Research: Video Games Help Reduce Crime Rates in U.S.

Video games help reduce crime rates in the United States, according to new research conducted by the Centre for European Economic Research (ZEW) in Mannheim, the Baylor University and the University of Texas at Arlington. According to research video games reduce crime rates because they keep "potential criminal offenders" busy using their computers or gaming consoles. The study analyzed the effect of both violent and non-violent video games on the number of violent and non-violent crimes in the United States.

Video games reduce violence by drawing "potentially violent criminals" to an environment that is less volatile; living rooms screens. This in turn helps those with a tendency to commit violent crimes to avoid “alternative activities where violence is more likely to occur." On the other hand, researchers say, numerous psychology studies suggest that violent video games increase the aggressiveness of individuals (we have only seen studies that showed aggression after playing video games to be short term, for the record). Here's a bit more from the study:

"Due to these findings political decision-makers regard playing violent video games as a contributing factor to aggressive behavior of teenagers and young adults. Therefore, regulating and even prohibiting violent content in video games is frequently considered a possibility. The findings linking gameplay to an increase in aggression are mainly based on psychological laboratory experiments. However, these experiments do neither consider the intense usage of these games by relatively violence-prone people nor the resulting time use effect. This incapacitation effect prevents gamers from engaging in other violent activities during the time spent playing video games."

The study shows these two contrasting effects, researchers say; on the one hand the findings suggest an increased aggressiveness on the part of players, adding that "video games can be related to a rise in the number of violent crimes." On the other hand, the study also shows that gamers voluntarily spend a large block of their free time playing video games, which leads to a reduction of violent crimes. Researchers come to the final determination that "playing both violent and non-violent video games leads to a decrease in criminal acts."

"The effects of playing video games include both the promotion of aggressive behavior and a time use effect restricting the time for practicing aggressive behavior," says Benjamin Engelstätter, researcher at ZEW. "Our findings for the United States show that the time use effect on players is stronger than the aggression-promoting effect. Therefore, possible regulations of violent content in video games should be carefully designed. They could lead to a reduction in long-term aggressive tendencies. However, in the short-term, they would probably lead to a rise in crime rates as a number of gamers would spend less time playing video games that might have lost their appeal due to the regulations."

The study uses data (National Incident Based Reporting System) based on weekly observations for the United States over a period of four years from 2005 to 2008. The study also uses data from the VGChartz-System, which provided information on the sales of video console games.

The study, "Understanding the Effects of Violent Video Games on Violent Crime," can be found at Zew.de.

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