicts. Practicing such aggressive thinking in these games improves the ability of the players to think aggressively. In turn, this habitual aggressive thinking increases their aggressiveness in real life." [emphasis mine]

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I believe studies have been going back and forth on this for a while, but speaking as someone who has enjoyed a bit of multi-player death match gaming with coworkers, I'd be surprised if graphically violent video games did not have some sort of measurable effect on younger children.

We'll be keeping these games out of the house at least until the kids are teenagers with their own spending money and considerably more autonomy than they have now, but I'm not that worried about the aggression issue.  If it's a real problem we should probably look at banning or reforming children's athletics like football and hockey while we're at it.

What I'm more concerned about with video games is their addictiveness.  Even very creative games like Minecraft have this problem.  Some kids at my son's school seem to talk about it almost to the exclusion of anything else, and I know they've got many other activities in their home lives and limited access to the game.

No doubt it's a phase, and it is creative and teaches a bunch about computer interaction that they'll need all their lives etc etc, but it's still difficult not to be a little concerned about it.

This reminds me of a sci-fi story about a future society in which children had a personal interactive virtual "playmate". The little girl kept tuning out her parents because the virtual character was so much more entertaining. When she reached late teenage, she suddenly realized that she'd had no childhood. It was as if all those years in which she should have been growing up and learning were just vacant. Naturally she blamed her parents for giving in to her demands to buy it for her. They'd robbed her, she raged.

The article mentioned another recent study showing that prosocial video games, movies, and TV, portraying helpful, caring, and cooperative behaviors, are a positive influence, consistently across a number of different cultures. It used a large international sample: thousands of children and teens in Australia, China, Croatia, Germany, Japan, Romania and the US.

The researchers caution "that the most popular games tend to be violent. For example, children may indicate that they are helping other characters in the game, but they may be helping fight a war or performing other violent acts. Researchers say it is important for parents to understand the same game can have some "helpful" content but also be primarily a violent game, and that such violent games produce harmful effects on players. One the other hand, they note that nonviolent games with lots of prosocial content produce positive effects on children and adolescents."

Might anyone have specific games to recommend?

I found a list of "50 non-violent video games that don't suck" -- with the caveats that (1) they have very loose standards for "non-violent"; (2) it's another of those annoying lists displaying each item on its own page; and (3) it doesn't mention how prosocial or not those games are.

The intro mentions Sonic, NBA Jam, and Guitar Hero as examples. Head-to-head competition can be nonviolent, but it doesn't necessarily involve people's characters helping each other.




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