Credit: Pixabay.

Many parents are concerned that some violent video games such as Grand Theft Auto might influence their children to engage in antisocial behavior — but their concerns are probably misplaced. As far as aggression goes, a new study found that British teens who played video games containing explicit violence were not more aggressive than their peers who didn’t play video games at all.

“The idea that violent video games drive real-world aggression is a popular one, but it hasn’t tested very well over time,’ said lead researcher Professor Andrew Przybylski, Director of Research at the Oxford Internet Institute. “Despite interest in the topic by parents and policy-makers, the research has not demonstrated that there is cause for concern.”

Psychologists at the University of Oxford surveyed 1,000 British teens, aged 14 to 15, about their gaming habits and behaviors, finding that half of girls and two-thirds of boys played video games. In order to minimize biases, the researchers also interviewed the participants’ parents or caretakers.

Violent content in video games was assessed as objectively as possible, with the official Pan European Game Information (EU) and Entertainment Software Rating Board (US) rating system, two official video game content rating systems, rather than the participants’ perception of violence in the games they played.

An important part of the study’s design was preregistration. Before the study began, the researchers publically reported their hypothesis, methods, and analysis technique.

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“Our findings suggest that researcher biases might have influenced previous studies on this topic, and have distorted our understanding of the effects of video games,'” says co-author Dr Netta Weinstein from Cardiff University.

“Part of the problem in technology research is that there are many ways to analyse the same data, which will produce different results. A cherry-picked result can add undue weight to the moral panic surrounding video games. The registered study approach is a safe-guard against this,” says Przybylski.

It’s not hard to understand why parents can believe violence in video games might be a bad influence on their children. As anyone who has played has played an online video game knows, there’s a lot of trolling and momentary outbursts that qualify as antisocial behavior. However, repeated studies have shown no correlation between playing video games and aggressive tendencies in teenagers.

In 2016, a review of 300 studies on violent video games and children’s behavior was released by the American Psychological Association Task Force on Violent Media. The review concluded that violent video games present a “risk factor” for heightened aggression in children. However, critics have pointed out that many of the studies used to support this conclusion relied on anecdotal evidence or were poorly designed (for instance, surveying children right after they played an emotionally engaging video game).

Previously, ZME Science reported that video game aggression can stem from frustration, not violence. The study found that failure to master a game, getting stuck or losing over and over again led to frustration and aggression, regardless of whether the game was violent or not.

The authors of the new study hope that their approach might be mimicked in other fields where there’s a lot of prejudice and conclusions are often based on anecdotal evidence.

“Researchers should use the registered study approach to investigate other media effects phenomena. There are a lot of ideas out there like ‘social media drives depression’ and ‘technology addiction that lowers quality of life’ that simply have no supporting evidence. These topics and others that drive technological anxieties should be studied more rigorously – society needs solid evidence in order to make appropriate policy decisions,” Przybylski said.

The findings were reported in the journal Royal Society Open Science